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Google S’pore expands as it aims for next billion users

SINGAPORE — Having grown from a team of 24 to a 1,000-strong workforce, Google is set to continue its expansion in Singapore, with new offices in Pasir Panjang that span two blocks — a far cry from the “start-up, scrappy feel” of its first office in Collyer Quay in 2007.

Google S’pore expands as it aims for next billion users

(From left) Mr Caesar Sengupta, vice president of Google’s Next Billion Users team; Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), and Mr Karim Temsamani, Google’s president of APAC operations, at the opening of Google’s new office on Nov 10, 2016. Photo: Koh Mui Fong

SINGAPORE — Having grown from a team of 24 to a 1,000-strong workforce, Google is set to continue its expansion in Singapore, with new offices in Pasir Panjang that span two blocks — a far cry from the “start-up, scrappy feel” of its first office in Collyer Quay in 2007.

The tech giant, whose Asia-Pacific headquarters is based here, is seeking to house “a growing engineering team” to support its vision of reaching out to the next billion Internet users, while continuing with various operations such as sales, partnerships and marketing, said Mr Caesar Sengupta, vice-president of Google’s Next Billion Users team.

“We started the engineering team this year. So it’s still growing. I would like to say it’s significant even though it’s small still, but we expect to grow it over the years,” said Mr Sengupta at the official opening of its Singapore office at Mapletree Business City on Thursday (Nov 10) that was attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran. 

“Singapore is at the heart of a major change in how people in Asia are using technology ... and so, for us, we want to have a team that’s based close to these users,” Mr Sengupta added. 

Google, which has focused on services for the business sector here, is also expanding its community footprint. Over the next three years, it will organise coding classes for 3,000 students aged between eight and 15 from low-income households, to help develop an interest in the tech industry among young Singaporeans.

Speaking at the event, Mr Iswaran said that, globally, the rapid adoption of digital technologies across the spectrum of economic activities is expected to contribute US$2 trillion (S$2.8 trillion) in additional output by 2020.

This digital economy is also creating new opportunities for Singaporeans, he said. An estimated 53,000 digital and related jobs will be created by 2018, according to a survey conducted in June last year by the Info-communications Media Development Authority.

Partnerships with industry leaders such as Google will help Singapore benefit from the “promise and potential” of the digital economy, he said.

Through the Go Global initiative with Spring and IE Singapore, which partners local small and medium-sized enterprises in the adoption of digital solutions to go international, Google has helped about 100 businesses here over the past year alone.

For example, Google helped local winterwear retailer Coldwear increase sales in Indonesia by 30 per cent with its search engine marketing tools. Seafood wholesaler Hai Sia’s online sales also trebled after Google helped it develop a mobile-friendly website and create two YouTube video advertisements — all “without high capital and real estate investments”, Mr Iswaran noted.

As for the new Code in the Community programme for youths, Mr Sengupta said: “We feel that many professions here have a very high level of respectability and we want to make sure technology and the creative industry get to that point where kids, parents, families want their children to grow up to be technologists.”

The programme will be open for applications next month, and Google will ensure that at least half of the children who join the programme are girls. “One thing important to us is to make sure there’s diversity,” Mr Sengupta said.

The programme will be held in partnership with the four community self-help groups — the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Singapore Indian Development Association, the Eurasian Association and Yayasan Mendaki. The classes, run by 21C Girls and Saturday Kids, will be held at four community centres on weekends.

21C Girls is a registered charity that develops and delivers free coding classes to girls in Singapore. Saturday Kids is a programming school for children.

Each batch of participants and their parents will start off with a visit to the Google office so that they can see “what creative technology could feel like”, said Mr Sengupta.

(Levitating plant pots like this one greets visitors at the reception area of Google's new office.)

Mr Lee said: “Tech is disruptive. Your (Google’s) objective is to disrupt the world ... We expect to be disrupted but at the same time we want to make sure that we come out on the right side of the disruption.”

Describing Singapore and Southeast Asia as an “energetic buzzing place”, Mr Lee said he hoped the environment would help Google thrive. “And in the process Singapore thrives as well.”

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