A woman smiles at the camera while holding a large G symbolising Google.
Jessica McCarthy. Image: Google

Google engineering lead: Ireland’s skills gap must be ‘addressed urgently’

9 Mar 2022

Google’s head of engineering for Dublin discusses her leadership role and her passion for building a diverse talent pipeline.

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Last year, Dr Jessica McCarthy was appointed engineering site lead at Google’s base in Dublin, having previously held the position of senior engineering director within site reliability engineering at Google.

She told SiliconRepublic.com that she was first drawn to engineering because it was all about problem-solving.

“Engineering makes great things happen. When you have the skills and ability to solve big problems, you get the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives and experiences of people around the world.”

McCarthy joined Google in 2019 after more than a decade at Intel as a senior staff research scientist and principal investigator with Intel Labs Europe. During her time there, she collaborated with academics and industry partners on some of the larger problems that currently exist in computer science.

‘A key tenet of our engineering culture here at Google is “things do break”’

She has also been actively involved with research programmes from the EU, Science Foundation Ireland and the US National Science Foundation. She has authored several scientific papers and holds a number of patents in the fields of IoT, service orchestration and information-centric networking.

“My experience as a collaborator during my research career meant that I naturally made connections with site leadership to prioritise site growth and other critical issues in engineering. The opportunity to lead the Google Ireland engineering site was borne out of these experiences.”

Working at Google

Having taken up the senior position a year ago, McCarthy said it has been an exciting challenge so far.

“We are working hard, investing significantly in growing our engineering footprint and teams by 2025, and this is a key focus for us from a site perspective,” she said.

“The pandemic has posed some novel challenges for us all so we are working through those as we return to work, but it will certainly look different than pre-pandemic times. A more hybrid model will exist, which will involve being physically present in the office on some days and working from home on others.”

As part of her role, McCarthy is responsible for ensuring the 24/7 reliability for Google’s critical networking infrastructure, software and services. Operating infrastructure of this scale unsurprisingly comes with challenges.

“A key tenet of our engineering culture here at Google is ‘things do break’. It’s important to understand that outages will happen and over time, they will happen in each component your application and its users rely on,” she said.

“So, in my organisation, we spend as much time on systems and processes to respond to outages as we do in preventing them in the first place.”

Moving into a more senior leadership position, McCarthy said she has been very fortunate to have worked with and learned from great leaders in the past who have influenced her own approach to the role.

“But the biggest lessons I have learned regarding leadership is to always take a seat at the table, remain humble, be collaborative and continue to learn every day. Learning does not stop when you get that senior role. It is also important to invest time in mentorship both for yourself and others. A good mentor will help you grow.”

The engineering talent pipeline

As a leader within the engineering space, McCarthy said one of the biggest challenges facing the sector is the skills shortage in Ireland. This is something that “needs to be addressed urgently” to help businesses deal with the demands on the industry.

“In addition to the wider skills gap with roles in these sectors, the gender gap persists with these roles and it’s becoming more evident how this can be traced back to secondary education level, with surveys revealing how girls in Ireland feel there’s a lack of choice for a future career in STEM-related roles,” she said.

In a survey carried out by I Wish last year, more than 80pc of teenage girls surveyed in Ireland said there is not enough gender equality in STEM and 78pc said they felt a lack of STEM subject choices at school was a barrier to a career in this area.

“These are challenges which must be addressed at societal level in Ireland, to bridge the skills gap and bring more diversity to STEM professional roles through clear pathways of development for girls at a pre-college age,” McCarthy said.

She is passionate about building a diverse talent pipeline and said that she learned very quickly in her career that bringing people with diverse perspectives together can always make for a better outcome.

“Actively creating opportunities for women in the tech industry and subsequently promoting gender equality in tech will continue to be a priority for me in my role as engineering site lead.”

As part of this work, McCarthy sponsors the Generation Google Scholarship for women in computer science in Ireland, which sees successful applicants awarded €5,000 per year for the duration of their undergraduate studies.

She said the scholarship is part of the company’s efforts to “inspire a new generation of women” to consider a career in computer science.

“The scholarship is open to first- or second-year female undergraduates at a university or institute of technology in Ireland, studying computer science, computer engineering, or a closely related technical field,” she said.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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