Ireland Eaten: The Big Software Feast

By Dr Eamon Costello

It is almost seven years since Marc Andreeson famously declared that software is eating the world. What did he mean? And if he was right, is software still chomping down on us?


Part of the software-is-eating-the-world narrative is about disruption. It is about how companies, particularly startups, can rapidly design, develop and deliver innovative products using modern software development techniques and technologies. By harnessing mobile technologies, agile methods, cloud computing and AI they can flatten barriers that might have long protected established market players and even entire industries. Companies emerge in this story from strange places. Amazon evolved from posting books to become the largest provider of cloud computing. Netflix (which runs on Amazon’s AWS cloud technology) started out in the business of posting DVDs.

Eamonn_Costello_001.jpgAnother part of this story is the ubiquity of software. Two weeks ago I was at the EdTech conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association which is the premier annual gathering of professionals in Ireland with expertise in the intersection of tech and higher education. My presentation was about the cost of textbooks and myself and colleagues wrote software to help programmatically search for textbook costs (we used the Google Cloud platform, Google Books API, Javascript and MongoDB for this and distributed the code and our results via github and Zenodo). The software wasn’t really the main focus of my talk however. It was just a handy tool to help answer a bigger question about educational affordability. But the point is that you can write code to help solve such a wide range of problems now.

I submitted my proposal to the conference some weeks previously through a cloud hosted conference organisation system called Exordo. Exordo have a really nice software offering that helps run research conferences (their UX design is particularly slick). They are also a great example of an indigenous software company, based as they are in Galway. There is a long tail of these small to medium companies in Ireland. They may not grab the headlines a Google or an Amazon do but do they provide valuable products and services and of course employment as part of a rich ecosystem of Irish tech companies.

As I drove home from the conference in Carlow I passed by the strategic software development and services centre for Unum, which is a leading provider of employee benefits in the US. Unum are a company with a long heritage in a mature and established market but who are delivering innovative solutions through software developed in Ireland (innovations that are heading back to the US). Unum provide many highly skilled jobs in software development to people outside of Dublin.

Here at Dublin City University, as Ireland’s University of Enterprise, we have a strong focus on industry engagement. In our Higher Diploma in Software Development for example we have representatives from companies such as Facebook, Equifax, Workday and MongoDB come and talk directly to students via our DCU Connected Industry Insights online seminar series. Industry links can be particularly important for students in contextualising their learning. For example, learning how to create a document-oriented NoSQL database with MongoDB becomes more significant after an expert lecture from one of the company developers. Moreover, this innovative company, that blazed a trail in the NoSQL database technology revolution, have their EMEA HQ located right here in Dublin, is a significant employer and has been a real supporter of educational initiatives such as Springboard+ (spot the DCU graduate).

We have also arranged talks from smaller companies such as Tapadoo or the innovative PatientMPower whose software is helping patients with very serious illnesses. The PatientMPower session was particularly useful as students studying mobile app development with us could get a sense of how the skills they were learning are applied in production environments. It also blew my mind to think of the medical technology that patients effectively now have in their hands and the access it affords them to medical researchers working at the cutting edge of health science. Even a decade ago it would have been hard to imagine this from a small Irish company.

2017c.pngThe point I am labouring is that under every stone you turn over in the Irish economy you will find code. Software is all pervasive in what we do. Not just in big companies or those that look like traditional software houses, but in companies of all shapes, sizes and provenances. We need a corresponding range of people to work in the roles that are being created. This is the rationale behind the Government sponsored ICT Skills Conversion initiative where a graduate in a non-ICT discipline can augment their existing education and experiences through focused study of core modern ICT topics. DCU’s Higher Diploma in Software Development, which runs part-time over two years, is delivered online through our DCU Connected platform but students also have the opportunity to come on campus to meet each other and their academic tutors. If you think you have the curiosity and the passion to engage in study in this exciting area and get involved in the great software lunch we would love to hear from you.

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If you want further information about the Higher Diploma in Software Development or any of our DCU Connected online courses then please contact us:

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Note: Eamon first posted this brief opinion piece when he returned from the EdTech2018 conference through his personal Linkedin account.