Not enough students are applying for computer programming courses that are guaranteed to lead to fulfilling and well-paid roles in an exciting and increasingly creative industry, one of the country's leading tech leaders has said this week.
The problem is even more acute when it is broken down in terms of gender with the percentage of female students applying for computing courses much lower than their male counterparts.
Joe Smyth, senior vice-president of research and development and site lead for Galway at Genesys has said that a greater uptake of software college courses and a greater emphasis on it as a career could fill the major demand that currently exists for software programmers. He is also appealing to students, parents and schools to encourage students to consider careers in software engineering and to ignore the age-old stereotypes that suggest programming is all maths-based.
He said that out of the 56 computer programming students in NUI Galway last year, only 11 were female and he has made a call to schools and career guidance counsellors to help address this by pointing out the pathways to well-paid creative roles in computer programming, often in your own locality.
He was speaking to the Galway Advertiser just a fortnight after Genesys announced the creation of 100 new posts in a state-of-the-art location at Galway's hippest new building, Bonham Quay, overlooking Galway docks.
"When you look at the roles that are going to be growing as we go forward over the next twenty years, they are in the main going to be involved computer skills, software development and to a certain extent medical. Bizarrely, the medical industry does not have problems attracting students to college courses, as the points required for medicine and bio-medical engineering are way higher than computer science and electronics and computing.
"There are phenomenal careers to be had in computer science and those careers can be here in the west of Ireland for students. There are even options for working from home in smaller towns now as well, even for multinational companies like our own, and we have embraced remote working. Because Covid has shown us we can support more flexible ways of working and there really is no reason for companies not to be more flexible, given the cloud-based tools that we have at our disposal and that we develop for our own customers at Genesys.
"There's a nuance behind us leasing a building for 15 years in the middle of Galway, in that we still see the need to have an anchor point in the area. We have seats for 300 people and we would like to grow beyond that and we probably will go beyond that over the 15 year period.
"We will see maybe 50 per cent of the team coming into the office every single day and another 20/30 per cent who will come in two or three days a week and then another 20 percent who will work remotely and probably come in once a month or once a quarter for an important meeting or training.
"The layout of the building is such that the top floor will be configured as a large meeting space for training and meetups plus a cafeteria. It will have the best views of the bay and we think it will be a spectacular location for our staff and guests. And as part of the Bonham ethos, for up to 15 days a year, we will allow third parties to come and use that designated space."
He feels it will also help reinvigorate small towns around the region as many of the roles that are being created will allow remote working.
"This will enable people to have well-paid state of the art roles in their own community. It connects us to the community just like our sponsorship of Connacht Rugby, which we see as a pivotal statement that we are here to support the community.
All of this sounds enticing, but Joe Smyth is concerned that young people are not seeing the opportunity for having such careers.
"Yes, and in particular, young women are not seeing the opportunities. Because if you look at the enrolment of computer science in NUI Galway last year, out of 56 students, there were only 11 females. And this ratio is replicated in computer science and electronic and computing courses in 3rd level colleges across the country.
"There is a huge missed opportunity, and we have to work with the guidance counsellors. We are starting a pilot programme to go into Transition Years and do what we are calling Design Thinking Workshops where students get to think through a problem and then get to implement a solution to that problem using the easy-to-use technology that Genesys have.
"We hope to pilot that with Gort secondary school this year and we want to roll it out to other schools. Hopefully, we can show students that software development is fun and creative.
"The problem is that there is a stereotype that you have to be a super maths genius to go into computer science and that's absolutely not the case. If you have a solid Leaving Cert and you have done any of the sciences, you are well set up.
"It is a creative endeavour. It has changed over the past 20 years, particularly since the advent of mobile phones, as the requirements of the user experience are much more human-centric than they were. Twenty years ago, we had the VHS which nobody could programme because it was designed by engineers. Now we have Netflix which anybody can use but which has also been designed by engineers in co-ordination with what we call user experience designers. So it is a much more creative endeavour.
“Software engineers are organised in small teams called scrums that also include user experience designers and Product Owners, who represent the end-users. The software development itself is highly collaborative within the scrum. Team members contribute ideas using design thinking concepts which enables everyone to contribute and learn about how customers would use the product before it’s actually built. So you crowdsource with all these knowledgeable people on how to flesh out the feature and make it usable and implementable.
"It is also a great way to bring in our new graduates and get them up to speed quickly. The whole team gets mentored and upskilled.
He said that nowadays a programmer spends less than half their day doing actual coding or programming. The rest of the day is spent looking at the feature and how the user uses it.
"The design thinking revolution took off when the smart phone and cloud computing came along, and we had to create a mobile experience that a three year old or a 90 year old could use and not just the technical stereotype that would be able to consume software.
"Software development careers pay very well and the scale continues to go up. Remember too that you are competing in a global market for talent. There is and there will be a shortfall of software engineers as far as I can see into the future. Even today in Ireland there are two to three thousand software roles open.
"If you come out of college with a computer software degree or an electronic engineering degree, you can take that qualification to any country in the world and find employment in a wide range of industries that need software engineering skills."
Mr Smyth quoted Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen who said that software is eating the world.
'Cameras have disappeared into phones, books, music and video have disappeared into phones, AirbnB, Uber, Netflix, Zoom and more are changing the way the world works. Cloud-based software in particular with a mobile experience is changing the way we do things. It has enabled many people to work through the Covid pandemic. Can you imagine the impact had Covid hit us even 15 years ago! It is also creating massive opportunities for people with computer science backgrounds to build even more amazing products.
There are so many options if you do computer programming — If you come out of college, you can go into a thriving start up scene if that is your thing here in Galway, like the Portershed, the Business Innovation Centre in the university and in GMIT and the Galway Technology Centre.
"There are lots of multinational like Genesys, Cisco, Fidelity, Valeo and more who will take you in right out of college, so there are many opportunities," he said.
Genesys first established its presence in Galway in 2018 when it acquired local AI start-up Altocloud, co-founded by Mr Smyth along with Barry O’Sullivan, another Galway based tech visionary. At that time, it pledged to create 200 jobs in the region by the second half of 2021 and is on track to meet this commitment. Now, it plans to fill an additional 100 software engineering roles based at its Galway facility or across Ireland in remote positions spanning software development, cloud computing, DevOps, AI and user experience, a 50% increase over its original commitment. As a result of this growth, Genesys is relocating to a larger Galway location in the Bonham Quay development in the fourth quarter of 2021.
The new Genesys offices in Galway, its largest R&D site in Europe, will occupy nearly 40,000 square feet of the new development. The new office will provide Genesys employees in Ireland a responsible, healthy, equitable and enjoyable place to work. The new site has been designed to achieve the Gold standard in Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ).
In addition to bringing jobs to Galway, Genesys is looking to attract talent from across the country with remote work options. The new facility will serve as a hub for innovation workshops, training and meeting space.
You can be part of this if you consider a career in computing. Check it out.