Irish Perspectives On Startups

You are either a tourist, or a local. The difference between the two is obvious, but many of the cultural nuances, characteristics, and routines that set them apart can only be seen close-up. Building HubSpot’s first international team in Dublin, Ireland hasn’t been challenging because of time zones or accents- these cultural discrepancies are trivial. Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with our engineers in Dublin, training them on the HubSpot product and on how to grow their team. It’s safe to say that the difference between an American engineer and an Irish engineer isn’t Bud Light vs. Guinness; there are cultural and societal undertones that create a subtle sea of change when working with and hiring engineers abroad. Below are a few insights of mine, as well as from our Dublin team, on Irish work environments and career culture that have caused me to step back and rethink our hiring approach moving forward in Dublin.

No Risk, No Problem

In the U.S., everyone’s catching the startup bug from Silicon Valley to Boston. People have ideas, some good, some bad, and start companies in hopes of being the next Facebook or Groupon. We call these people entrepreneurs, and a lot of the time we treat them like rock stars, successful or not, of modern business because they’re committed to innovation and are fearless. The story is a little different in Ireland. “Entrepreneurship is considered a gamble. If you try and fail, there'll be gossip. I've been converted and don't feel this way any more, but the general population don't see it this way”, said one of our developers in Dublin. Entrepreneurship isn’t glorified in Ireland like it is stateside, unless your company takes off. “It all boils down to risk. Irish people are generally risk-averse and like the sense of security”, he added.

Fortune Favors the Reliable

There are hiring laws in Ireland that favor the employee, and as a result, employees keep long-term commitments with companies. For example, our Dublin team noted that by law, a “previous employer can't really give a bad reference - defamation of character laws kick in and things get complicated. So someone staying a short time is the best indication you can get that the person isn't very good.” For that reason, jumping from company to company is a huge red flag on a candidate’s CV. In the U.S., there’s this notion that your dream job is out there so you shouldn’t settle at company; there isn’t as much red tape, though we aren’t as protected by law. Being risk-averse influences this as well, “Irish people tend to see moving jobs as risky, so they'll be less inclined to do so if they're (even only somewhat) comfortable in their current position. Having a decent job these days is seen as quite the achievement”, added one of our developers.

Autonomy is a Privilege, Not a Right

Dublin's tax loophole laws have attracted a lot of companies to set up shop, but the engineering projects they bring with them are either below average in terms of technologies and ownership, or they are mostly about localization, support and operational teams. For example, Google has hired less than 200 engineers out of 2000+ employees in Dublin. These are mostly SREs positions and not lead product roles. At DubSpot, we give our developers entire products to own from top to bottom; they make all of the decisions in terms of architecture, prioritization and operations. If you speak with developers at larger companies, you sense frustration in terms of dealing with politics remotely and having very little power to change things. On the other hand, because engineers are in such high-demand in the U.S., ownership is expected.

Interviews Last Months, Not Hours

Timelines work a little differently in Ireland. Because laws make it difficult for companies to part ways with an employee, there is a 6 to 9 month probation period during which an employee is essentially, interviewing. Instead of hiring an employee after a few hour-long interviews, organizations can test their skills for a couple months and really evaluate how they assimilate to the work and culture, because once they hire them, chances are, it will be a long-term commitment. Also, instead of the American standard of giving a 2-weeks notice, in Ireland, an employee has a 30-day grace period at a company whether they are fired or quit. These laws influence the way you think about hiring and retaining talent abroad.

It’s taken me over a year, dozens of one-on-one interviews, and tons of Evernote files to wrap my head around why we can’t simply transplant our dev recruiting, hiring, and training process from Cambridge into DubSpot. I’m still figuring out how HubSpot can shift from being a tourist to a local company in Ireland, but I’ve discovered that one thing is universal: people want to work on challenging, innovative projects they can be proud of. No matter where you land, give your team the power to own exciting developments and you’ll be that much closer to speaking their language.