Day 1 of Tech Trek 2017: Beginning with beginnings at Ancestry.com

By Paul Tallon, Ph.D.

Who are you and where do you come from? Before you answer that question, you might want to consult your DNA.

At Ancestry.com, the first stop on our 14-company Tech Trek Ireland study tour, 25 Loyola students learned first-hand how Ancestry.com’s DNA product can pinpoint the exact source of your DNA to a specific region and perhaps even a specific town.

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You can then see how, over time, your ancestors moved to the U.S. and migrated from state to state before settling in that place you now call home. Ancestry uses its massive throve of data to fill in the missing pieces of our family trees. They really do know more about us than we do ourselves.

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Next, at Google, we learned the importance of international collaboration and self-directed career management. Google allows its employees significant flexibility to set their own work schedules and to see risk as an opportunity, not as a deterrent to career progression. Try new things; be prepared to fail but learn from your failures.

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After lunch, while half the group walked to Airbnb to hear about new innovation at this world-renounced service company, others in the group attended a meeting with senior management at the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. This $20 billion sovereign fund invests in startup Irish companies where access to capital might otherwise prove impossible. Ireland, we learned, is well on the road to recovery after its 2008-2009 financial crisis and subsequent international bailout by the IMF and European Central Bank.

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We also learned that the UK’s planned departure from the European Union is both an opportunity and a challenge. Financial services companies are poised to move certain financial operations from London to Dublin but Ireland also exports 40 percent of its agricultural output to the UK. Loss of these markets could be catastrophic for Ireland.

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At the end of the afternoon, we walked to Synchronoss where we met with Loyola grad Brittany Beckert (marketing major, information systems minor, Class of 2013). Brittany and her colleagues explained how Synchronoss is trying to discover new insights in its customer data. How can you tell that there’s a crying baby in that picture? Is that someone playing tennis or lacrosse? It’s not easy for a computer to accurately tell what’s in a picture or a video, but Synchronoss is using advanced machine learning against its 100 petabytes of data to find out the answers to those questions.

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At the end of our first working day in Ireland, a number of themes are beginning to emerge.

First, Ireland and the area around Silicon Docks in the heart of Dublin is growing. The cranes on the horizon show that the city is expanding skywards in anticipation of new business opportunities.

Second, Ireland sees itself as the hub in an international technology services wheel. We lost count of the number of different languages overheard at lunch in Google and at Ancestry.com. Ireland is open for business and, in a world beset by concerns for Brexit and a Trump administration, Ireland is pushing forward with plans to win new sources of global business.

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Third, Ireland really does punch about its weight. This nation of 4.5 million is a magnet for high-tech companies. Within a five-minute walk of our hotel, we find the European headquarters of LinkedIn, Fitbit, Groupon, and Amazon. A few minutes beyond that, you’ll find Google, Facebook, Ancestry.com, and more.

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Ravi Srinivasan, Ph.D., assistant professor of operations management, is accompanying the class on the Tech Trek.

Tomorrow, we’ll visit Ellucian (the company behind Loyola’s ERP system), Amazon Web Services which will host our ERP system in a few weeks time, and Microsoft’s European Software Development Center. We are learning a lot and enjoyed the many sights and sounds of this Silicon capital, set against a rich thousand-year-old architectural and cultural history with echoes of Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, and Synge.

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Follow the students’ journey here.

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