A group of women sitting in the seats of a stadium wearing identical white t-shirts and smiling. The women in the front row of seats are holding a banner for the Digital Athlete programme.
Graduates of the Digital Athlete programme, 2023. Image: Julien Behal

How Digital Athlete set this graduate on the right career track in sports tech

19 Jun 2023

Jane Kirwan tells SiliconRepublic.com about Digital Athlete, a new intensive sports tech course, and how it prepared her for an exciting new career.

Like medtech, agritech, insurtech and so on, sports tech is an industry that is growing and growing. Athletes and their trainers want to leverage technology to ensure they are at their best when competing – and they need people who know the industry and the tools in their corner.

As a small country known for its educated workforce and sports-mad people, it makes sense that Ireland is a hub for lots of sports tech companies. There is sports analytics company STATS Perform which has been in Limerick since 2018; University College Dublin spin-out Output Sports; sports science player Orreco; and Kitman Labs, which received backing from former Ireland rugby captain Jamie Heaslip.

With the sports tech sector here growing, a new programme to train people in skills specific to the industry was long overdue. Last December, SportsTech Ireland and Digital Skillnet Ireland teamed up to launch Digital Athlete, a 10-week career pathway programme that offers mentorship, a paid work placement and accreditation.

The first cohort of learners graduated from Digital Athlete this April. Jane Kirwan was one of 20 women to take part in the first iteration of the course. (While future versions of the course will be expanded to cater to men, the inaugural programme was very consciously only made available to women as they are so underrepresented).

Kirwan said that the overall focus of the course was to train the learners to be able to be data analysts within the sports tech sector.

New skills and confidence

For Kirwan, the Digital Athlete experience was all about upskilling and gaining confidence. She came to it after about a year and a half of struggling to make headway in carving out a career for herself following a return home from abroad. She spent 10 years away from Ireland working as a gymnastics coach.

“I’d been coaching gymnastics for some time but not actually using sports tech within that,” she explained, adding that the course was a “steep learning curve” for her. She knew she wanted to stay working in sports and only wanted a “slight career change” which is where the upskilling aspect came in.

“I would have said my tech skills were quite limited going into the course, but we were introduced to so many different programmes and platforms.” The course took quite a broad focus in terms of content, aiming to give the women an introduction to many of the data science tools so that they could go off and discover the ones they were most interested in.

A lot of the learning was about building confidence and becoming more resourceful. “There was a huge focus on ourselves as women going into a male-dominated industry. That was a huge thread going through it,” said Kirwan.

“How to present yourself in the workplace; how to be confident and be resilient and change your mindset as well as a lot of learning about things like how to promote yourself. There was also a really big focus on innovation and being able to come up with ideas.”

Placement at Orreco

On a personal note, she really enjoyed delving back into the world of data, which she had learned about some years previously when she did a degree in sports science. Taking her newly-learned tech skills, she was able to do a work placement at Orreco, a company that provides sports science and data-led tools for professional sports teams and athletes from soccer players to Formula 1 drivers.

Kirwan is coming to the end of her placement at the moment and is busy preparing for a final presentation. She describes Orreco “as a fantastic company to be part of”. She feels that Digital Athlete set her on the right track in terms of where she wants to go. Going into Orreco was an even bigger learning curve than doing Digital Athlete, she said, but she felt prepared for it – in mindset as much as anything.

In terms of advice she would give to people following in her footsteps, she recommended they “keep an open mind” and don’t pigeonhole themselves in one area.

“I really saw how big of an industry it is and how many opportunities there are,” she said. “You just have to be willing to learn and put the time in yourself.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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