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?

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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.

Contact us:

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

connected@dcu.ie

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

Thinking of Going for Fellowship of SEDA? Reflections on the Experience

By Clare Gormley

Having recently completed the SEDA course Supporting and Leading Educational Change (snappily called SLEC), I thought I would share some reflections that might be of interest to those of you considering it. You might, for example, be actively involved in educational  development as a member of a central teaching and learning unit, you might offer postgraduate teaching-related programmes to academic staff, and/or you might lead a team that implements funded projects of a technological and pedagogical nature. If you are toying with the idea of gaining a professional qualification for this type of work, then read on to explore if this course might be a good fit for you.

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Course Description

First, some basic facts. This is a 12-week online course that as the website goes is “designed to accredit and advance your work in supporting and leading educational change in further or higher education”.  It is divided into two six-week blocks before and after the Christmas break. Successful completion of the course leads to Fellowship of SEDA (FSEDA).  SEDA is the UK-based Staff and Educational Development Association, a professional body that seeks to promote innovation and good practice in higher education.  Established in 1993, the overall mission of SEDA is to offer members professional learning opportunities, professional recognition, and practice-oriented publications with the ultimate goal of supporting student learning.

As someone who has worked in academic development for a number of years, but who did not have a qualification in that specific field, I felt it was time to give time to probe and more deeply reflect on the way I have been approaching my role. I wasn’t looking for CPD that focused primarily on the science and craft of teaching, I wanted something that was tailored to a role where you are supporting and hopefully enabling other staff to develop as teachers.  To my mind the distinction is important and the big questions for educational developers are very different: Are there better ways of evaluating the impact of various initiatives we are spending time and money on? How are other institutions designing and offering their CPD for maximum gain? Are we doing the right thing as regards the opportunities in place to support the sharing of teaching practice? Am I doing what I really should be doing in my job? These were the types of questions I wanted to explore and develop more confidence in through learning from an international community of peers.

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[You can read the remainder of Clare’s reflections on her SEDA Fellowship experience on her personal blog].