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Tech talent changing the world at Google

Come a long way: Bermudian James Tucker outside the Google offices in San Francisco

A healthy obsession with technology, a good college education and a heavy dose of determination helped to land one young Bermudian a job at the multibillion-dollar empire known as Google.

James Tucker is now based in San Francisco, working in the machine intelligence group for the search engine giant after it bought out social-media marketing start-up Wild Fire, for which he was a director.

Mr Tucker describes working for Google as “really special”, saying he has become addicted to very good coffee and enjoys the best healthcare packages in the world, not to mention the cutting-edge infrastructure and outstanding professional support.

Part of the internet start-up generation, Mr Tucker was keen to tinker with technology from a young age and during his summer school breaks would intern with Jamie Thain, former owner of Systems Business Integration.

Mr Tucker has come a long way since then but he has not forgotten his roots — he is keen to help to build a competitive tech community on his Island home. That is why he helped to organise Bermuda’s first Hackathon, which took place at the XL Group last month. Speaking to The Royal Gazette at the event, Mr Tucker said: “We touched a lot of people across the world with our start-up, but the primary financial side was in the US. Now with Google, it’s a whole different thing — it is absolutely everywhere.

“Products that I am working on now touch absolutely everyone who interacts with Google; that’s a different scale of challenge. It’s gone from a clique group of business users to everybody on the planet, pretty much.”

After his summer internships at Systems Business Integration, one of the authors of Emoo, Mr Tucker went to study computer science and artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex in Britain.

During his studies, he launched his first company, Mantissa Operations, with a group of fellow students. While it was not particularly successful financially, it gave him plenty of experience and he was able to launch a tracking system that is still used by the likes of the Bermuda Regiment and the Department of Transport.

He later bought into Wild Fire and, when the company began to spread much like its namesake, he took up a directorship position in the company. Wild Fire was sold to Google in 2010 for a reported $450 million, of which Mr Tucker took home “a good chunk of shares”.

He continued to work for Wild Fire as chief technology officer before it was fully absorbed into Google.

“Wild Fire dealt with pages and ads on Facebook, pages and messaging systems for Twitter, ways of interacting with your consumers over social media and ways of advertising on those platforms,” he said.

“Then we were slowly absorbed into the Googlesphere. I spent a couple of years at Google trying to integrate more social-media understanding into the ads group. We eventually integrated the products and shut down Wild Fire as its own thing. Now I work in the machine intelligence group and I’m working on a new project which is confidential.

Mr Tucker added: “All of my teams have gone into different parts of Google: YouTube, machine intelligence, working on maps; those sorts of things. This summer I went and found a group at Google X — Google’s research and development division — and joined those guys. We launched some new ad integrations into Ad Words and Double Click, and the big commercial advertising products, among other projects.”

Asked what advice he had for young people aspiring towards a similar career, Mr Tucker said: “For companies like Google, Apple and Facebook, a college education is important.

“You can do very well without a college education, but you would have to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself.

“Getting involved in groups like this [the Hackathon] is a big differentiator — find open-source communities and instead of just studying it, be interested in it. Find ways to do it as a hobby for extra demonstration of being involved.”

Despite being a tiny island stranded in the Atlantic, Mr Tucker said that Bermuda was full of opportunities for people to gain experience in his line of work.

“On the IT side, there are a lot of opportunities for work experience in the financial companies,” he said.

“They are interested in opening the doors. Bermuda College in the past has been good and companies like SBI were very good to me when I was younger.

“There will be other consulting companies on the Island and telecommunication companies.”