DemonWare manager’s game plan keeps IT projects on track

6 Dec 2013

Nicola Colleran manages the team at DemonWare's program management office

Nicola Colleran combines her love of IT and business to keep projects running smoothly at Irish company DemonWare. She spoke to Claire O’Connell.

When you sit down to play your favourite video game, there are a few obvious things you need to have: a console, power and a screen, for starters. But what about the the stuff you can’t see? The software and services that let you take on other players, link to social media and see who is on the leader board? If they aren’t there, you would soon miss them.

It’s one of Nicola Colleran’s jobs to ensure you don’t miss them, at least in games supported by DemonWare, such as the Call of Duty and Guitar Hero series. The company, which was founded in Dublin in 2003, develops that invisible but all-important middle layer, and Colleran manages the team at the company’s program management office.

Hitting deadlines

They keep tabs on around 60 projects in DemonWare’s Dublin, Vancouver and Shanghai offices to make sure the deadlines get hit, explains Colleran.

“In this industry hitting your deadlines is a big thing to tie in with partners and get the game out the door on time,” she says. “Everybody is very focused on that and there’s a high expectation on engineers to meet the deadlines so we give them the project management support to do that. On a day-to-day basis we are ensuring that all the projects are running as smoothly as they can be. The remit I have is to make their lives easier and make it all work smarter, better and faster – it’s about taking away the engineers’ pain.”

From a spellchecker to the business of gaming

Colleran’s first big job in software development was quite different: as a student of computer science and linguistics in Trinity College Dublin she got to work on a spellchecker for the Irish language in Microsoft Word.

She enjoyed the project, but when she graduated in 2000 the dotcom bubble was bursting so she did a master’s in business studies. “There was a tough learning curve because everyone else on the course had a business background,” she recalls. “But the outcome was that I now had two areas – business and IT – and throughout my career since then I have been dealing with IT but with a business head.”

That career has seen her work as an IT consultant with Ernst & Young and lecture at Dublin City University’s School of Business. Then around three years ago, she moved to DemonWare, which at the time employed around 30 people.

In the time Colleran has been there, the company has expanded rapidly and now employs around 160 people as a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard.

“There is a lot of growth in this area,” she says, noting that software engineers are in high demand. “We find it very hard to fill the vacancies – it’s a constant challenge to attract the best people and get them in. There’s a lot of competition in the market for good engineers and we could do with more of them.”

Colleran is also working with people who have core skills that that they transferred into the gaming industry. “I would get a lot of people who have been in financial services and architecture now coming in as project managers,” she says.

Study what you love

Colleran would like to see girls build their confidence in software and computers, and welcomes initiatives such as CoderDojo that make coding more accessible for young people. Her advice to students is to study something that ignites your interest, and then take it in the direction you want. “From my experience I would think study something you enjoy and love and you will find a way to move around and follow your passion,” she says.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication