As AOL prepared to make its latest jobs announcement today of 40 new positions in Dublin, Ann O’Dea caught up with head of AOL Global Operations Aengus McClean to ask him about the nature of the new roles and the kind of candidates the company is seeking.
Irishman Aengus McClean divides his time between the AOL operations in Dublin and Baltimore, Maryland, in the US, leading the growing AOL Networks technology team. We caught up with him before he flew back to the US to ask him about today’s jobs announcement that AOL Ireland plans to hire 40 new software engineers over the coming year at its Dublin Development Centre.
A growing player in Ireland’s technology landscape, AOL currently employs more than 170 people in Dublin, with the majority of them being software engineers.
“My own responsibility is for all of the AOL Networks technology team in Baltimore, Dublin and Germany,” McClean said. “They report into me which gives me a global view, and the Dublin team is very highly regarded both in Germany and in Baltimore and is seen as key.”
According to McClean, some of AOL’s most cutting-edge technology and innovation is being done out of Dublin these days, and it is the need to move fast and stay relevant that means these new positions for both senior and junior recruits arise. Candidates will work with software such as Java, Erlang and C++.
Online advertising goes programmatic
“Globally, AOL Networks, the advertising division, is ramping up our development of programmatic advertising solutions. That’s the way the market is moving at the moment. Up to now there had been the general reserved and non-reserved inventory ad sales business – reserved means a dedicated sales team and non-reserved takes place through ad exchanges for the main part,” McClean explained.
“Nowadays, agencies and advertisers want to move to the real-time realm, where they are able to, from their perspective, get the best possible value at any given instant for their ad spend, and from a publisher perspective get the best possible revenue for their impressions.
“So when you move to real-time you have to move to a programmatic type of buying and selling because it’s too quick for human intervention for the most part.”
It was earlier this year that AOL launched its programmatic advertiser sales platform, AdLearn Open Platform (AOP), and in April at ad:tech in San Francisco, California, it launched its programmatic platform for publishers, which is called Marketplace by AdTech.
Move to mobile and video
“While these for the most part are dealing in standard display ads, we want to push them into mobile and mobile video, which are hugely growing spaces, and we need to do that quickly through a combination of internal and potential external partnerships – whatever we need to do to maintain our momentum in this space.”
AOL is currently the second largest player in this space after Google, although it has point competitors in every space, said McClean.
“Just to give a stat, with the old view of the world between a publisher and an advertiser, if an advertiser wanted to spend a dollar, between all the middle men, the publisher would end up with between 40 and 50 cents,” he said. “That’s a huge amount of money lost between the two and this is what is driving this whole programmatic model. The advertiser wants to get a better bang for their dollar or euro, but the publisher wants to see more of that dollar.
“It’s becoming very compressed, and what you need in that space is end-to-end players like AOL and Google, and some of the other smaller players.
“In order to maintain our position in that space we really need to ramp up our movement to mobile and mobile video and get those on our programmatic platforms.”
Jobs in cutting-edge technology
Thus the new positions in Dublin. Already the majority of the 170 or so Dublin staff is made up of software engineers. “We do have a small but growing back-office operation which is a managed services group for Europe, and for the most part people we are recruiting in that space would be in HR development and accounting. But we have very little problem hiring great people in this area.”
Most of the new jobs are in the software engineering space and that’s a much bigger challenge, said McClean. He said the challenge is sourcing them in the first place, but the trick is to get people in and see the level of the jobs on offer.
“We have a very high return rate. Once we get people in here, and they understand what we do, and the fact that it is cutting edge, we get a lot of interest. Our interns from last year are nearly all coming back and starting jobs,” he said.
“These are exciting jobs in cutting-edge technology in this space,” he added. “Most of the team here today are building products at a global level, products that are deployed in the US and Europe. The largest part of the team is in the AOL Networks business, but we also have teams that that support content and search and other areas across the company.”
“At least half of the team that built Marketplace by AdTech is here in Ireland, and in fact the architecture was all developed here, the initial prototype was built here, the research into it was done here and the team was led out of here,” said McClean, who recognises that advertising is often seen as intrusive.
“A lot of people give out about advertising on the internet, but it is advertising that keeps the internet open and affordable,” said McClean, who says targeting is one of the areas his team is working on.
“It has become a bad word but, if we have no targeting at all, the ads you’re going to see are probably going to be irrelevant to you and just a nuisance.
“What we really want to do is not be invasive in terms of making it creepy, but to have some level of connection to what you’re doing or interested in, so that what we offer you is, or might be, interesting or relevant at the very least – rather than just being a complete pain in the ass.”
AOL is involved in post-graduate initiatives with universities like NUI Maynooth, Dublin City University and University College Dublin, and intends to ramp up its graduate programmes, in order to ensure it can recruit “the cream of the crop” for certain roles, but McClean does say they are still finding very strong candidates. So what kind of candidates is AOL after, exactly?
“We have a very high bar,” McClean said. “The work here is challenging, and we try to keep the teams small to keep them entrepreneurial, which means they can’t afford to carry people.”
“What we are really looking for are people who are inventive about how they approach things. If they have interesting and out-of-the-box solutions, that’s the type of person we want. We want to foster as broad a thinking among our engineering staff as we can. We can do the commercial and other training. It’s the thinking that is difficult to change.”
He admitted these great candidates are not exactly knocking the doors down, and said it is one of the reasons they make these big jobs announcements. “We want to get the message across of the type of work that we do. Compared to a lot of the work out there, this is much more leading edge, much more technically challenging.
“We have in the past been able to compete with some of the bigger firms in town once the candidates meet the engineers here and understand what we do and see the challenges. They generally like what they see.”
Finally, McClean said he would love to see more female candidates coming through. “In AOL at corporate level, two of the most powerful jobs in the company are held by Susan Lyne (CEO, AOL Brand Group) and Karen Dykstra (executive VP and chief financial officer), and of course there’s Arianna Huffington over at the Huffington Post Group. We have the senior-level representation, if you like. But in engineering it’s much more difficult – and it’s no easier in the US.”
AOL is a provider of digital content, advertising solutions and services through a range of brands, including The Huffington Post, Engadget, TechCrunch, MapQuest, ADTECH and Advertising.com.