Engineering the future – interview with TripAdvisor engineering SVP Andy Gelfond
TripAdvisor SVP Andy Gelfond with Ireland's Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton

Engineering the future – interview with TripAdvisor engineering SVP Andy Gelfond

30 Sep 2013

Andy Gelfond, senior vice-president of engineering and operations at TripAdvisor, spoke to John Kennedy about the company’s plans to create a 50-job engineering hub in Dublin City.

What stood out the most about TripAdvisor’s new 50-job project for Dublin announced today was not only that it was yet another of the top 10 born-on-the-internet players that selected Ireland’s capital for a pivotal project, but that the roles were the high quality engineering positions you’d expect somewhere like Silicon Valley or at TripAdvisor’s HQ in Boston. This could signal a welcome change in direction for Dublin, a city that likes to call itself the Internet Capital of Europe.

Dublin has done well in attracting some of the world’s biggest born-on-the-internet companies to locate in the city. There is definitely a buzz, a vibe if you will, and it’s getting better and better. Google came to Ireland 10 years ago with the intention of creating around 100 jobs, now it employs 2,500 people. Facebook came to Ireland five years ago with the intention of creating 50 or 60 jobs. Now it employs more than 500 people. Twitter came here only two years ago to create an initial 40 jobs – now it employs 100 people and last week revealed plans to double that by a further 100 jobs.

Other born-on-the-internet companies congregating in and around the city include Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, PayPal, Gilt, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name but a few.

Many of these jobs roles include business support and sales and marketing rather than the more competitive and better-paid engineering roles that would typically remain in the US. Winning jobs projects is not a problem – the more the merrier – but in the hierarchy of the tech world, engineers sit at the top of the table.

Born on the web

Gelfond explained today that TripAdvisor’s Dublin engineering hub will be critical to both social and mobile service delivery, and that teams in Dublin would form part of a diverse structure of 30 separate engineering teams focused on specific needs.

He said TripAdvisor attracts 260m visitors a month. “Our goal is simple: enable people to plan and have the perfect trip by providing a platform for travellers to submit reviews and opinions and pictures.”

He said there are 19 different travel sites within the TripAdvisor family and that there are more than 100m opinions on the site.

“We don’t stand still or rest on our laurels, instead we embrace innovation, which means new products and features for users. Engineering is where all of this comes alive and they keep the community vibrant and fresh.

“We focus on the consumer and on the business, not solely the technology but what people need. We have 30 engineering teams individually focused on needs, including mobile and social. It’s like having 30 different start-ups, working end to end on the final delivery of a product to the users. These aren’t just talented engineers, they are innovative self-starters. Running engineering in this way has been the secret of our successes. Dublin is the first place outside the US that we’ve set up a major engineering hub.”

The new hub will be located in the ‘Silicon Docks’ area of Dublin, down the street from Facebook and Google. “The first reason we selected Dublin is skills – there is a tremendous pool of adaptable and flexible engineering talent fed by a strong university system, and not only that, people from all over Europe are interested in coming to Dublin.

“A second reason is the government supports an open business culture. Boston and Dublin share a lot in terms of history, work ethic, skills and innovation. Our people in Boston are working on core infrastructure and products and the roles we’ll be filling here are the same kind as back in Newton, Boston, where people will work on the core features of TripAdvisor, as well as TripAdvisor for business. We are very much products-led in Newton and there will be new products led from Dublin.

“We will start with 50 people, specifically looking for future leaders of our Dublin engineering office. It is more than just jobs, but career and leadership opportunities.”

Hitting the ground running

Gelfond’s colleague Lars Holzman, who will be the engineering site manager of the new hub, explained that the new TripAdvisor offices will be located at the Liffey Trust Centre, with recruitment starting immediately. “We intend to hit the ground running with our social and mobile teams – two areas that TripAdvisor is focusing on. The teams are small but will be a significant proportion of the Dublin office, developing everything from data analysis to mobile user experience.”

Holzman said that 75m out of TripAdvisor’s 260m monthly users access its services via mobile devices.

Gelfond explained the kind of culture that will drive the engineering and innovation efforts. “We’ve grown up with a culture of engineering and responsibility. We require each engineer to work on everything and so engineers do their own coding and testing. It’s like being in a start-up. They work on everything and each team has their own responsibility for certain areas. It can be complicated running 30 different teams, but no more complicated than waiting for everyone to get things done. Each team is focused on an area that serves consumers as they travel.

“Whenever new technology comes out we always experiment and deploy teams in those areas. Dublin will be one of the first places outside the US we have done this and we see this as a way for us to extend the size and the number of engineering teams, especially around mobile,” Gelfond said.

TripAdvisor is a Silicon Republic Featured Employer, a selected top tech company that’s hiring now.

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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