The Leader in Technology series interviews Irish professionals who have become leaders in Tech Companies in the US, providing insights into their current role and their advice for aspiring professionals. 

Francis Shanahan, SVP of Technology, Audible

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About 

Francis leads the Core Engineering group at Audible (an Amazon company). Audible is the world’s largest seller and producer of digital spoken-word entertainment and has revolutionized the experience of listening to spoken word. Francis’ group powers everything from content ingestion, membership, catalog publishing, audio delivery right through to personalization. Prior to joining Audible, Francis worked for 15 years up and down Wall Street in the financial sector building teams, designing systems and shipping software for some of the largest financial institutions in the world.

Audible…leaders in Innovation 

Innovation has always been at the forefront of Audible’s business, having been the first digital audio player ever released (4 years before the ipod) and earning more than 100 patents since 2008. Since Francis joined the company, Audible has become a core pillar of Amazon’s flagship service and product offerings including Amazon Prime, Kindle and Alexa.  In this issue of Leaders in Technology, Francis provides his perspective on a range of issues including his role, innovation, career advice and his love for gruesome ultra-marathons.

Experience with Audible

Since joining Audible, you have become the tech lead for the Core Engineering Group. How has your experience been of the transition from coding to becoming responsible for the most valuable resource of the company?

At each stage of my career I’ve tried to focus on impact – where can I use my skills to provide the maximum benefit to the customer. I came to Audible having already spent many years leading teams and so I spent my first few years here deep in the weeds to understand the Audible and Amazon community.  Over time I’ve switched my focus from solving gnarly tech-issues and scaling systems to now focusing on scaling teams and solving for longer-arc issues.

What advice would you have for tech people making the transition into leadership?

Surround yourself with great people. Leaders only succeed through their teams and I view myself as a servant-leader, there to ensure the team has everything they need. Then I try to get out of their way. Leadership can happen at anytime, regardless of your career level and I would recommend everyone identify and pair up with a mentor. Someone who can provide you the benefit of their experience as well as keep you grounded will yield huge benefits over the course of your career.

Innovation is clearly a priority for your organization. What technological developments will Audible be focusing on over the next year?

That would be spoiling the surprise. Suffice to say we have a lot of exciting things coming down the pike and I’m really excited to see them come to market.

Your Career

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your journey with Audible?

Audible’s been an amazing journey. I think the single biggest challenge has been to keep up with an organization that’s growing at the pace of our business. That’s a great problem to have by the way and life is never dull.

What advice would you have for Irish developers looking to work and succeed in the US?

Think Big! Don’t be afraid to take big risks (like leaving it all behind) and wander the earth for a while. Irish developers have the benefit of a tremendous education that positions them very competitively on the world stage so get out there and explore.

What has been your biggest achievement at Audible?

We’ve had a lot of firsts at Audible; I’ve lived through (now) 3 Prime Days, multiple country launches, new surface launches and countless features.I think the thing I’m most proud of though is the team (Core Engineering) we’ve built and the idea that we’re continuously improving the product in ways that are tangible to the customer.

On a broader level our company has achieved this tremendous growth without ever losing sight of our community responsibilities within the city of Newark. I think this focus makes us stronger as a company.

If you had one piece of advice for yourself earlier in your career, what would it be?

I was very driven, ambitious and intense to be around in my earlier years. At least it felt that way. I still have those tendencies but I’d like to think the years have mellowed me slightly. To Francis 20 years ago I’d say “Roll with it. Relax. It’ll all work out fine.”

Who was the biggest influence on your career?

My father. He encouraged my curiosity from a very early age. He was there to catch me through multiple “controlled failures” and taught me patience, the importance of listening and a great many other things besides.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

This job tests me and keeps me on my toes. I’m always learning and being held to a high standard but the best part is I get to work a fantastic team of creative and caring people across all manner of disciplines.  I couldn’t ask for a better role.

What are your passions outside of work? You enjoy running ultra marathons!?!

If I’m not sure I can succeed at something I’ll generally give it a try. That’s how I ended up running ultras. 50km is a good distance for me but I’ve gone as far as 101 miles in 24hours.  Last year I ran the Galtee Crossing in Tipperary and failed out of Leadville in Colorado at the 50mile mark so I guess I found my limit.  There’s nothing quite like heading out into the woods with the open trail in front of you to get back to basics and figure out what’s important. It’s even better with an audiobook and you’d be amazed how far you can go when you slow down and focus. Get out there and run!

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Employing a J1’er (Benefits/Process)

Why Host an International Intern/Trainee?

Many employers are not aware of the added value foreign interns can bring their business. By hosting an international intern, not only will you provide them opportunities to gain valuable skills and knowledge, your business will also benefit from their unique international perspective and skills.

Benefits to Your Business

Cultural Diversity: Providing an internship opportunity to a foreign student or recent graduate allows you to create a multicultural and dynamic business environment that promotes cross-cultural ideas and understanding. Because our applicants seek out our services directly, they are highly motivated to succeed and contribute to your business.

International Insight: Even if your company does not do business with other countries, hosting an international intern is guaranteed to provide you with new ways of thinking and insights that your business may otherwise not have access to. Their unique educational and professional backgrounds provide them with fresh perspectives on a range of tasks and projects.

Availability: Unlike American interns who may only be available for a few hours a week due to school schedules and other time commitments, international interns come to the US specifically for the internship experience and can train from 32 to 40 hours per week for up to 12 or sometimes 18 months. This provides your business with greater flexibility with tasks and projects and allows the intern to be utilized more effectively. In addition, your company does not have to go through the hassle of training a new intern every few months.

Understanding the J-1 Visa Program

The purpose of the J-1 Visa Program is to provide international participants with opportunities for professional development, insight into American know-how, and a greater understanding of American society and culture. J-1 interns and trainees are expected to share the cross-cultural and professional knowledge they have gained in the U.S. upon return to their home country at the end of the program. The J-1 program is also intended to allow American businesses and individuals to learn about the culture and expertise of the participant’s home country.

Using the J-1 Visa Program to fill the position of a regular staff member and/or to immigrate into the U.S. is strictly prohibited.

Understanding J-1 Visa Sponsorship

Any foreign national whom you would like to invite to your U.S. company for an internship or training must first be accepted by an officially designated organization/sponsor. This helps ensure that the candidate and proposed training satisfy all visa and regulatory requirements. The U.S. Department of State designates and authorizes sponsors to issue prospective interns or trainees the Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019 form) that is required for interns and trainees to apply for the J-1 visa.

Program Requirements

To be eligible to host a sponsored J-1 Intern or Trainee, your company needs to:

  1. Have found an international candidate to whom you would like to offer training or agree to host a candidate.
  2. Provide the intern or trainee with a structured training program that must both be suitable to his or her qualifications and background and be approved by a sponsor (as required by J-1 Program regulations). The sponsor will assist you in developing an adequate training plan (DS-7002).
  3. Ensure that the intern or trainee is engaged in training and does not perform ordinary work that a part-time or full-time staff member of the company would otherwise be responsible for. J-1 participants may not make final decisions about, or carry the full responsibility for, major tasks, assignments or projects. However, they may provide assistance in these matters since on-the-job training is encouraged as an important learning tool.
  4. Offer training activities up to 18 months in one of the subject fields  designated by the U.S. Department of State.

Your prospective J-1 Intern or Trainee needs to:

  1. Be currently enrolled or within 12 months of graduating from a foreign degree-granting post secondary institution in a relevant course of studies (interns), or have a degree and at least 1 year of work experience in a field directly related to the proposed training (trainees).
  2. Know English well enough to perform successfully in the proposed training activities.
  3. Plan to leave the U.S. within 30 days after completion of the program.
  4. Possess a great attitude, eager to learn and participate in program activities.

 

James Cumiskey is Business Development Manager for KEMP Technologies based in their New York headquarters. Coming from Ireland, he has been through the J1 process before and found his employment through networking and interviewing on the ground here in the city.

Twitter: @jamescumiskey1

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamescumiskey1/

NYDI Member Focus: Stephen Mulvey, Gaingels

Stephen Mulvey

A Kildare native, Stephen popped his NY cherry as a student, spending an idyllic, if at times excessive summer in Union Square three years ago. He returned last Fall for a closer look. He works in marketing and investment administration for a private equity/VC group called Gaingels, who invest in companies with at least one LGBT founder or senior leader. Also a writing enthusiast, Stephen pens the occasional column for Inc.com and supports NYDI in the promotion of the group as a believer in its utility to Irish professionals in the city. He is passionate about brunching, the music of U2, spontaneous nights out, and the sultry vocal tones of Amazon’s Alexa.

Stephen, tell us about your role and what you like most about it?

Essentially I have two functions; there’s marketing – very much on the B2B end in our business – which essentially involves creating promo or informational materials as we need them for would-be or current investors. Then there’s the usual stuff – maintaining our online presence and coordinating our regular meetings, be they formal pitches or more informal socials. There’s also more straight up administration work – compiling diligence reports, preparing and filing legal documents, setting up meetings etc. Less exciting perhaps, but then I am one of those strange people who get a kick out of a neat spreadsheet!

You have been in New York for over a year now, what advice would you have for young professionals looking to make a career in NY?

I think it’s important to assess the professional benefit of going to NY in a very clinical way. Forget the bright-lights-big-city romance. Think about what it is you do (or wish to do). Does that industry exist in NY? How competitive is it? How can you gain entry to it? And most importantly, who do you know? Because if the answer is nobody and you’re unwilling to get out there and network aggressively to change that, then don’t go. You can experience fabulous things and pimp out your Instagram in a multitude of cities across the world (and have a far better standard of living!). I only answer that question so bluntly because I believe the organizations overseeing programs for people moving here are biased toward presenting a whitewashed version of NYC life. But it’s not easy. It’s not for everyone. But their view is more ‘we’ll take your money and construct a narrative to convince you this can work regardless’.

What is your ambitions professionally for the next 5 years?

I’m 23 and really just starting out; my job right now – irrespective of where I work – is to learn from people who know better. I have to say my bosses are both excellent mentors. They want me to come away from this role a better, more evolved professional. So short term that’s the goal. In five years I’d like to be a consummate marketer, and hopefully have worked in another country – perhaps the developing world. There’s a lot of interesting things happening there.

“Some people will bitterly reflect that it’s not what you know, but who you know. I think the best advice I’ve been given is to embrace that……”

What was the best piece of career advice that you have received?

Some people will bitterly reflect that it’s not what you know, but who you know. I think the best advice I’ve been given is to embrace that. Really think about how the people you know can help you get to where you want to be. And of course, reciprocate. Help the next person up!

Check out Stephen’s Linked In profile here. Are you a professional working in New York and would like to be featured in our Member Focus Series? Contact us at breiffni@digitalirish.com

Networking/Job Hunting in NYC

Quite possibly the most valuable thing you can do if looking for a job here in New York is networking. We Irish are a bunch that tend to look out for each other and have quite an already established network of connections here. Whether it be Irish American or born and bred Irish, we’re here and there are several organizations and continuous events to help you get yourself out there and start conversations that will get you on your way to securing a job in NYC!

You cant afford to be shy when networking in NYC. You have to really put yourself out there at events. Walk up to strangers, introduce yourself. Strike up conversations. Be politely direct and tailor the conversation around looking for work and in the particular industry/role you need. The following organizations/events don’t do the work for you. They are merely a starting point for you to get in contact with people that more than likely have been in your position at some stage in their career and may be able to point you in the right direction or know someone who knows someone. Its good practice to bring a copy of your resume, just incase and be prepared to get numbers/emails.

Digital Irish

Digital Irish recognizes the difficulty of getting started and finding employment in the city and aims to shortlist a network of highly qualified, motivated Irish graduates and notify them, via our email blasts, of great companies that are currently hiring in the USA. Typical positions in which recent graduates find employment include; sales, business development, social media management, marketing, finance / accounting, and IT.

While we will facilitate making introductions to companies everything else will be your sole responsibility. We do not charge a fee, this is a voluntary service to help you find work.

Join our mailing List for job announcements and get in contact with some of the team here: http://digital.irish/team/

We also host regular networking sessions and quick-pitch events where startups present to our community and ask for support and feedback. This is a good opportunity to show up and mingle with other professionals in New York mainly from Irish backgrounds and strike up conversations about jobs, advice and connections. Keep updated on our upcoming events by joining or social media pages and mailing list.

IIBN- Irish International Business Network

IIBN is the leading network of Irish entrepreneurs and business professionals.  The objective of IIBN is to facilitate greater communication and connectivity between successful Irish business people all over the world with a view to identifying and exploiting new business opportunities.

Keep up to date with their events here: http://iibn.com/events/categories/new-york-events/

IIBN also operates a number of mentor programs across each of its chapters.  The purpose of these is to harness potential, enhance skills, develop leadership, provide knowledge, guidance and connections.

The mentorship programmes available are quite distinct so please have a look to see if one will suit you. Information and application details are available. If you need clarification with any particular aspects of the programmes please get in touch at info@iibn.com.

Check out the different programs here: http://iibn.com/mentorship/

IBO- Irish Business Organization

The IBO is a not-for-profit, non-denominational organization which seeks to promote, foster and advance the business interests of Irish and Irish American business people in the tri-state area and beyond.

The IBO provides a unique forum for Irish and Irish-American business people via its regular networking meetings and other events and initiatives. Our mission is to Network, Communicate and Reciprocate!

Keep up to date with their events here: http://www.ibonewyork.org/Upcoming-events

And join the IBO Young Professionals here: http://www.ibonewyork.org/IBO-Young-Professionals

It’s vital you get at least a temporary US cell whilst job hunting in the states. You can’t rely on recruiters/ potential employers to just correspond through email. Most will call you without prior warning or at least want to conduct a phone interview at some stage. And if you got no phone or there’s an obstacle they’ll move on. So go into any American cell phone provider and purchase a topup/burner cell and add the cell number to your resume.

Once that is taken care of you can start applying through different websites and forums such as the below:

Indeed.com

Monster.com

Criaglist

Linkedin  (Quick tip: Update your location to ‘New York’ on Linkedin so recruiters will find you based on location)

Remember, job applications are great but building connections can be just as good if not better. Reach out to that Facebook friend now in New York you haven’t spoken to in years, send an email to that former colleague just moved to New York you barely knew. They might know someone, their company might be hiring. Believe me, you never know where it leads to.

James Cumiskey is Business Development Manager for KEMP Technologies based in their New York headquarters. Coming from Ireland, he has been through the J1 process before and found his employment through networking and interviewing on the ground here in the city.

Twitter: @jamescumiskey1

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamescumiskey1/