Careers in ICT

The Celtic Tiger – and it may be useful to remember that this phenomenon was real enough for ten years or so – was built on the back of innovation and investment in the ICT sector. Even before Ireland became prosperous, key multinational companies such as Intel, Digital and Microsoft built up a major presence here, which in turn gave some encouragement to indigenous enterprise. There then came some high profile Irish success stories, such as Chris Horn’s Iona and Fran Rooney’s Baltimore Technologies. Of course around this time, in the late 1990s, many technology start-ups across the developed world were seriously over-valued, with market capitalisations of nearly $1 billion not uncommon for companies that employed few, owned almost no assets and had  intellectual property of really very questionable value.

The growth and glamour of these companies produced a surge in demand for computing and engineering programmes in the universities. But almost as soon as capacity has been extended to cope with this demand, the bubble burst and previously celebrated companies suddenly found themselves facing insolvency. There then followed a student flight out of computing and electronic engineering, as parents and some teachers concluded that this was no longer a desirable career path. The impact of this was unfortunate: yes, some jobs in the ICT sector had gone, but they tended to be jobs not requiring much in the way of educational qualification. The skilled and leadership jobs in the sector, however, continued to grow. Staff in DCU’s Computing School started to do annual research into job vacancies in the sector, and by 2009 they were reporting that there were up to 3,000 unfilled positions in the Irish ICT sector for computing graduates. Employers looking for graduates could not find them in Ireland, or at least not enough of them, and some started looking to other countries for new recruits.

This month Silicon Republic reported that there has been a major demand for information security professionals, and in this case again it may turn out that we cannot supply the graduates needed by the companies concerned. Recruitment from overseas will gather pace.

So what are we to conclude from all this? The most important point is that today’s business news stories ate not a good guide for career choices as people enter higher education. Whatever conditions caused these stories, good or bad, will long have disappeared by the time a student has completed the degree programme. But we must also be aware that if we cannot supply skilled graduates, then companies in the ICT sector will stop investing in Ireland. This is an urgent matter. So what the country needs is high value computing and electronic engineering programmes, and students who understand that this is still a most lucrative sector for Ireland and potentially for them.

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14 Comments on “Careers in ICT”

  1. Vincent Says:

    The banking sector in the UK does not require a finance degree to gain entry. Not does the computer industry except in those few sectors, for much of the work is scud work.
    Why do you need to be a computer grad in Ireland in order to be even considered for a position, any position. This cannot be a requirement of the companies themselves. They are businesses after all.
    This is why I’m very wary when I read numbers like you’ve quoted above re. the 3000.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that these companies have real hardship in filling these positions. What I don’t believe is that there is any real shortage out there. I hold that the recruitment agencies are for reasons of their own acting as filters. And thereby creating a choke point of shortage.
    If, between the IT’s and the Uni’s, they each year churn out X number. And if all of those people were at productive innovation as they have been educated to do. We should be up to our oxters in computer companies with the grads from the last five years alone.

    Hmm, spellchecker has issues with Oxter.

  2. copernicus Says:

    I have special interest in this area as my area is computing,and I worked in this area since the age of IBM360 and PDP8 in academia and industry. There are distinctly two sectors-the finance and the rest. For the former,what the firms in the City of London are looking for is a specific experience which is not hard to acquire by any computing graduate and the reason why they bleat about skills shortages is much deeper than the apparent lack of skills they find in our graduates. Two of my old students in 1960s now as CEOs run two of the biggest IT companies that take outsourced work and have presence in every major country in the West and when the City firms approach them for IT personnel, the reasons are not purely skills as our UK graduates are in no way inferior in terms of skills. I have my own one man battle with our coalition govt, and have sent may e-mails to them explaining how sector by sector UK companies report IT skill shortages and how they can be filled by thousands of computing graduates we produce every year. The Business Secretary , Vince Cable, in my expereince is a moron in believing this so called skill shortage and his pronouncements about needing more work permits for IT personnel from outside the EU is bizarre. I have met these imported IT persnnel and have recently taught a few courses to them, which explains that they have no special skills to offer. As for their experience, well it is in another world. They come cheap, and that is the reason.

  3. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Great post!

    I reckon that there needs to be an upskilling strategy to enable for graduates of similar disciplines to be able to apply for these jobs. The govt promoting and supporting part time IT masters in the likes of Data security, databases and knowledge systems (i.e. data mining etc)

    There was a excellent special report in the Economist (Feb 27 2010) on the “Data Deluge”, and how it will affect the future of commerce. I would hope that everybody in the department of enterprise has read it by now.

    (I can access the website version through a college library website.)

  4. I have long doubted stories about large-scale vacancies in technology sectors. While all of the publicity about shortages in the software sectors was going on, I knew unemployed IT graduates and some working outside their field.

    There is a story here but I haven’t pieced it together yet.

    When DCU identified thousands of vacancies, did they survey their graduates to find out if they were all employed and employed in their field?

    • Colum, DCU regularly surveys graduate employment, and we have never had evidence of any problems encountered by ICT graduates to find employment. Whether it is always in their field is something I don’t know, but we would not regard that as relevant, as some people routinely seek employment in other fields.

      Of course there will always be some individuals who cannot get jobs, and when that happens we do always try to help them.

      • Ferdinand,
        Generally speaking it’s relevant. I would suggest that most new graduates who are not working in their field have failed to find employment and have taken whatever job they can get.

        • No Colum, I don’t agree with that. For example, what is ‘the field’ of someone studying classics? Or even history? And amongst my law students when I was still teaching, roughly half would never have had any intention of becoming legal practitioners.

        • I was referring particularly to engineering/science/technology graduates. However, I would suggest that, say, washing cars is outside most graduates’ fields. Moreover, employment of a graduate as a routine tester, supervisor, junior manager etc. doesn’t really sit well with the idea that graduates in science disciplines walk into jobs. In short the job does matter for the purpose of gathering statistics.

    • Kevin O'Brien Says:

      There is a variety of disciplines in ICT. Data management graduates (i.e. databases etc) are probably quite sought after. The thing is that those elective are very conceptual and hence a good bit tougher. These subjects are also quite mathematical (recalling your earlier points about numeracy).

      Those who don’t fancy the databases may specialize in the hardware side of things, or software engineering.

      There is too few of the first group, and too many of the second.

      • Kevin, I’m not sure in which group you think there are too many. If it’s software engineering, I’m not sure you’re right. I had a conversation with a senior executive in a multinational ICT company with a major presence in Ireland, and he was telling me they urgently need software engineers and simply cannot get them in Ireland.

        • Mankutimma Says:


          You should have asked him specifically what he meant by ” software engineers” and what “software engineering” skills his company is in the need of. When I talk to the companies, I probe them to find out these details and they usually shy away, as they know that I have a list of graduates who will fit the bill, and what they want is non-EU software engineers, for obvious reasons. The story of your maultinational company is no different from the story of multinational companies in Britan, and believe me I can find 5 British software engineers for every vacancy these companies have. I have challenged them about the skills requirements, and as usual they shy away. If you please get this multinational person in touch with British universities and NI universities, these software engineers will be found very quickly. I am sorry I cannot buy this. This is usually the ploy to influence the govt about issuing more work permits to non-EU citizens for very obvious reasons.

  5. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Sorry – I meant too few Data specialists. You’re are right. I am oversimplifying things.
    There is quite a bit of software engineering required in the “Data” side of the things, which is the place to be according to The Economist.

  6. “Browned off
    The 2009 graduate employment figures, published this month, show that the university subjects with the highest jobless proportion – 16.3 per cent – are IT and computer science. Physicists and engineers, with 11-12 per cent out of work, don’t do much better. By contrast, less than 10 per cent of last year’s English, history and sociology graduates are unemployed. So why did the Browne report propose, and the government apparently accept, that only science and engineering courses should receive continued public subsidy? The figures are admittedly distorted by the high numbers of arts and social science graduates who continue to further study or training. But it is interesting that one of the highest rates for finding a job – 65.1 per cent – is recorded by graduates in that much-reviled subject, media studies.”
    Peter Wilby, New Statesman, 4/11/2010

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