Friday February 28, 2020

If you’re not constantly innovating then you’re on the road to irrelevance

There’s no doubt that this country can be the Silicon Valley of Europe, said Jonathan Hyland, CTO of Workhuman, in fact, you could argue that we already have that badge unofficially.

30th October, 2019

What is your name?

Jonathan Hyland.

What is your current role?

I am the Chief Technology Officer of Workhuman and chair of Technology Ireland.I've been with Workhuman since 2001 (we were previously known as Globoforce but we've recently rebranded). We are the world’s fastest-growing social recognition and continuous performance management platform and we help organisations fuel a culture of positivity.I was sketching database designs on napkins in pubs with Eric Mosley (our CEO & founder) before I even joined the company.I was employee no. 10 when I started, 18 years later we now have 650 employees in dual headquarters in Dublin and Boston.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As CTO, I lead our technology and product people. While the majority of our customers are headquartered in the US, we’re very proud of the fact that we design-build and deploy everything from our premises in Park West in Dublin. Personally, I’m on the road a lot in the US: when I’m not in our offices in Boston I’m visiting customers.

What is your professional background?

I started coding in my early teens after I bought my first computer, a Commodore 64, with hard-earned pocket money. Later, I studied Electronic Engineering in DIT and got a wealth of experience in telecoms and computing and then did a master’s in electronic engineering. After that, I got involved in a start-up incubator and then Esat Telecom—where I got early exposure to the fast pace of a tech start-up. Even though Workhuman is no longer a startup - this year we’ll have billings in excess of $700m - we work very hard at promoting a startup culture, constantly evolving and innovating. We are at the cutting edge in our software development practices.

How do your particular areas of expertise manifest themselves in your current role?

Luckily, I have to admit, I’m a technology fanatic, which helps me stay current on emerging trends. Our technology now supports five million users in 40 languages for some of the world's largest companies. We have to leverage the latest advances in technology to facilitate that level of scale and performance. We’re industry agonistic and have customers in banking, security, software, hotels and other sectors, so the demands are many and diverse. Leadership, communication, and people are also a huge part of my role. My teams must be inspired to be their best and feel trusted to try new things. Attracting and retaining talent is of critical importance to us. Communication skills are particularly important in relationship building, especially when dealing with a Global Customer audience.

As chair of Technology Ireland, what do you see as the biggest issues facing the technology sector in Ireland at the moment?

There’s no doubt that this country can be the Silicon Valley of Europe—in fact, you could argue that we already have that badge unofficially. We tend to undersell ourselves, but, really, we’ve got it all here on our doorstep. As the chair of Technology Ireland, I’m getting to see the broader industry view on the sector as a whole. Talent is up there as one of the most important issues, We've clearly exhausted the talent pool among our indigenous university graduates, so we’re reliant on bringing people in from abroad. We’ve done a good job of selling the story, but when candidates arrive they hit the current housing crisis. Faster on-boarding of talent through the visa process is also essential.

On top of that comes competitiveness, as all of this has an upward effect on salaries; not just the competition between the hotbed of companies operating here, but also the cost of housing—and there are examples of what this can cause: even San Francisco is now pricing itself out of the market. The cost of housing, the ability to get to your place of work. the problems caused by the tech players meddling with public transportation, these are major problems in San Francisco right now.

In addition, a further issue is the lack of diversity in technology as a sector. We need to do something radical to address the imbalance: the lack of women in technology is startling, and as a parent of two young daughters this is of interest to me.

What are the greatest challenges facing modern technology leaders?

The only surety is that change will be constant. Being able to innovate and adapt to an ever-evolving landscape of change is key. If you’re not constantly innovating then you’re on the road to irrelevance. The rate at which new technologies are disrupting and eliminating what went before is so breakneck, you need to be agile. It’s about promoting and incubating a startup culture and doing it at scale—which doesn’t happen by accident; it requires a lot of hard effort.

What three pieces of advice would you give to start-up tech companies today?

You need to set your ambition high. For example, from an early stage we recognised the US was going to be our key market, and that will be true for most companies: As an Irish technology startup, you’ve got to be thinking of other territories, languages, and currencies from day one, they cannot be bolted on at a later stage.

The three things I would say a tech leader should always be concerned with are, one, being global, two, scalability and, three, security.

If there was one piece of advice you could give yourself before embarking on your current job, what would it be?

Dream big would be my advice. I never could have imagined, starting out in an incubator in City West with two developers and the database server under my desk, that we could grow to number one in our industry, so, if I could go back, I’d probably advise myself to get that database off the floor and into a datacentre!


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