In his final op-ed as editor of Silicon Republic, John Kennedy reflects on the past, the present and the future of the tech industry.
After 17 years with Silicon Republic, tomorrow (11 June) will be my last day before I head off to join Bank of Ireland. It was not an easy decision to make, but I feel that it was the right one.
Transition is the dominant theme of the tech industry, an industry in a state of constant change and one that can sometimes seem unsentimental about the past.
But that’s not strictly true. If there is one thing that holds the industry together, it is people. And the truth of this is how we still gather round, go to meet-ups and conference events, consume knowledge through articles or videos, and listen – no, yearn – for storytelling to frame a moment in time or explain what is happening.
A moment in time was the October bank holiday Monday in 2002, a blustery day when a handful of grumbling journalists were summoned by Silicon Republic’s founders, Ann O’Dea and Darren Mc Auliffe, to be briefed on a new tech-focused website they planned to launch.
The context of the time was that although the dot-com bubble had burst two years earlier, the decline of tech was compounded by 9/11, more stock market crashes and a pretty seismic telecoms industry crash.
Everyone was heading out of tech, but we were rushing back in.
If I was to sum up that time in the industry, the only word I could use is ‘bittersweet’. The industry rumbled on, but gone – for a time, at least – were the entrepreneurs. For us, however, it was a time to learn and grow, and see Silicon Republic grow from zero to millions of readers today.
The importance of being earnest
It is impossible for me to recount everything but key moments that stood out on the road to today include:
- Seeing Ireland emerge as the digital capital of Europe. I saw Facebook and Google arrive initially to create just handfuls of jobs and now they employ thousands of people in Dublin. They are just a few players within a deeply rich digital tapestry. What needs to be remembered is the sterling work that the IDA does in finding companies such as these while they are quintessentially still start-ups, selling Ireland to them and succeeding.
- A sunny Good Friday morning in 2008 when I logged on and found that Shuppa, an e-commerce company founded by two teenagers in Limerick, John and Patrick Collison, was sold for $5m. The Collisons now run Stripe, a company worth more than $22bn. Later that year, a tiny start-up in Sligo called PollDaddy.com was bought by the owner of WordPress, Automattic. To my mind, this was proof that entrepreneurs could flourish anywhere and vibrant growth can come from the regions. If we pay attention.
- Agreeing to interview YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley live on stage at one of the earliest Web Summit events, only to learn that moments before going on stage I was to be the MC for the entire event. When you have several hundred eyeballs staring at you, hanging on your next word, the only thing you should say to yourself is, ‘Well, I’m here now …’
- Hiring reporter Marie Boran on board an Aer Lingus flight. True story.
- Working with Darren Mc Auliffe on the Digital 21 campaign series. At the time, Ireland was lost in the despair of recession and we harnessed all our available resources to drive a campaign to concentrate policy on broadband, skills and education. I believe we made a difference, bolstered optimism and belief, and contributed to debate that continues to inform policy to this day.
- Observing Ann O’Dea create Inspirefest and seeing how, now five years later, it has and will continue to play a key role in celebrating diversity and fostering solid storytelling around STEM. She hasn’t just created an event series, she has created a community.
With data comes great responsibility
Looking to the future of the tech industry, I have seen it go from a time when you could fit all the stakeholders in one room to today, a vast industry that can only move forward.
I would urge the industry in Ireland and globally to be mindful of its place in the world and the communities around it; to be responsible for the data it is gathering and realise it holds actual lives in its hands. Always, always put people first.
The devices we carry are just shimmery pieces of glass and metal, connected by radio waves to data centres. In between are the hopes and dreams of people.
I would like to thank my past and present colleagues who have made Silicon Republic what it is. Down through the years, whenever we won an award, I would always make the point that Silicon Republic is the sum of its parts. It has never been just one person but a group of people working their hearts out. People are often surprised at how such a small team can punch above its weight. But it does so exceptionally. Take a bow, Elaine Burke, Shelly Madden, Eva Short, Colm Gorey, Jenny Darmody, Jane Henderson, Connor McKenna, Luke Maxwell, Lisa Murphy, Róisín Nash, Nisha Rajendraprasad, Ailbhe Lee and Amanda Daye. Oh, and Sally the dog.
I believe the tech industry in Ireland owes a debt of gratitude now and into the future to Ann and Darren for creating a vibrant canvas upon which many important stories have been told and will be told long into the future by young journalists granted an amazing opportunity.
I would also like to remember those no longer with us, including the great Linda Gillett, a meticulous sub-editor who laid the groundwork and style for what Silicon Republic was to become, and contributors Eamon McGrane and David Stewart.
Last week we announced Elaine Burke as my successor as editor and I have no doubt that she will do a superb job. I have every confidence in you, Elaine.
Finally, I would like to thank the people I’ve written about and have met in the past 17 years. Thank you sincerely for allowing me to tell your stories.
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