‘It’s an exciting time to be an engineer in Ireland right now’

9 Mar 2023

Image: © goodluz/Stock.adobe.com

HP executive Val Gabriel tells us about the blossoming engineering scene in Ireland and what engineers need to do to stay relevant in the face of AI.

When Val Gabriel moved from a contract job at a food processing factory to a full-time role as a product engineer at HP decades ago, he knew he had made the right decision.

A fresh BTech graduate in manufacturing technology from the University of Limerick, Gabriel joined HP’s inkjet cartridge manufacturing operations in Dublin in 1997, which began a 10-year career as an engineer before moving onto business management and ultimately, marketing.

But as an engineer at heart, Gabriel, who was appointed managing director of HP Ireland last summer, has much to say about the engineering sector in the country.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer in Ireland right now,” he told SiliconRepublic.com recently. “Engineering is vital to our economic growth, and it is expected that almost ten thousand engineering jobs will be created in the coming year.”

According to Gabriel, Ireland is the European location of choice for industrial engineering and tech companies operating in the pharma, biopharma, manufacturing, and research and innovation spaces. Ireland is also fast becoming a hub for cutting-edge research and development in Internet of Things, connected autonomous vehicles and disruptive industry 4.0 tech.

“Our national infrastructure is key to our competitiveness – thanks to the work of our engineers it has been transformed in recent decades and will continue to evolve.”

The rise of generative AI

Gabriel has extensive leadership experience within HP and has been in the company for 25 years. In his role as marketing VP, Gabriel built out HP’s worldwide search marketing function, which covers the company’s full product portfolio.

“I’ve since discovered that the founders of Amazon, HubSpot and Google have backgrounds in engineering, so I’m in good company,” he said of his transition from engineering to management.

Headshot of Val Gabriel, the new MD of HP Ireland, wearing a suit.

Val Gabriel. Image: HP

“Marketing today is more about metrics, data analysis and process design so a background in engineering is an advantage. Being an engineer, I’m interested in the nuts and bolts of how our products and technology work, and this helps when communicating the benefits to customers.”

But there is one technology that, Gabriel believes, can prove to be a silver bullet for the engineering industry – generative AI.

“This is a technology has the potential to revolutionise every job for everyone, not just engineers,” he said.

While the most talked about instance of generative AI right now is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Gabriel expects there will be many other instances that will be trained on different data sets for different purposes.

“The potential of this AI technology is immense and as often happens with these types of changes there is some initial trepidation,” he went on, adding there is “substantial value to be unlocked” using the tech.

“The use cases are vast, from business and consumer applications to customer management systems, digital health and automated software engineering. The Irish engineering community need to embrace this chance and lead the way.”

Data is at ‘the heart of engineering’

And while AI runs its course changing the face of engineering over the next several years, engineers in Ireland face a significant challenge they need to overcome according to Gabriel – and that is staying relevant in the workforce.

“For engineers and the broader engineering community we must all accept that the day we finish university does not mark the last day that we learn. In many ways it marks the first day we really start to learn,” he explained.

“Embrace continuous learning, skills development and capability evolution. Accept that the skills you need for your first job will not be the same skills you need in your last job before retirement. Don’t leave your personal development to others, lean in and engineer the best you.”

One of the most powerful ways in which engineers can equip themselves for the AI-centric future is mastering “the more fundamental knowledge-set” that underpins this new technology – data.

“Data is, by itself, useless. It needs to be interpreted, visualised and acted upon,” he remarked.

“The ability to translate data into action has been at the heart of engineering over many years and businesses need these skills more than ever.”

While Ireland’s engineering community is relatively well-trained to use data at a basic level, Gabriel thinks mastering this area is “more important than ever” and currently in short supply across many functions, including engineering, IT, finance, HR and customer support.

“Of course, companies can hire data scientists and math specialists but engineering is perfectly positioned at the intersection of data and action to make a difference.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic