What does it mean to make it in the north? This is part of a series of portraits of local people, organisations, and companies working to further internationalise Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe. This time we spoke to Dieter Kern, the Senior Hardware Operations Manager at the Google Data Center in Eemshaven.
By Erin Goedhart-Stallings
As you drive into the Google Data Center complex, the first thing you see is the familiar brightly coloured logo and an absolutely massive rectangular server building. The sound of jackhammers echoes across the site, which is bordered on one side by the road between Delfzijl and Assen, and on the other by lush green potato fields. Having walked past a row of Google-branded bicycles (very Dutch) into a smaller office building, I meet Dieter Kern, who has been working on Google’s ‘data center’ project since before the facility was built, so an excellent guide!
‘We chose Eemshaven in part because of its proximity to a major transatlantic internet cable and also to big cities, such as Amsterdam and Hamburg. Google also aspires to be as close to carbon neutral as possible, and there’s a lot of green energy development in the region’, he explains. ‘We opened about four years ago and are one of four Google Data Centers in Europe that collectively manage and support Google’s infrastructure, technology, and apps. If you’ve used any application like Google Maps, Google Mail, or YouTube, the data is pulled from a data centre like this one.’
Right now, the Google Data Center employs about 250 people. ‘As a rule of thumb, we try to keep the ratio of staff about 50% Dutch. We want to make sure there are opportunities for local people to work here, and that’s something that I feel strongly about from a management perspective: to have a balanced team, you need both international and local staff.’
‘We currently have employees from about 21 countries with 19 different native languages, so English is the language of business here. At Google, we put a lot of effort into minimising any challenges to living in a new country: we give training sessions about cultural expectations and we also encourage newcomers to participate in our ‘buddy system’. Employees who have been here for a while, Dutch and international, can volunteer to be paired with newcomers to help conquer the challenges of being new in the country, and it’s also a good way to foster new friendships!’
‘We want to help newcomers understand Dutch culture a bit. British and American people in particular can be surprised by Dutch frankness, a directness that is by no means personal: it’s just how Dutch people approach communication and interaction, and is meant to make things clearer. It can be a big step, coming to the Netherlands. But, in my personal opinion, the Netherlands is the easiest European country for internationals to integrate in, because it is a very open-minded culture. The Netherlands minimises the language barrier to an extreme: almost everybody speaks some form of English. That isn’t the case in other places, like my home country of Germany. Of course, most of us who come here want to learn Dutch for other reasons, but a lot of the processes you have to go through to enter the country and get a working permit are in English. The International Welcome Center North is a big help to us, too, as it’s one of the first places new employees go.’
‘Our international employees really love living in the North. You can have a fantastic quality of life here: we not only enjoy the university town of Groningen, but also the nearby islands for weekend escapes and the many activities in the province. I’ve chosen to live in a small village, Spijk, and lots of our employees have also bought houses nearby. They’re settling in and really living with full pride here in the North.’
However, it can be surprisingly difficult to attract Dutch people from other parts of the country. ‘Many people from the Randstad think Eemshaven is too remote, although it’s only a few hours away by train, which is nothing for most people from other countries. I really believe that the North is a fantastic place to live. And it’s very important to me that we support the activities happening here. The region has so much to offer!’
Transportation to the data centre is the biggest ongoing challenge related to its location. ‘It would be helpful to connect Eemshaven more closely to Groningen and its surroundings. Google had to establish a shuttle service to transport employees from the closest train station, in Appingedam. It would also be helpful to add trains in the off hours: work here continues around the clock. However, the Eemshaven region is clearly growing and more and more companies are settling here. It’s only a matter of time before we see better or smarter transit connectivity.’
On 24 June, Google announced that they will be investing another €1 billion to expand their data centres in the Netherlands. Once that is complete, the Eemshaven data centre expects to employ 350 people. Jobs are listed at careers.google.com and on the Make it in the North website. ‘There are a lot of opportunities at Google for both Dutch and international jobseekers. Come join us in Eemshaven!’
Erin Goedhart-Stallings is a writer and editor who works on Make it in the North with the International Welcome Center North (IWCN). For more information about Make it in the North, just visit www.makeitinthenorth.nl