Interview: Berthier Ribeiro-Neto Head of Engineering at Google Brazil

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(I’m in Brazil all week reporting on the IT industries of South America.)

Mr. Ribeiro-Neto received a Ph.D degree in Computer Science from UCLA in 1995. He is the co-author of “Modern Information Retrieval.” In 1999 he co-founded Akwan Information Technologies, a search engine focused on Brazil. Google acquired the company in 2005.

Here are some notes from our conversation:

– We built a search engine funded by the salaries of professors, probably not a good idea but we quickly got a lot of traffic. Google acquired us in 2005 for the people and not our technology. Google closed our search engine.

-Google’s acquisition validated the quality of the skilled engineers in Brazil and growth has been rapid here and we now have more than 300 people.

– My group is responsible for global projects. It only makes sense for Google to work on technologies that can be scaled globally. My group works on Orkut, the social network, which is very popular here; targeted advertising; and maps.

– The Internet market is growing very rapidly in Brazil, we have more than 70 million Brazilian Internet users today (36% of population.) And large advertisers are rapidly moving to the Internet.

– Brazil does not have a VC community and investors do not understand the Internet market. This is Brazil’s biggest weakness. If you have to grow from your own revenues then you will grow slowly.

– We strongly believe in open APIs and not what Facebook is doing. Closing APIS will work against companies. The most successful example of an open API is email – built on open standards. It would be ridiculous if you could not send an email to someone unless you were both on the same network.

– Google has been focused on Internet consumers but we do see good opportunities in business services. There are issues of compatibility. We are working hard in that area and you will soon see some announcements.

– Most of the innovation on the Internet won’t come from Google, it will come from elsewhere, it cannot be predicted. Brazil will play its part.

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