Google's growing team gets a new home

Google occupies two entire office blocks at Mapletree Business City II (left). The tech giant's local engineering hub is the latest addition to a growing list of similar facilities in cities in India, Australia, the United States and other places. PM
PM Lee trying out Google's Tilt Brush, which allows a user to paint in 3D space using virtual reality, at Google's new office in Mapletree Business City II in Pasir Panjang, yesterday. Mr Caesar Sengupta, Google's locally based vice-president of The Next Billion Users, said it is strategic for the company to base an engineering pool here because it wants to be close to Internet users in South-east Asia.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Google occupies two entire office blocks at Mapletree Business City II (left). The tech giant's local engineering hub is the latest addition to a growing list of similar facilities in cities in India, Australia, the United States and other places. PM
Google occupies two entire office blocks at Mapletree Business City II (above). The tech giant's local engineering hub is the latest addition to a growing list of similar facilities in cities in India, Australia, the United States and other places. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It has 1,000 employees now, and hopes to get more overseas-based S'pore engineers to return home

Google yesterday officially opened the doors to its new office at Mapletree Business City II in Pasir Panjang, where it occupies two entire office blocks to house its "fast-growing" team of engineers.

The tech giant hopes to attract more Singapore engineers working overseas, especially in Silicon Valley tech firms, to return home. It now has 1,000 employees, including an undisclosed number of engineers, in its new Singapore engineering hub.

The expansion supports its goal of reaching the next billion Internet users. There were an estimated 3.2 billion Internet users worldwide as of last year.

  • Subsidised coding classes

  • In January, Google will roll out a Code in the Community programme, with the goal of training some 3,000 children from needy homes over the next three years.

    The programme will subsidise the cost of coding lessons to bridge the digital divide.

    Mr Caesar Sengupta, vice-president of Google's The Next Billion Users division, said: "Google can play a part to inspire students to take up technology as a career. We need more engineers and product designers coming out of local schools."

    This is in line with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's pitch earlier this year for more students to consider a career in engineering and technology to keep public infrastructure projects going.

    The value of Google's sponsorship has not been disclosed.

    But the cost of training 3,000 children is estimated to be at least $1 million, going by the existing rates for coding lessons. For instance, classes at coding school Saturday Kids start at $350 for an introductory 10-hour course in Scratch, a programming language.

    Google will work with self-help groups such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Mendaki, Sinda and the Eurasian Association to identify the needy homes.

    Code in the Community will target children aged eight to 15. The 10-week course - to be conducted by 21C Girls and Saturday Kids once a week on weekends - will take place twice a year.

    Applications will open next month, when more details will be announced.

    Non-profit organisation 21C Girls already offers free coding classes to underprivileged girls in Singapore.

    Coding school Saturday Kids also has its own tie-ups with community centres and the CDAC to conduct subsidised classes targeted at low-income families in their district.

    Irene Tham

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was at the opening along with Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, hopes Google and Singapore can benefit from each other - especially in a world where technology is rapidly changing the way business is done.

Highlighting the country's Smart Nation initiative, and its energy and buzz, he said "we will be able to add something to Google".

"Tech is disruptive and your objective is to disrupt the world," he added. "We expect to be disrupted but we want to... come out on the right side of disruption." Turning to a crowd of more than 100 Google employees, Mr Lee said: "And we depend on you to help us to do better."

Mr Caesar Sengupta, Google's locally based vice-president of The Next Billion Users, told The Straits Times the nation is a good place for "long-term bets" due to its business-friendly policies.

He would not disclose new hiring plans, but said that the engineering team here is "growing very fast" and that "we are starting to see a lot of Singaporeans coming back".

"The tech industry here is very vibrant now with a lot of start-ups, and it is a very good place to source for talent," added Mr Sengupta, who became a Singaporean 10 years ago.

It is also strategic for the company to base an engineering pool here because it wants to be close to Internet users in South-east Asia, he explained. The Next Billion Users division works on products to bring Internet content to more people. Besides translating content into Asian languages, his division enables Google Maps and YouTube for offline use in places where mobile access is limited or expensive. Virtual reality and augmented reality projects will also be done in Singapore.

Google's local engineering hub is the latest addition to a growing list of similar facilities in Hyderabad in India, Sydney in Australia, and Mountain View in the United States, among other locations.

Mr Iswaran said it is important for Singapore to establish leadership positions in digital segments, such as software, devices and infrastructure. The digital economy is expected to contribute US$2 trillion (S$2.8 trillion) in additional output globally by 2020, and Singapore wants a slice of this. "One important reason for our focus on the digital economy, and the partnership with leading companies like Google, is the new opportunities it will create for local SMEs and Singaporeans," said Mr Iswaran.

In particular, small and medium- sized enterprises can enter online and global markets without requiring a huge investment. There will also be new jobs for Singaporeans, he added.

An estimated 53,000 new jobs in areas such as data analytics, software engineering and cyber security will be created by 2018, according to an Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore survey conducted in June last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Google's growing team gets a new home'. Print Edition | Subscribe