In profile: Nelson Mattos, the Google Europe boss
Nelson Mattos, the boss of Google Europe, has a vision: everyone should have access to the World Wide Web. He feels that mobile internet has great potential, particularly in developing countries.
Google has a huge influence on the academic world. In August 2011 the American Library Association published a study that found that students have difficulty researching library databases. The reason is that they are using ‘googling’ methods. ‘Google Scholar’, for example, provides access to academic publications, which benefits developing countries in particular. And that is precisely what motivates Nelson Mattos, the Google Europe boss.
Nelson Mattos is responsible for the company’s activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as for some 800 engineers in the Google Development Centres in Europe and Israel. There are two things that are very close to his heart: continuing to develop Web technology and improving internet access for people in developing countries and emerging economies. The latter could be achieved using mobile internet, for example.
His own background is what drives him. Nelson Mattos was born in 1959 and was raised as one of five children in modest circumstances in the Brazilian megacity of Porto Alegre. His mother was a teacher, his father worked in sales in a mechanical engineering firm. When Mattos was five years old, there was a military coup in Brazil. The political situation had not changed when, years later, Nelson began a degree in construction engineering, although without much enthusiasm – not the best start to an international career.
Nelson Mattos: the long road to Google
In his second semester at university, Nelson Mattos took a course in the programming language BASIC. He discovered his passion for information technology and went on to study what was then still a young subject. In 1984 he won a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) grant to study in Kaiserslautern in Germany. What was his first impression? ‘When you’ve learned standard High German and move to a city where everyone speaks the local dialect, it’s not exactly easy,’ says Mattos. But he quickly got used to that. The people in Kaiserslautern were friendly and open, he adds. ‘It’s where I found the best of friends.’
Nor did the University of Kaiserslautern disappoint him: ‘I worked with highly qualified people from across the entire world.’ In Germany he was also able to study his subject in more depth. ‘In Brazil you waste a lot of time getting the technical equipment or research funding.’ In 1989 Nelson Mattos' PhD thesis was turned into a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and a cooperation with the IBM Research Center in Heidelberg. The software company IBM invited Mattos to California as a visiting scientist. He initially planned to go for only two years, then ended up staying sixteen. During that time he developed many products in the various positions he held, products that earned the company several hundred million dollars.
Nelson Mattos: passionate Google Europe boss
‘I never had plans to leave IBM,’ says Mattos. ‘But at some point I got the impression that I had seen everything.’ It was precisely at that point that Google knocked on his door – and presented him with new challenges in Europe. Google is more than just a search engine – it has a wide range of products and services on offer, including the systems software Android for smartphones and tablets, the Google Chrome browser, Google Street View, Google News, Google Books or YouTube.
And there’s still a great deal to be done. More and more people are using the internet. The growth potential for the mobile internet is huge, especially in developing countries. Nelson Mattos’ vision is that people with poor language and literacy skills should benefit just as much from the Web as highly-qualified academics. Information should be available to users not just as text, but also in multimedia formats – in as many languages as possible. Google also wants to push ahead with networking the world; near-immediate posts from blogs, Twitter and Facebook need to become more efficient.
Google is pursuing an ambitious goal with its ‘Google Flu Trends’, which concludes from the frequency of certain keywords on the incidence of flu cases. The more people from a particular region google terms like ‘flu’ or ‘flu symptoms’, the higher is the number of people who are actually ill with the flu. The result corresponds strikingly to traditional flu surveillance systems, so Google Flu Trends can be used to predict epidemics. One outbreak of influenza, for example, was recognisable two weeks before it was officially announced.