BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Irish immigrants have been in California since the gold rush days. On assignment for the BBC World Service, I went looking for the Irish in Silicon Valley and found that you can take the people out of Ireland – you can even take their pubs – but you can’t take Ireland out of the people….

Nevertheless, a new generation of Irish tech immigrants are less nostalgic for the past, and are redefining what being Irish means. They bond over mindset, not heritage; big dreams and an openness to new ideas and cultures. I started my quest at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose where a celebration of St Patrick’s Day and the San Jose-Dublin Sister City program was in full swing….

Here’s my report for the BBC’s Business Matters:

Listen to the podcast at BBC World Service or to the program excerpt below:


Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity):

The report opens with traditional Irish singing by the Black Brothers Band “Green Among the Gold: They played their jigs and reels beneath the skies of their new homeland, For Irish hands have woven strands of green among the gold.”

33 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, that’s over four times the population of Ireland. With 2.5 Million, California has the highest Irish population of any state. It’s not surprising then that the Irish are making their mark on Silicon Valley…Is it the luck of the Irish, or something else?

Meet Eoghan (Owen) McCabe, CEO of Intercom, a fast-growing startup for business messaging. He and his three Irish cofounders have found a sense of belonging among the software and silicon of the valley.

Eoghan McCabe: One of the most magic things about this place is it does allow you to think big. We’re social beings, we’re all looking for the appreciation, respect, if not love of the people around us…

Eoghan McCabe Intercom interview by Alison van DiggelenAs well as working on something you’re passionate about, McCabe has this advice:

Eoghan McCabe: Work with people you love and know and respect…don’t try to rush the relationship.

He admits to a chip on his shoulder, an urgency to prove himself. How has being Irish helped him recruit, attract capital, and grow the business?

Eoghan McCabe: The humility goes a long way in the valley…there’s a lot of hubris, people are damn good at selling themselves. So it’s a breath of fresh air when people admit they’re flawed and they can’t predict the future and they might not succeed. That natural humility, that vulnerability, that honest approach goes a long long way…They want to be successful on the basis of their merits.  What you don’t find often is people trying to play that Irish card.

Dave Burke, a Dubliner who’s now a VP at Google says his formula for success is seeking out challenges that are “uncomfortably exciting.” But does he seek out Irish techies for his 1000-strong team?

Dave Burke: We’re looking for not really the country culture, but the outlook and perspective culture: the energy, interest in making an impact, being smart. In tech… we want the best and brightest from all round the world, we want diversity…that’s antagonistic to the nationalist perspective. Nationalism looks backward, it looks unsustainable, it’s frightening… It doesn’t readily compute with people. Why wouldn’t you be open to new ideas and people?

But Burke acknowledges that some old traditions endure, especially on St Patrick’s Day.

Dave Burke: A meal of Guinness? Yes! [laughter]

Dave Burke Google BBC Interview by Alison van Diggelen

Talking of drinks…Some immigrants were so determined to bring a wee bit of old Ireland to California, that’s literally what they did.

[Audio: Irish pub…] I’ve come to the  O’Flaherty Irish Pub in San Jose to meet the owner, Marie O Flaherty.     

[Audio: Guinness pouring….Barman: Guinness… 8 dollars ….]

That looks good….

Marie O’Flaherty: This is an authentic Irish pub – it came on a boat from Ireland everything you see – the signs, pictures, the bar, the stools, everything….

Over 15 years ago, her late husband Ray O’Flaherty bought the pub in Dublin on a birthday whim. Today, it’s a landmark in Silicon Valley, and ground central for St Patrick’s Day festivities in the South Bay.

Alison van Diggelen: Is fearlessness part of the recipe for success?

Marie O’Flaherty: You have to have a lot of guts to take it on, self confidence to know whatever it is, you can do it…

Being open to new ideas, like embracing craft beers, keeps the pub popular with the “young uns” she says. The family business nurtures connections with Ireland and the world, through tourism, close links to the Silicon Valley Innovation Center & sporting ties…

Marie O’Flaherty: All the rugby teams…New Zealand did the haka up on the bar here…they drank 11 kegs of beer that night.

Having a heart of gold is also part of the Irish success story…

Marie O’Flaherty: See this poor soul here…He’s a homeless…they give him a drink and send him on his way…You have to just look out for everybody…

Marie O'Flaherty at O'Flaherty Irish Pub SJ, interview by Alison van Diggelen

Marie O’Flaherty and Mark Finn singing:

Oh Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll down Stephen’s Green

No need to worry, no need to hurry…

If you don’t believe me:  

Come and meet me there

In Dublin on a sunny summer’s morning…[laughter]

END of Report

Listen to the BBC Podcast or the audio above for a lively discussion with the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Bloomberg’s Nisid Hajari about the tech community in Silicon Valley; and how the President’s proposed travel ban is already having an impact on business and academia in the United States.

Check out the Fresh Dialogues Silicon Valley “World Series”

Mexicans in Silicon Valley

Africans in Silicon Valley

China in Silicon Valley



BBC Dialogues: Can Trump Create American Greatness?

BBC Dialogues: Can Trump Create American Greatness?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Last night, Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress. For the first time, Trump actually appeared both presidential and optimistic as he delivered an upbeat message that called for unity and bipartisan action. But was it just a facade? Can Trump possibly deliver on his ambitious promises of generous tax cuts, massive infrastructure investment and immigration reform? After all, just hours before his speech promised “clean air and clear water” for all Americans, he signed an executive order dismantling EPA protections for lakes and waterways in the U.S. There are already cracks in the facade and many unanswered questions.

The BBC’s 5 Live asked me to share my perspective.

Listen to the BBC Podcast (starts at 21:36) or to the 4 minute clip below:


Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Colletta Smith: In the last few hours, the U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to Congress. He covered some familiar themes like job creation and infrastructure investment….The Silicon Valley journalist Alison van Diggelen is on the line this morning. Good morning Alison!

Alison van Diggelen: Good morning, great to join you.

Colletta Smith: Thank you for joining us again. You’ve been helping us with this whole story over the last year of Trump’s (campaign and) election. This would not normally make the headlines: a president outlining potential budget negotiations. Yet it has with Trump, because we were expecting a surprise. And perhaps the surprise is that there wasn’t really a surprise in the speech that he gave?

Alison van Diggelen: His performance tonight was a sharp contrast to the chaotic first 40 days of the Trump presidency. He was very presidential tonight. He stuck to his script and he had a much softer approach. He had a lot of “gifts” for everyone. He’s proposing what he calls “massive” tax relief for the middle class, cuts to corporate tax; $1 Trillion in infrastructure spending and a military spending increase of $54 Billion, which to put in perspective is the entire annual budget for UK military.

Colletta Smith: When it comes to adding up those sums…do we have any more details as to how he plans to finance those extra boosts?

Alison van Diggelen: That is the big question. It’ll be interesting to see how the markets respond. There are so many outstanding questions:

  1.  How is he going to pay for these tax cuts and infrastructure spending?
  2.  Can he get these measures through Congress?
  3. Will the Federal Reserve undermine his actions by increasing interest rates?
  4. Will he start a trade war with his tariff plans and threats to renegotiate multilateral trade agreements like NAFTA?

There are so many questions unanswered, so many details unanswered. There’s a big question mark over what the future holds.

Colletta Smith: At what point does the electorate, his supporters demand that detail?

Alison van Diggelen: The stock market is on a roll right now. The market is up 10% in the ” Trump rally” since the election. Who knows if that can continue? As we all know, the stock market can turn on a dime. It depends on optimism and if the market keeps that optimism. One analyst said, “The market likes to trade on hope,” and all these issues – tax cuts, deregulation, infrastructure spending – they’re all boosts to economic growth, but at some point if he’s not able to push ahead and make progress in Congress, there may be an adjustment of that optimism and people will say: these wonderful (economic stimulus) “carrots” are not going to happen, and then things could take a nose dive.

Colletta Smith: Alison van Diggelen, Silicon Valley journalist. Thanks as ever for joining us and giving us your analysis this morning.

Read more on Trump’s speech from the BBC and The Guardian

“According to a CNN/ORC poll of about 500 speech watchers, 57% said they had had a very positive reaction to President Trump’s Congress address, with seven out of 10 saying they believed his policies would move the US in the right direction.

His popularity, however, has hit a historic low for modern presidents after a month in office – just 44% of Americans think he is doing a good job, according to RealClearPolitics.

Mr Trump’s young presidency has been overshadowed by missteps including a high-profile court defeat to his controversial travel ban and the firing of a top aide.” BBC News

BBC Dialogues: Elon Musk’s Ludicrous Plan for Tesla

BBC Dialogues: Elon Musk’s Ludicrous Plan for Tesla

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Elon Musk continues to make ambitious plans for Tesla Motors, some even call them “ludicrous.” Not content to make a niche product for electric vehicle enthusiasts, he now wants to conquer the mass market, competing in the major leagues against GM, BMW, Ford et al. Musk is promising an annual production of 1 million cars by 2020, a staggering increase from last year’s paltry: 76,000.  Is he insane?

On a conference call with Musk and media colleagues this week, I learned that Musk is still calm and laser-focused on executing his “Tesla Master plan.” This year is crunch time for Tesla. The future of the company rests on the timely and efficient production of the Model 3, Tesla’s smaller, mass market car. Will demand stay strong, despite intense competition and reservation holders threatening to cancel due to his position on Trump’s economic advisory team? Musk seemed to flounder a bit on this question and refused to disclose the latest reservation numbers, for fear of analysts “reading too much into them.”

During the discussion of  Tesla’s 2016 financial results, some anomalies arose.  Despite continuing to make massive losses (due to capital investment in the Tesla Factory and the Gigafactories), its share price is still in the stratosphere. Tesla might produce a small fraction of GM and Ford’s output, but the company is valued on par with them. What gives?

“The recent run-up in Tesla stock has less to do, in our view, with anything around the near-term financials, and more to do with the nearly superhero status of Elon Musk,” Barclays analyst, Brian Johnson.

Superhero status? More ludicrousness…The superheroes Tesla is focused on are the mighty robots on the factory floor. Musk has named them after X-men superheroes, like Cyclops and Thunderbird (see photo above); and they’re the ones that’ll have to earn their superhero status as manufacturing goes into top gear in the next few month.

“Tesla is going to be hell-bent on becoming the best manufacturer on earth.” Elon Musk

The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll invited me on Business Matters to help explain more.

Listen to the full podcast on BBC World Service (starts at 37:30) or the 5 minute clip below:

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Tesla stock has hit record highs, soaring 50% since December. With investor confidence growing that Tesla will deliver its Model 3 on time. Let’s explore this with Alison in Silicon Valley. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Model 3, and the other numbers, I know you watched Elon Musk do the webcast that go with the Q4 figures. What kind of presentation did he come up with?

Alison van Diggelen: I listened to the (live conference call) podcast. Elon Musk was on the podcast with his (retiring) CFO, answering questions from the media. They were generally upbeat. Elon Musk always over-promises how soon his vehicles will be delivered, but he is confident that they’re going to start deliveries of their Model 3 in July of this year, for employees first…beta testing for employees. He’s hoping for the mass rollout starting in September of this year. They’re pretty bullish about that.

Fergus Nicoll: Here’s the thing: Tesla has a valuation pretty close to Ford. But compared to Ford it makes about five cars! So what are we seeing? A massive future priced into that?

Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. Last year, Tesla delivered 76,000 vehicles (compared to Ford’s 2.5 million), but Elon Musk is very bullish. He’s aiming for the factory to produce 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and one million a year by 2020. He’s ludicrously ambitious. Brian Johnson, who’s an analyst with Barclays, called this run up in the Tesla stock more “Elon Musk superhero status” than short term financials. What Elon Musk says, he often delivers….eventually.

Tesla merged with SolarCity, the rooftop solar provider, so that is also giving an upside. They’ll be able to cut costs: Tesla showrooms will also become showrooms for the SolarCity solar panels. They’re also doing the other side of the equation: energy storage….

Fergus Nicoll: The household and business batteries.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly.

Fergus Nicoll: The thing is, Americans drive insane distances. Electric cars have to go a long way….the infrastructure has to catch up with the company?

Continue listening to the podcast clip above, or at BBC Business Matters for more about:

The ambitious supercharger network expansion

The fact that all cars will be equipped to be fully self-driving

Why the market continues to bet on Elon Musk


For Tesla to succeed in becoming “the best manufacturer on earth,” three big questions remain:

  1. Will the Tesla Model 3 be delivered on time and on budget this year?
  2. Will demand stay strong for Tesla, despite stiff competition from GM, Ford, BMW, Nissan, etc?
  3. Can Tesla make the huge capital investment required (for the Tesla Factory and Gigafactories expansion), without running out of money?

Read more about Tesla and Elon Musk from Fresh Dialogues archives

BBC Report: Are Facebook, Twitter Doing Enough About Fake News, Abuse?

BBC Report: Are Facebook, Twitter Doing Enough About Fake News, Abuse?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

It’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984. Today, some politicians routinely use the term “fake news” to discredit any news they don’t like, or any news organization that asks hard questions. The term “alternative facts” is even being pushed by certain White House advisors.

Online, how big is the actual fake news epidemic? No one knows for sure, but the the scale of the problem is potentially huge. Facebook has almost 2 billion users, Twitter has over 300 million; and according to Pew Research, about 60% of Americans get some news from social media. Assuming even a small percentage of users have nefarious intent, eliminating fake news and online abuse is a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. But after accusations of Facebook turning a blind eye on its rampant fake news and potentially impacting the U.S. election; the pressure to effectively and transparently root out fake news and online abuse is likely to intensify, especially with upcoming national elections in Europe.

“I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume… It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.” Adam Schrader, one of 25 former editors in Facebook’s fact-checking team. The entire team was fired by Facebook last summer, just before the election.  

At the recent Watermark Women’s conference in Silicon Valley, I spoke with Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO of Cell-Ed, an online education startup. Here’s the report I filed with the BBC’s Click Radio. It aired today on the BBC World Service.

Listen to the BBC’s “Fake it or Leave it” podcast here (first story in the program lineup) or listen to the 8 minute clip below:


Here’s a transcript of my report, edited for length and clarity.

Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: Misinformation is nothing new, as we heard last week from classics professor, Mary Beard. Today fake news has become a news story in itself. It’s becoming political, it’s undermining social media organizations, and mainstream media. Twitter and Facebook are taking action, but with so much being posted, isn’t it a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, trying to monitor and correct fake news? Our Silicon Valley reporter Alison van Diggelen has been seeking some answers from the big social networking companies and catching up with CEOs of startups, people like this:

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Technology has always been a source of incredible opportunity, unlimited potential pathway and it’s always been destructive.

Alison van Diggelen:  Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami is just one of many critics who argue that social network platforms are not doing enough to curb the dark side of the internet.

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: I work in community technology access centers…Everybody tells me worldwide, if you have 100 countries…with all these community access centers, isn’t that wonderful? You can bring digital media, books to that village. I say: it’s always double sided – by day maybe it’ll be used for education, and health access, and how to get a better job. But by night it becomes a digital brothel…

Alison van Diggelen: What should be done about that?

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Own it! Twitter not taking a stand around the blatant misogyny and hate language… strange politeness in the face of atrocity is very frustrating.

Alison van Diggelen: What do you feel people like Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the Twitter board should do?

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: There’s a responsibility to – at the very least – do one or two steps. Untruth is seen as truth because it’s relayed over a screen with a picture. You believe somebody’s story…If that story is a blatant lie,  have a way to say “untrue.” Hashtag untrue.

Kara Swisher, Sheryl Sandberg avoid fake news at Watermark Conference, photo by Alison van Diggelen February 2017Kara Swisher interviewed Sheryl Sandberg about why she didn’t attend, or even post, about The Women’s March. Sadly, Swisher didn’t ask Sandberg what she’s doing about fake news on Facebook. Next time, let’s hope!

Alison van Diggelen: I took Rothenberg-Aalami’s complaints to Twitter who gave an off-the-record account of their completely new approach to abuse online. Twitter’s VP, Ed Ho, is leading the online safety efforts (via @TwitterSafety) and last week demonstrated his  “test-fast, fail-fast, adjust-fast” mantra by rolling out a new feature – eliminating user list notifications – and then promptly reversing it within hours, after an avalanche of user complaints. Last year, Twitter formed a Safety and Trust Council, partnering with over a dozen organizations to tackle online abuse. One of the members, Emma Llanso, a director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, cautions against a one-size fits all solution.

Emma Llanso: The same tools that can be helpful in protecting against harassment by blocking abusive content and taking down accounts can be weaponized themselves if you don’t have the right safeguards in place.

Alison van Diggelen: Without careful protections, trolls can use blocking tools to silence their victims. Although Twitter has promised an open dialogue, Emma Llanso is concerned about lack of transparency.

Emma Llanso: If I had my druthers, we’d be getting a whole lot more reporting from Twitter about the numbers…what is the scope and scale of the content moderation? What is the level of content that gets removed, what are biggest issues? It would help people pin down: harassment, terrorists content, hate speech…How are these moderation processes affecting public discourse?

Alison van Diggelen: As for fake news, why can’t Twitter and Facebook simply flag or censor what they deem fake? Llanso has this advice:

Emma Llanso: That puts way too much power in the company’s hands…Having one centralized decider is a really risky dynamic to set up…

Alison van Diggelen: I asked Facebook to comment and was directed to Mark Zuckerberg’s first post on fake news: We do not want to be arbiters of truth, he wrote.

Last week Zuckerberg wrote this update:

“Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.” Mark Zuckerberg

(To me, this sounds like an endorsement of the Orwellian concept “alternative facts.” – AV)

But Facebook fired its entire fact-checking editorial team after criticism last summer that it had a liberal bias and targeted right-wing fake news.

Adam Schrader was one of those 25 editors.

Adam Schrader: I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume of it that appears… Facebook has a bubble problem. It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.

Alison van Diggelen: Schrader told me he routinely flagged between 50 and 80 fake stories a day. He questions Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that fake news on Facebook is less than 1%.

Adam Schrader: I would question that statistic. I think it would be much higher…in the 5-10% range.

Alison van Diggelen: Since December, Facebook has begun partnerships with five media outlets, including the Associated Press and Snopes, that flag “suspect” stories…. But the AP’s Lauren Easton, told me that it’s only fact checked 36 stories since the project began. Facebook recently announced fact checking collaborations with German and French media. With national elections there this year, the pressure for Facebook and Twitter to tackle the deluge of fake news and abuse will only intensify.

Gareth Mitchell: So Bill Thompson, misinformation is nothing new is it?

Bill Thompson: I have a problem with the term “fake news” but the issue’s been around for a long time. In 2010, my Wikipedia entry was hacked to declare that I’d had a heart attack and died. I corrected it. (Today) it seems to me that there are actually four different things going on:

  1. There’s the thing that was fake news, which is overt lying by people who want to get clicks on their website and make money.

2. There’s fake news which is propaganda, designed to promote a particular ideology.

3. There’s just out and out lying, like Bill Thompson is dead…May be a joke? For whatever reason.

4. And then there’s stuff you don’t want people to read, which they* call fake news to distract you from what they’re really saying.

(*Donald Trump routinely calls unfavorable news stories “fake news” – AV)

The problem that Facebook, Twitter, and everyone have is that no single tool, or approach or set of practices can possibly deal with all of those, so there will always be some material that fails to get stopped or fails to get flagged. We do need to be a better educated and more aware population to look out for these sorts of things, and not instantly believe everything we read on a screen, just because it’s on a screen.

Gareth Mitchell: I absolutely agree and that extends to things that people listen to on this radio program, any information you receive. Check it out for yourself.

Bill Thompson: Learn how to check it.

Gareth Mitchell: It’s always been an important skill…all the more pertinent given what’s going on in these times.

BBC Dialogues: Should Elon Musk Stay on Trump Advisory Team?

BBC Dialogues: Should Elon Musk Stay on Trump Advisory Team?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Since Tesla CEO Elon Musk joined the Trump business advisory team in December he’s been under intense pressure to step down. That pressure intensified this month after Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven countries with Muslim majorities. On February 2nd, Musk’s colleague, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick pulled out of the Trump team after a widespread #DeleteUber campaign went viral and his employees urged him to withdraw.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” wrote Kalanick to his staff.

Musk faced a barrage of similar criticism, with some saying he’s a crony capitalist and others claiming to have cancelled their orders for Tesla Model 3.

Last week, I joined the BBC’s Fergus Nicholl on the BBC World Service program, Business Matters. We discussed Silicon Valley tech’s furious reaction to the Trump travel ban and Elon Musk’s high pressure predicament.

Listen to the podcast excerpt below (it includes commentary from the always provocative Lucy Kellaway):

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Fergus Nicoll: Elon Musk has run into Twitter trouble…when he spoke to Mr. Trump in person and when he was seen having a drink with Steve Bannon in the White House, a lot of people said: “What on earth are you thinking?” And he came up with a fairly strong defense…

Alison van Diggelen: His key message is: “Activists should be pushing for more moderates like him, to advise the president not fewer.” And he asks, “How could  having only extremists advise him possibly be good?”

Elon Musk Tweet re Trump extremist advisors Feb 2017








Alison van Diggelen: He’s faced a lot of criticism, people even saying they’re cancelling their orders for the next generation of cars, the Tesla Model 3. He is under this pressure, but he is a powerful influencer, a poster child for Donald Trump’s manufacturing jobs being in the U.S. Musk is an idealist, he wants to save the planet. He’s bringing his message of climate change and green jobs, almost as a Trojan horse, into Trump’s meeting rooms. I think a lot of people who think about this deeply deeply, are not having this knee jerk reaction and saying don’t associate with Trump. Instead they’re saying this might be a good conduit for Trump hearing this green point of view.

Here is some of the pushback Elon Musk received on Twitter and his responses:

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