Time to switch Irish kids on to digital career opportunities

28 Sep 2011

EMC's country manager Jason Ward

EMC’s presence in Ireland has grown from a six-acre campus in Cork in 1988 to today employing 2,500 across Ireland, including a 50-acre site in Ovens. Country manager Jason Ward says the recent surge in interest in ICT and science courses following the Leaving Cert shows Ireland has turned a corner.

EMC is among a cadre of technology companies that made the vital decision in the 1980s to take a bet on an unknown entity in the technology world, a country called Ireland. Many of those companies, including Apple, Intel and Microsoft, are still here today and all of them are growing substantially.

In EMC’s case, it began with 22 people on a six-acre site in Cork. Today, the Cork plant is the largest EMC manufacturing facility outside the US and over the past 23 years has marched in step with the company’s vision of storing, securing and managing the growth of data in the world. That journey has grown to embrace important new technology trends, such as cloud computing and virtualisation, and in recent months EMC and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) developed the world’s first master’s degree in cloud computing. As well as this, the Cork plant manager Bob Savage was appointed chairman of CIT.

“Virtually everything we sell and manufacture is delivered out of Cork, pre-configured, tested and built in Cork,” says Ward.

Along with education, digital infrastructure beyond the business location is now a key factor in securing inward investment, he continues. “Many of our people travel a lot and some choose to work from home as a life choice.

“Broadband is clearly an issue that needs to be resolved. The kind of people we employ need to be able to work from different locations, at home or on the road, and because a lot of the technologies we are working on are data intensive, top quality broadband is an absolute must.

“We have people who work for us in Ireland who prefer to work from where they live, be it Dublin, Limerick or Galway, and making it possible to work using the appropriate technology and infrastructure is often a decisive factor in securing or accepting roles with EMC.”

Ward provides an interesting example. “We have three guys who serve our governance risk markets in France and Spain and the key thing for them to be able to work for EMC, connect to the EMC backbone and travel in and out of Ireland, was connectivity. The three of them live in Wexford and have the ability to work from home.

“Skills are the overriding and determining factor in the workplace and always will be, but I can see how connectivity would help them make a decision on where or who to work for.”

In 2000, the dotcom correction occurred. While Ireland wasn’t really exposed to the full extent of the technology downturn in the same way as Silicon Valley, negative media coverage resulted in parents encouraging students to leave technology courses and instead go for career paths in areas such as finance and law.

The irony is that in 2011 financial and law careers are few on the ground while there is a shortage of talented technology workers.

“Because of the downturn a decade ago, a lot of the talent we need now was displaced. This is becoming a factor in winning investment decisions because the first questions that will arise from the top table would be can you get the people with the experience, skills and credentials to take these jobs?”

Educating the future generation

According to Ward, Ireland would benefit from more job creation opportunities if companies could guarantee there could be a sufficient supply of qualified graduates. “We could provide more jobs here, particularly in areas like IT security, but the overriding factor is ensuring there are people with the skills to deliver on these projects.”

Ward sees moves like additional bonus points for maths and the continued success of the technology sector – where employment in Ireland is up 6pc – as providing hope for the future. His belief was rewarded in recent weeks with a surge in interest in computer and science courses as students realised the quality of jobs that are available and the potential rewards.

However, the key now is ensuring that the generations of students who will follow have access to the right technologies and ways of learning that the 21st-century workplace will require.

“I don’t think it’s just about computers in schools. The kids have moved on. Every kid has one of the best computers at home. It’s the applications and data that we need to expose them to. There needs to be more encouragement for project work in schools around developing applications using open-source initiatives, encouraging the kids to think outside the box. You can see examples of this happening at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.”

Digitising the curriculum, Ward suggests, should work hand in hand with schemes similar to the Classroom 2000 initiative in Northern Ireland where a virtualised, cloud-based platform is created that allows kids to access their coursework from home or in the school.

“There’s an opportunity to modernise the curriculum and at the same time open the kids up to innovation. Students today are familiar with all the gaming apps, open source systems and devices like the iPad. Encouraging students more around the practical things in the curriculum and not just theory is very important. There is a need to lean towards this at second-level.”

Ward also believes that much of Ireland’s engineering talent, especially construction and civil engineers who have been affected by the construction industry collapse, can be repurposed to move into the ICT industry.

“These are clearly intelligent people who have degrees in the engineering discipline and a lot of them have excellent mathematical capabilities so we think it is important that transition courses are created to convert them to the ICT world. If we do this quickly then we could provide a wealth of expertise that would continue to attract new companies into Ireland.”

As a senior executive at a company that is a strong proponent of cloud computing, no wonder Ward is adamant the Irish State needs to embrace the cloud.

He believes Irish organisations, private and public, need to get to grips with technologies such as analytics and data automation that will improve decision-making and help them cope with the vast quantities of data being created.

Embracing the cloud

And the Irish State could enable better services to citizens by embracing the cloud, attests Ward.

“The key is to build an open system that means the State isn’t tied to any one vendor but has flexibility in building exciting applications and services for citizens going forward. Such a move would save the State an enormous amount of time and money.”

This also extends to the potential for entrepreneurs to embrace the cloud to build agile businesses.

“We’re working on an open source cloud platform based around VMware whereby we’re going to encourage small businesses to develop apps for public and private-sector organisations and create new applications that support the Irish economy. We’re open to venture capital investment and mentorship to support people on that basis.”

He continues: “We’ve seen what’s possible with games companies like Havok. I think the opportunity is to create the conditions that allow developers and students to build new applications around cloud computing in an open source environment so that we can encourage them to build and design new applications around public sector requirements and use them to drive efficiencies for the wider economy and society.”

Ward believes it’s critical that the broadband infrastructure issue is resolved for once and for all and that broadband is available everywhere in sufficient quality.

“Broadband access is critical to ensuring people in the 21st century are much more employable. On the one hand, you could say it means access to digital entertainment, but fundamentally it is about accessing entrepreneurial opportunities and corporate networks. It is the first stepping stone to a job and a career in the 21st century. Everyone should have access to it.”

While cheered by the surge in interest in ICT and science courses, Ward says the time is right to ensure the momentum is kept up, whether through bonus points for physics and maths or creating transition courses for  engineers who wish to work in the technology industry.


Jason Ward began his career with Misys Financial Systems, where he grew its Irish base and developed its presence in the Northern Ireland broker market. He moved on to JD Edwards, where he managed the growth and expansion of its ERP customer base in Ireland. He then moved to Siebel Systems, working with the management team to establish the Siebel CRM business in Ireland.

Prior to joining EMC, Ward spent eight years with Business Objects, where he managed the direct and indirect channels and also oversaw the integration with SAP following Business Objects’ acquisition in 2006. He has a business degree and has also played inter-county football for Dublin and Leitrim.

Digital Ireland Forum

Jason Ward is one of the panelists at The Digital Ireland Forum, a Silicon Republic breakfast event on 30 September 2011.