Ricky O'Connor, BD
Ricky O’Connor, senior mechanical engineer, BD. Image: Luke Maxwell

‘There is so much opportunity and innovation in Ireland now’

21 Mar 2018

When it comes to pharma, tech and medical devices, Ireland is going from strength to strength and attracting talent home.

About a decade ago, Ireland was a very different place to what it is now. The sci-tech sphere was arguably only finding its feet and there weren’t enough opportunities for the top talent that the country was creating.

It is for this reason that many workers within those sectors looked elsewhere for work. However, Ireland has come on in leaps and bounds over the years and has established itself as a major global player across multiple sci-tech industries, including the medtech space.

This growing industry is beginning to attract a lot of talent to Ireland from overseas, with some its own natives returning home for opportunities they didn’t have before.

Ricky O’Connor is one such worker. Now a senior mechanical engineer at BD, O’Connor told Siliconrepublic.com about his decision to leave Ireland and ultimately come home after years of working abroad.

Where are you from?

Broadford, Co Clare.

When did you decide to emigrate?

I decided to emigrate in April 2010, but I had been interviewing for positions in the months before that.

I decided to leave for a couple of reasons; I had finished my master’s in late 2009 and had difficulty finding R&D roles. When I eventually found an engineering role, there was very little innovation at the company and little chance to progress.

There were few opportunities in Ireland at the time, so working abroad was the option for me, like so many other Irish graduates. A big part of my decision to move to the continent was to be closer to my girlfriend (now wife) as she was working in Brussels at the time.

Where did you emigrate to and for how long were you gone?

I lived in the Netherlands for six years. At the time I emigrated, there were a lot of R&D jobs available, especially in the semiconductor industry.

There was a real focus on career progression there and excellent opportunities for professional development. During my time there, I got great exposure to working in an international environment and was able to work on products and projects that aren’t available in Ireland.

What made you decide to come back?

Personally, my wife and I always planned on coming back to Ireland, but probably sooner than we actually did. Once we got married, we felt that we wanted to be closer to family.

Professionally, STEM in Ireland is a completely different landscape from when I left so there was a lot of opportunity. There has been a huge growth in STEM in recent years and I felt that, with my experience, it was a good time to return.

How did your current role come about?

I had always been interested in working the in the medical device industry and moved into this space while in the Netherlands. I found it a rewarding experience and focused my job hunt in Ireland on similar positions.

Through the interview process, I talked to many people at BD over the phone or Skype, but what sealed my interest and convinced me that BD was the right place for me was visiting the BD Kiestra location in the Netherlands. The tour I had of that facility really opened my eyes to the diversity of the products that BD produces and also gave me a flavour of the technical challenges that might be ahead.

What work do you do?

I am a mechanical engineer currently working on a challenging clinical microbiology lab automation project. I have responsibilities in my project that vary from writing specifications and creating designs, to project planning and communicating with suppliers. As a senior engineer, I am responsible for a team that is developing mechanical and electrical design and also firmware development.

A typical day begins with a daily scrum with the other half of the project team in the Netherlands. After that, we try to get our technical meetings done as soon as possible and solve any blockers to progress. In the afternoon, I may be busy with writing specification documents or making design proposals. Alternately in the afternoon, I might have calls with suppliers or quite regularly have catch-up meetings with colleagues in North America.

What do you like most about your job?

What I like the most about my job is the interaction with the members of different competence groups. Here, we get to collaborate closely with electrical and software development. This kind of environment allows for a much better understanding of the complex products that are being developed at BD.

How did BD make it easier for you to move back?

Throughout the interview process with BD, I found them to be very flexible and willing to work around my availability. Also, they arranged for me to do my face-to-face interview in the location in the Netherlands instead of having to come to Ireland.

The biggest thing was how fast things moved; within a few weeks, I had done all the steps of the hiring process and I felt comfortable that they were committed to me and that I was happy to relocate back to Ireland.

How did your time working abroad make you better suited for your job?

I think my time abroad has prepared me well for working in a global development team. Apart from integrating in the Dutch working environment, I also worked in projects with teams based in the US. This has been very beneficial for my current role as we work on a project with the BD Kiestra team in the Netherlands.

I think my background allowed me to contribute very quickly after my start here. I also think that my time working in the high-tech hub in the Eindhoven region has given me a very good technical foundation and different experience and maybe a different point of view on technical challenges.

What is the best thing about being back in Ireland?

Apart from being able to go and see Munster play at Thomond Park again, it is great to be back close to family. What was nice about coming back was to see how much opportunity and innovation there is now in Ireland compared to when I left in 2010.

The big difference I’ve experienced is the real R&D work that I’ve undertaken in my year at BD instead of the traditional focus on manufacturing.

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