Alfonso Verdugo was born in the Canary Islands in 1971. He studied Mathematics and Computer Science at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain, and at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin, France. Alfonso worked in Paris for five years as an IT Analyst Developer at Avanquest and Trivium, both development companies. Later, he moved to Dublin where he worked for four years in Google’s Dublin office as a Senior Search Quality Analyst. He is now living in Tenerife, Spain, where he co-founded Optimanova, an Integral Web Solutions startup company.
Gerd Kuck received his M.A. in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Trier, Germany. In 2003, he started his career at Ford Motor Company in Cologne, Germany, mainly working on financial analysis and benchmarking studies. In 2005, Gerd joined the Search Quality Team (formerly known as Online Testing and Evaluation) at Google’s Dublin office, where he worked as a Search Quality Strategist and Training Lead. After three years at Google, Gerd moved back to his home town of Cologne and joined Mazda Motor Europe as a coordinator of the European Project Office. He is responsible for the training and coaching of Project Managers and the monitoring of all strategic projects at Mazda Europe.
GK: What happened on March 21, 2005?
AV: Oh, I remember that day pretty well! I started on the Online Testing & Evaluation Team, later Search Quality Evaluation (SQE), as the very first team member. One week later I got invaded by Germans, Gerdinator was here…Finally, I was not alone anymore!
[Editor’s note: This was Alfonso’s first day in the Dublin office. As he was the first and only hire for the Dublin Search Quality Team at the time, there was a huge work space with many desks, with only Alfonso among them. This became a running joke, until two weeks later when Gerd and Stephanie (both German) joined the team, much to Alfonso’s relief.]
GK: You left the sunny island of Tenerife for the not-so-sunny island of Ireland. That begs for an explanation.
AV: I was actually living in Paris before Dublin, so fortunately the change was not so strong. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have lasted so many years in Ireland!
GK: You were a professional chess player. Did that prepare you in a way for your job at Google?
AV: Okay, you got me…Five years later, I can confess: I really prepared a lot for my five interviews, calculating every possible question or situation in advance. Even taking the day off and sleeping during the day when I had calls at midnight from Mountain View to be as fresh as possible…
GK: And by the way, what did you do there?
AV: Do you mean before going to Ireland? I was a C++ developer at a IT French company, so boooring compared to Google, I know…
GK: What would you consider as your biggest success at Google?
AV: No doubt here, building an experimental team from scratch, now a reference for webmasters and a nightmare for spammers. The Luminary Award was really great, but the “Hokey Pokey” I received from Matt Cutts was priceless…
[Editor’s note: The Search Quality Team was an idea originated by Matt Cutts in MTV, and was very experimental in the beginning. Because the team’s potential success was questionable and the idea itself risky, very few people were hired at first. Alfonso founded the Dublin Search Quality Tea in 2005, and by 2007, the Dublin team was eighty strong. In 2005, Matt presented Alfonso with a “Hokey Pokey,” a singing, dancing Cookie Monster doll, for his leadership in creating a suite of Firefox toolbars that the team urgently needed to do their work. In 2007, Alfonso received a Luminary Award for his leadership in building the Dublin team.]
GK: You’re back home now. Could you explain to us what you do now for a living?
AV: I quickly noticed it was hard to work in any company after Google, especially here in the Canary Islands, where job conditions are quite bad. That’s why I decided to start up my own company, and provide Integral Web solutions to clients all over Europe. The majority of our staff is composed by Xooglers working remotely. If you are interested to work as a freelancer or you are just curious, this is our site: www.optimanova.com.
GK: How does your current job differ from your role at Google? In what ways is it similar? (I guess you now work for money; we never did that at Google, did we?)
AV: The main difference is obviously the size; now I have to do or control everything myself. And even worst, things are not free anymore, doh! About the similarities, I keep my own personal and company OKRs, although I still hate them…
GK: To what extend did your time at Google prepare you for your current job?
AV: Honestly, it prepared to me for everything! I remember every training I had (wow, I now see the meaning of all those colors and role playing!), how to get things done, how to work with people from so many nationalities. On the other hand, you sometimes become too picky
about things that you used to have. (“Wait a minute, where is the free espresso machine and candies here? And the gym??”)
GK: What do you miss the most about your time at Google? It’s the food, isn’t it?
AV: The food, the foosball table, but especially the people: it is rare to have so much diversity and so many talented people in a just few square meters! (Yeah, our team was always growing, so we were usually crowded.)
GK: I’d like to close with a typical SQE question: The Tenerife flag looks exactly like a duplicate of the Scottish flag. Who copied from whom?
AV: There are several theories about it; this one is my favorite: There was a Scottish ship that came close to Tenerife with a hold full of whisky, and the Spaniards decided to attack the ship to get whatever they were carrying. The Scottish put up a good fight, and the locals were so
impressed by their bravery that they decided to adopt the flag as a sign of respect! But the most plausible one is that we share the same patron, Saint Andrew (San Andres).