Maciej Dabrowski: Start-ups Key to Galway’s AI Growth

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Maciej Dabrowski, Chief Data Scientist, Digital and AI at Genesys, took time to sit down with the PorterShed blog recently. Maciej has been with Genesys for four-and-a-half years. Before that, he was with Altocloud for four years. So, it’s safe to say that Maciej is a fount of knowledge in his field, and he took time to speak with us about how to create a great product, Galway’s role in the development of AI, and what he sees as the future of the technology.

It’s fair to say that artificial intelligence is dominating many conversations in the start-up and broader tech worlds today. At the recent Dublin Tech Summit, there were more than a few panels discussing the current developments as well as a few others that pondered the future of AI, too. With Genesys’ AI headquarters in Galway, it’s clear that the City of Tribes has a key role to play in what that industry becomes. 

From Maciej’s point of view, “strong universities and access to world-class engineering talent” are two of the big reasons that Genesys chose Galway as their AI centre.

“The AI ecosystem in Galway is steadily growing, we do have good universities here that give us access to engineering talent and an exceptional quality of life. What we don’t have in comparison to larger cities is access to a strong  pool of local, senior AI technical talent who have “seen it all” over a long career in AI.” Maciej adds. “In the past, I would say there were not that many AI jobs in Galway – there was Genesys and a handful of other companies working on AI to some degree. Now there are many more opportunities for finding AI jobs in the West”.

Maciej also makes the point that Galway has good engineers that are transitioning into AI, something that is working really well to fill that senior talent gap. For him, the West of Ireland has an abundance of world-class engineering talent on all levels, and with an increasing number of companies working on AI, many engineers will pick up AI skills and transition into core AI. He points to NUIG’s degree to help with this transition and makes the point that Genesys are providing the opportunities to make that switch – with success.

And there is another big positive that Maciej sees, something that Galway can do, in particular:

“If I were to pick one of the things we can do really, really well that will boost the ecosystem, it would be the start-ups. We have a relatively small but critical mass that is working on that, and one of the best ways to grow the AI ecosystem is to develop start-ups that get acquired by a big company and then start building around it. “If that start-up happens to do AI, then that’s obviously an anchor to build around them. So, one of the things we can do is to get more AI start-ups rooted in Galway because that will pull in the AI talent, engineers, new companies, and more resources into our AI ecosystem.”

Maciej Dabrowski

When it comes to exactly what AI can do for people and the wider world, our conversation veers towards the idea of what is best, what is useful, and whether AI always needs to follow either one of these paths.

“We should not approach AI as a magical, all-capable solution to the most-pressing World problems out of the box – it’s not, at least, not yet” Maciej explains, adding that there are lots of studies about how and why AI companies fail when they lack focus on the suitable use case that is feasible and can deliver value. What it all comes down to in most cases, he says, is value generation that depends on the focus on applying AI to the right use case, and access to talent that can solve it using available data and technology.

For Maciej, the best way to attract talented people is to create products that solve problems – big or small.

From Genesys’ perspective, artificial intelligence is all about making things easier for customers and users. Because while AI can sometimes have the cachet of being futuristic and otherworldly, Maciej makes the point that it needs to be understood by those who are using it – and getting the benefit from it.

“We want to make AI accessible and simple. There are a bunch of things that underline that, such as transparency and privacy, for example. Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is build AI into the products that people use and don’t require advanced degrees to operate them. So, we have to explain what AI does, how it does it, in a way that people understand it and trust it enough to use it.”

Maciej gives an example of a product they launched last year which they ultimately redesigned to be uber simple. The predictive routing software applies AI to connect customers with the most suitable agents, finding areas in the call center that can be optimized. Businesses can identify the areas they can create value with AI within a matter of a few simple clicks. Essentially, queues which would benefit from optimization can be identified and targeted leading to better customer experience and business results. It’s certainly an everyday AI win that, on the face of it at least, is accessible and easy to understand. 

For Maciej, AI is a means to an end. He points to Genesys’ predictive routing as the ideal showcase of why that should be the focus. “In most cases It’s not really about the AI technology (algorithm) itself, it’s more about how you apply it to create value, how you make it simple, how you embed it, and how it improves people’s daily lives and makes them better.”

Carol Ho, COO of Baseworx, on the Rise of Co-working Spaces

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Carol Ho is the Chief Operating Officer of Baseworx, a company that helps hubs to better manage their co-working spaces. Their easy-to-use software means that hub managers can seamlessly oversee the day-to-day operations from their own devices. All across Ireland, the hubs on the ConnectedHubs.ie platform benefit from Baseworx’s solution – helping many of them to thrive as places where professionals from many locations can come to work and connect with the wider world.

The hub network across Ireland is key to the government’s initiative to make it easier for professionals to work remotely in a variety of locations. The push to have spaces available to work from has been catalysed by Covid and the shifting dynamics of the future of work. In Ireland, it has been encouraging to see so many new hubs opening up in recent times. However, as Carol explains, coworking has long been an existing option in other countries – and the landscape is very evolved elsewhere.

“You can see so many co-working spaces in a tiny city like Hong Kong – it’s super-competitive if you’re running a co-working space over there. They have their own territories. Over there, if you’re talking about social innovation, you go to Good Lab. If you are tech-focused, you go to Science Park. If you are a maker, you go to MakerBay. They have different themes and focuses for different hubs over there,” Carol says.

A quick look on ConnectedHubs.ie will show you that there are over 230 hubs open across the country at the time of writing – that’s quite an impressive number, and while we still have a way to go to catch up with countries like Hong Kong, it’s encouraging to see such a high number.

So, why is it that so many people are pursuing the co-working experience?

“Of course, working from home is still okay, but I do get more stuff done when I’m working in the PorterShed,” Carol explains. So, productivity is clearly a big factor in why people are ditching the kitchen table for the purpose-built desk.

But there’s another factor behind the rise of co-working spaces.

“Lots of big companies are getting rid of the office. If you’re running a business, you probably rent your own office somewhere else. But right now, a lot of big corporates have started to rent desks in the co-working space because it’s handy – they save time, they save the maintenance, and they reduce cost,” Carol says.

Carol Ho, COO of Baseworx

In addition, people view co-working spaces as a way to reconnect with the real world. Many professionals are still re-emerging back into office life, and some are still looking for ways to do so gradually. For many people, co-working spaces offer a chance to do exactly this. Ultimately, co-working spaces provide the sweet spot between traditional offices and remote working. Worldwide, too, that trend is clear – a recent newsletter from The Hustle explains that analysts are predicting approximately 42,000 coworking spaces globally in 2024, an increase of 116 percent when compared to 2020.

As Carol explains, these hubs are having a positive knock-on effect around the country.

“We see the benefits of Connected Hubs – it’s definitely supporting the development of the countryside of Ireland, bringing the jobs, and helping to boost the economy of the countryside areas.”

The ConnectedHubs.ie website, which is managed by Baseworx, is clearly in high demand, and Carol explains that they have big plans in store for the site in the near future – both in Ireland and internationally.

“We are launching version two of Connected Hubs, so that’s one of our flagship projects that we’re working on at the moment. Right now, we are pretty much focused on the Connected Hubs projects because it’s such an important government initiative. I’m spending lots of time talking to many of the hub managers to get their feedback on the software to understand what features they want to get.

“We are taking in some interns from Limerick and Cork – graduate students from some of the colleges there. So, we are doing a summer internship programme and spending some time training the students up. And they will help us with some of the international market research. Because apart from Ireland, we are looking at some other countries to see if other countries could have the same model.”

Back home, the focus of course is on continuing to help hubs harness the power of the Connected Hubs platform through the Baseworx software.

A lot of talk continues to centre around the future of work and what it will look like in the next five to 10 years. An important topic of conversation, for sure, but what does Carol think about the future of co-working? Will we see even further revitalisation of rural areas in Ireland in the near future?

“I just think that probably we will have more young families moving back to the countryside area and that way they won’t need to stay in the city with the high living expenses and all that. But it will take a while. Right now the government is trying to build loads of infrastructure to support that, but it will take some time,” the Baseworx COO said.

In the meantime, your local hub awaits with high-speed broadband, coffee, and the facilities needed to get work done, no matter where you are. The future can wait, for now.

Itera’s Lana Liubetskaya: “Use tech for good things”

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Svetlana Liubetskaya is a tech professional with over 15 years of experience in computer science and artificial intelligence, and she has recently arrived in Ireland from Ukraine, looking to make a new start.

Our conversation starts with Lana telling me that her decision to move country was forced after her house in Ukraine was destroyed because of the war being waged by Russian forces.

Having spent a number of years in project management and software management, Lana currently works for Itera Research, a full-stack web and mobile development firm in Ukraine that is focused on helping businesses grow. In spite of the ongoing war, the company remains in operation, and amazingly they are focused on keeping their clients satisfied.

Life in Ukraine is continuing for many – somehow. Like her father and her mother. Lana tells me that she regularly phones them to find out how they are. She speaks about her father who is in his 70s; their phone conversations focus on how he is taking care of his garden. Now and again, the sound of rockets will interrupt their conversation, but her father tells her not to worry.

“For sure, I am worried about it a lot, and I cried a lot for sure, but it is what it is, and now let’s continue doing something good in this world.”

Now, Lana lives in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, with her son, and she is keen to make the most of a new beginning. Lana is enjoying life in the west of Ireland. Her son has already made so many friends, and she has had the opportunity to go surfing in the sea during her down time.

Lana with her son

In her professional world, tech has been something Lana has always been profoundly interested in, and having run a successful light business for a time, she returned to that first love.

“I came back to IT because it was my passion, actually since childhood, because I started coding when I was around 12 – just for fun with my cousins. We played games with random numbers and I created code for these games to show people pictures, just for fun. I didn’t play games a lot, but I liked it for creating something, and that’s why I came back to this industry,” Lana explains.

She also says that she has been particularly focused on the digital transformation of companies throughout her career – helping organisations to embrace technology.

“I personally participated in the digital transformation of a factory – their processes. I also did this in the governmental sector which is a big challenge because they are very slow, they don’t want to change everything. They like to sign papers – keeping pen and paper – and they would do this for the next 20 years if they could, but we found a way, though it was not easy!”

Indeed, Lana is focused on how the tech industry can solve problems, not only through start-ups but through communities keen to harness the power of tech for broader, inclusive missions.

In Ukraine, Lana explains that this pursuit is becoming increasingly popular, through the likes of Unit City [unit.city] which gathers start-ups together to drive innovation, create a comprehensive mission, and build an environment that helps the community, the city, and the surrounding areas to solve broader problems that affect lots of people.

Lana points to the notion that it is too easy for people to concentrate on just the tech, without realising that the tech is simply a means to and end.

“The technology is just a tool. If you know how to use it, that’s great, and you can spend less money, using the money [you saved] to do something else, to support the business, and grow the business. The most important thing is to solve the problem, the main problem of the business.”

And Lana is keen to tackle one big challenge throughout her career in tech – how to make sure that we harness its power for good and not for bad.

“It can be a medicine, or a treatment, or a system, and it can be a weapon…our human challenge is to find a way to use it for good things,” she says.

“I feel supported” – Yurko Turskiy, Advisable Developer

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Yurko Turskiy, a frontend developer working for Advisable sat down with Trevor Murray to talk about leaving his home country of Ukraine, starting a new life with his girlfriend on the west coast of Ireland, and what it means to have arrived in Galway in the midst of trouble in his homeland…

For Yurko, who originally hails from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, it was important that he got a job working with an international team where he could speak English – and Advisable gave him that opportunity, having helped him submit a work permit visa that allows him to live and work in Ireland. Yurko has a background in graphic design but ultimately decided to get involved in development. He also explains that he “loves” working for Advisable, and is keen to contribute everything he can to develop a seamless and attractive website for their users.

Advisable is a business that aims to help companies complete diverse tasks and projects. Led by their CEO Peter O’ Malley, they essentially make it easier for their clients to discover the talent and community base needed to complete all sorts of workstreams. They also facilitate the process whereby freelancers can get their work noticed by the right people. 

Currently based in the PorterShed where he works as part of a collaborative team, Yurko is now living with his girlfriend Kate in Galway. Kate herself is a PhD Chemistry student who is now doing her studies remotely, continuing to deliver lectures and work in the early hours of the morning. Kate is also studying Python and hopes to become a data scientist in the near future.

While Yurko and Kate have done their utmost to keep up some semblance of a normal life, doing so has certainly been an unprecedented challenge, to say the very least. In fact, Yurko arrived in Galway just a few days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated. It had always been his plan to move to another country – but Ireland was an unexpected eventual destination.

Yurko Turskiy, frontend developer with Advisable, pictured working in the PorterShed

“Eventually, I arrived here on the 13th of February, and 11 days later the full-scale war started with Russia. I’m saying full-scale war because we were in the war for eight years – that was a slow war, but now we have a full-scale war,” Yurko explained.

Uprooting to begin again has been a decision millions of people have made throughout history for a myriad of reasons, and Yurko now counts himself as one of those people. The opportunity provided by Advisable was a big enticement to come to Ireland for a new adventure, but the outbreak of a full war made Yurko’s relocation more problematic – and dramatic. Moving was not a decision Yurko took lightly either. Yurko’s girlfriend Kate was still in Ukraine at the time his work permit came through, moving briefly to Poland for temporary shelter because of the war. Initially, Kate’s plan was to move to the States, but they decided that being together in Ireland was the best idea. Yurko had to wait for his other half to join, and the wait for both was an anxious one.

“The whole situation was horrible. The feeling of war was in the air. It was very scary, to be honest.

“It was really stressful. For the first week, the muscles in my neck were in tension. I had headaches, though headaches are not [usually] my problem. I wasn’t able to eat. I had to force myself to eat once per day. I lost some weight even though I’m skinny. It was hard to smile and communicate with people – especially with Irish people because they are all the time friendly and they smile!”

Yurko had to force himself to learn how to adjust to leaving behind the life he had before and jump into the new one he is now creating. After weeks of intolerable anxiety and worry, he’s now socializing, smiling, and getting to know the people around Galway. Indeed, the safety net of his new home has helped and Yurko’s impression of Galway – and Ireland – is a positive one. 

“It’s an amazing place. I like it.

“For me it was a sign that the western world understands those risks. The whole world understands. That we got the full support of everyone, it was really amazing. On the first day of the full-scale invasion, I found news that Ireland waived visas, and it was really impressive that Ireland were aware of what they needed to do and how to support.

“I feel supported a lot,” he says, adding that Kate feels the same way owing to the many Ukrainians they see being helped in Ireland.

Back home, Yurko still has family, friends, and loved ones that he regularly stays in touch with, and although he has moved to Galway, he remains tethered to his homeland.

“I call them on Telegram.

“Most of my family are in Kyiv – my mom, my brother, my sister, my sister’s husband. My sister has three small kids. They decided to stay there because they were not sure if it was safe to go west.

“My grandma is living between Kyiv region and Zhytomyr region; it was really dangerous there, so I was really worrying about the situation with her, but she’s fine now.”

For Yurko, the current situation in Ukraine is something he is looking to alleviate as much as he can from his base in Ireland. He’s sending as much support and aid as he can to comfort those back home – and he’s constantly in touch with them when he’s not working. And while the present is unfortunately negative beyond much compare, Yurko tells me that he believes Ukraine will come through this dark time – and his people will return.

“When Ukraine wins, hopefully, I could come back to visit my family and friends,” he says.

After all, Yurko knows that there is so much more that he can achieve for his country from Ireland.

“I had a really big desire to go there in the first days. I was almost ready to drop everything and fly back, but my relatives and my family they told me not to do that, because I am completely useless there!

“My possibilities here are much bigger, and I can do much more being here than there.”

Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Steve Blank and Eric Ries have done great work in providing engineers with a way to test their product ideas in the real world with real people. They have provided processes and systems with built in, all-important, feedback loops.

They made widespread the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP.) They formulated a process where a product in its most basic workable is shown to the world at large and note is made of the response. These notes can either or endorse or refute the product creator’s work and vision and suitable action is taken. The the product loops back to the MVP state again and the process. It is a methodical and useful way to ensure that a business creates a product that people want.

While the Lean Startup movement has provided a core set of practical tools to the startup there still remains a plethora of questions that also need answering. The most important being, what constitutes a good idea for a product or service that is worth pursuing for profit?

A good place to start looking, if not for a direct answer but an intelligent way to think about the subject, is in Peter Thiel’s newly published book written in conjunction with Blake Masters, “Zero to One.” It refers to the idea that, “Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.”

He goes on to say a page or so later, “…by creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.” And then declares in the next paragraph, “Zero to One is about how to build companies to create new things.”

While a lot of Steve Blank’s work is formulaic, and usefully so, Peter Thiel prefers to think about business from the aspect of first principles. The future that we create is grounded in the work of today. To make that future a peaceful and prosperous one we need new technology which in turn requires new approaches. Peter Thiel’s aim is to provide an, “..exercise in thinking. Because that is what a startup has to do: question received ideas and rethink business from scratch.”

That is an ambitious goal in itself. Thinking is hard and thinking originally is very hard. In fact we only have to look around us to see that thinking is so hard that most people avoid it at all costs.

To set the scene he describes the factors that led to the Dot-Com bubble of the late nineties. As CEO of PayPal during that period he had a ringside seat as the drama unfolded. He says that there were four major lessons that entrepreneurs seem to have derived from the experiences of those dramatic times.

1.) Make incremental advances
2.) Stay lean and flexible
3.) Improve on competition
4.) Focus on product, not sales

All of these ideas seem highly sensible and lie at the heart of many a startup’s strategy for going to market. However, Peter Thiel overturns these assumptions. He replaces these four general points of business strategy with some of his own somewhat contrarian ones:

1.) It is better to risk boldness than triviality
2.) A bad plan is better than no plan
3.) Competitive markets destroy profits
4.) Sales matters just as much as product.

In rejecting the lessons learned from history, the same lessons that have built in Silicon Valley one of the most powerful centres of wealth creation the world has ever known, he puts forward a very coherent, consistent and challenging alternative idea. He is adamant that, “To build the next generation of companies, we must abandon the dogmas created after the crash.”

So what is wrong with most of the companies being started or built today? Lack of differentiation caused by lack of original thought is his answer.

Commodity businesses have always had it hard. You set a price and a competitor with the same or similar product can undercut you. If your product is not differentiated enough then you have no choice but to undercut them in turn. It soon becomes a race to the bottom where profits are foregone for the sake of market share. The deciding factors in such a scenario are deeper pockets and greater business efficiency. The result is invariably a mediocre, at best, product.

Traditionally, economists regard the ideal market place is at its most efficient when governed by the forces of perfect competition. Peter Thiel points out that this is a fallacy and that a company that operates in a market that is in perfect competition is a market where no one makes any money at all.

The solution, therefore, is not to copy anyone else but to think for yourself and have faith in the originality of your own ideas. Use your uniqueness to your advantage. Create your own market and become a monopoly.

Peter Thiel’s assertion that the only way to make real money is to have a monopoly of a given market is a challenging idea. We have laws against monopolies and no customer likes to have only one choice of a service provider. However, if you want to make money being in effect the dominant provider of a given service or product is the only tenable and financially worthwhile way of operating.

If you take his point that real change and real growth comes from original thinking made manifest in new technologies then that original thinking constitutes the creation of a natural monopoly. At least for a certain amount of time. Which brings us to the idea of durability.

In what may be an interesting explanation as to why companies like Amazon are barely profitable The authors write that, “For a company to be valuable it must grow and endure.” And that while growth is easy to measure, durability isn’t. They are not fans of, “measurement mania,” and they believe that management time and energy should be focused on building a monopoly by wise use of brand, scale, network effect and technology.

To do this a company must start small and “dominate a large share of its market.” A company then grows by sequencing its growth to grabbing bigger shares of larger markets. Contrast this line of thinking to the current belief in startup circles that a that the ability to scale quickly is somehow a precursor for success.

They go on to be quite specific in that, “The perfect market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors.” The huge advantage is that once you have found the business whose customers meets that criteria then you have the opportunity to create your own future, right or wrong. You can avoid being taken down by competitors undercutting you or being dictated to by the bigger players stomping around in the sandpit you share with them.

A little after halfway through the book we come to, “‘Thiel’s Law’; a startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed.” As a founder of
Founder’s Fund
, Peter Thiel has had the opportunity to review many startups from an investment perspective. When he studies the teams, (he is not an advocate of sole proprietorship because it limits what kind of company you can build,) he looks for how well the founders know each other and how well they work together. He places great value on how easily complementary skills and personalities mesh.

He then goes on to discuss the legal and financial aspects of a startup to which an entrepreneur should pay special attention. For example, “Recruiting is a core competency for any company, It should never be outsourced.” A particularly valuable rule that he had at PayPal was that he made every employee responsible for just one thing. It had two benefits. It made it easy for him to evaluate an employees performance and that, “…defining roles reduced conflict.”

The authors then go on to argue that humans and computers are separate categories and are not interchangeable. They ask us to change the question surrounding this problem, how can we use computers to replace people with the much more practical question, “How can computers help humans solve hard problems?”

This is a book that is all about questions. But the answers are only something that you, as an individual, can provide. The questions are a tool to give you access to thinking more clearly about a problem as opposed to providing the certitude of a right or wrong answer.

Peter and Blake have posed seven questions that every business must answer. I suggest that the opportunity to understand the thinking behind the formulation of these questions and the opportunity to answer them yourself is reason enough for you purchase the book.

1.) The Engineering Question
2.) The Timing Question
3.) The Monopoly Question
4.) The People Question
5.) The Distribution Question
6.) The Durability Question
7.) The Secret Question

There is much more to read and learn in this book. It is fairly short but unlike most business books it is dense with useful ways to think about business and startups in particular. Staying true to his promise at the beginning, he uses questions to help us access his ideas and in doing so having us think for ourselves.

I would recommend this book to anyone thinking of going out on their own. The questions that the authors pose are challenging but they are designed to elicit answers that are uniquely yours. They help provide a path that leads to the building of uniquely differentiated products and understandings of what constitutes a successful enterprise.

The Opening and Naming of the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre

The Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre was named and opened yesterday at the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). John Hartnett, the President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group and whom the building was named after was present at the event to receive this honour from his alma mater.

Following below are excerpts from the speech he gave to a gathering of some 300 people including the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan, the outgoing Mayoress of Limerick Marie Byrne and Dr. Maria Hinfelaar President of the LIT amongst others.

After opening remarks where Minister Michael Noonan, other dignitaries and the audience were thanked for taking the time and trouble to attend John Hartnett made the following comments;

“I came to LIT in the early eighties and access to education has been the most critical thing that has created not just my success but in starting my career off in a big way. It took a number of decades to get there but the really big start was from the LIT.

I hope the partnership that we are creating today, from my Silicon Valley perspective, will create another rung on the ladder for Irish Entrepreneurs.

I want to give you some key stats about Silicon Valley where I live today. It is about 45 miles north/south and about 10 miles east/west…It is very much the epicentre of technology.

The top technology companies in the world are headquartered there and that is not lightly said. Companies like; Apple, Intel, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter. All the big companies that you know and heard of are all there.

The combined market capitalization of Silicon Valley companies is 2 trillion dollars. For a small little location it has completely outshone every other location in the world. There are more than 700 VCs that operate in Silicon Valley.

It is the number one destination in the world for capital for young entrepreneurs. 40% of all investment in the United States has gone into Silicon Valley. That was 8 billion dollars last year and that was considered a bad year.

There are countries that have done a tremendous job of cracking the code and really accessing Silicon Valley. I would point to Israel as what Israel has done is focused very heavily on innovation, focused very heavily on access to capital in Silicon and the movement of investment from Silicon Valley into Israel.

Today the measurement of success is a public company on NASDAQ. Israel has 130 companies that there today which is a tremendous achievement. That is more than the entire continent of Europe. Ireland has about 3 or 4.

The big challenge for us…is that success isn’t being sold for 20, 30 or 40 million dollars. Success is going public. Success is about being multi-billion dollar company. Success is creating thousands of jobs that are going to stay here for a long, long time…

I have been in touch with over 400 Irish companies over the last couple of years. I have been very close to many universities both north and south of the border. I have experienced quality in terms of technology, in terms of the entrepreneurship here in Ireland. There is no question Minister, that Ireland can change the game. We just need to point in the right direction and stop looking back. Stop feeling bad about the past because we can’t do anything about it.

It’s all about the future.

In my view the future will be about innovation. In my view the future for our children will be what we did today about going after innovation. If Silicon Valley can do it why can’t we do it.

The secret ingredient is no secret.

  • The secret is that it has the number one university in the world for innovation — Stanford University.
  • It is the number one destination for customers. Those companies, the Apples, the Intels, are all there. That is where you are going to trade. It is a massive market place.
  • Probably the biggest one, which doesn’t recognised, is venture capital. Access to money is so important for young companies and right now in Ireland today access to capital is tough.

    Our relationship will hopefully create a gateway to that capital. Not just to our fund but to the syndication of our funds in Silicon Valley and help drive that investment into Irish companies.

  • The fourth ingredient is about attitude. It’s about vision. It’s about reaching big and it’s about going for it.

It’s about not criticizing failure. Many companies are going to fail. We shouldn’t get upset about the fact that Irish companies are going to fail at some point along the way. But we shouldn’t shoot down failure. Failure is what drives success.

It’s not good enough to be a small company. It is only good enough to be billion dollar company.

The leading nations are investing to drive this forward. We are probably underinvesting in innovation today compared to Scandinavian countries and countries like Israel. Israel invests between 4 and 5% of its GDP — We probably invest between 1.5 to 2%

We have a very well recognised education system…But we can’t be complacent. We are not in the top 5 or top 10 in Europe from an education perspective. We need our universities to be in the top 5 and that has to be our goal.

The investment here today in these facilities paves the way for these young people but that is the start of the journey. We need to make sure that both from a government and a private perspective that we are focused creating those multi-billion dollar companies.

We should be measuring the number of NASDAQ quoted companies that are produced from Ireland…

All we need is one $300Bn company and we will be well on the road but it takes some time do that. But I have every confidence that we can do that from an Ireland perspective.

We have the talent and I think with this initiative today, in terms what LIT are doing, is really taking leadership in terms of education, in driving entrepreneurship and really driving forward to our future which will be about innovation and technology.”

President Obama visits Silicon Valley

President Obama recently made a two-day visit to Silicon Valley. The aim of the trip was to promote technological development with a view to supporting and improving the US economy. At a private dinner, President Obama met with the heads of some of the leading technology companies based in Silicon Valley.

According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the conversation centred on ways to work to invest in innovaton and promote private sector job growth.

“The president specifically discussed his proposals to invest in research and development and expand incentives for companies to grow and hire, along with his goal of doubling exports over five years to support millions of American jobs.”

In addition, “The group also discussed the importance of new investments in education.”

President Obama has already promised to fund tax credits for research and development, and has plans to allocate $18 billion dollars for wireless broadband infrastructure across the country.

The Irish Innovation Center (IIC) has over 20 start-ups operating from its premises in San Jose, California. They support plans to give immigrants preferential visas if they bring in capital and start up a company that creates jobs for Americans.

They are referring to initiatives like the Startup Visa Act which was introduced by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar in February 2010 and is awaiting approval. In essence, it allows for a foreign national to obtain a visa that would allow them to reside and work in America if they can raise a certain amount of money from a venture capital firm owned by a US citizen.

John Hartnett, President and Founder of the Irish Technology Group (ITLG) says, “Our competition is every other city in the world, and leading in education and leading in supporting that young innovator that is coming to Silicon Valley to set up their company and be successful and become the next Google or the next Facebook is what we want to make happen.”

To increase the chances of making that happen, for Irish businesses in particular, the ITLG wants to get the US Government to create “start up incentives” for seed funding and the creation of employment grants to be made available for Irish startups in America. They would also like to see more support for the IIC.

In a previous interview with the Technology Voice, John explained why it was so important for entrepreneurs, especially Irish entrepreneurs, to have a presence in Silicon Valley, “Three reasons to come to Silicon Valley are access to customers, access to capital, access to talent. If you want to understand what is going to shape your company in the future, it is your people, your ability to get customers, and your ability to get funded, and that’s all sitting here.”

With the President of the United States taking a personal interest in technological innovation and growth, combined with upcoming changes in legislation like those proposed by Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Luger, the future does seem to look more promising for those who are willing to make a go of it in Silicon Valley.

Using the Arduino: Turning Thinkers into Doers

The Arduino is a physical computer based on a microcontroller board that can be directly programmed from a regular computer using a USB cable and the Arduino development environment. It can sense and control the world around it and is enabling thousands and thousands of users worldwide to build almost anything they dream of, from a simply blinking LED to a plant that twitters when it needs water. This open-source electronics platform is giving individuals the ability to have control over things by accessing technology in a way that was never thought possible.

A previous article, Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package, introduced and discussed the microcontroller, its accessibility, and the value of the huge community surrounding it. Projects that are constantly emerging from this huge online community show that the real potential of the Arduino lies in the notion that physical computers can be used to improve the quality of everyday life, from novelty tasks like using a wii nunchuck to control an espresso machine, to useful energy saving solutions such as a wireless electricity monitor.

The Arduino enables even complete beginners with no prior electronics or programming knowledge to hack, make, build and customise objects and environments to make things work better for themselves and others in their daily lives. Whether you want to program your television to turn on when you arrive home in the evening or remotely activate your home heating, it can allow you to do this. By making DIY projects like this easier than ever the Arduino has paved the way for a wave of makers and hobbyists to add interactivity to everyday objects and environments, simplifying or adding an element of fun to everyday tasks.

I was introduced to Arduino at college when doing a Masters in Interactive Media. My first project involved learning some basic soldering skills and creating a very basic circuit using a potentiometer to control an LED. I have since gotten an Arduino starter kit which comes with tutorials and everything you need for the projects like sensors, motors, buttons, switches and LEDs. There are also really useful online tutorials.

In jogo I used an Arduino to control an LED array which I built to act as a playhead that indicates the sequence of the notes playing in the sixteen steps of the concentric circles. This was left out of the final project for other reasons.

I had previously learned some Java and Actionscript so I already had a grasp of object-orientated programming which meant I didn’t find it to be a steep learning curve for me. Even so, one of the strengths of the Arduino system is the massive community that surrounds the project. One of the benefits of this community is having a massive library of examples and tutorials to learn from. Someone, somewhere, has more than likely done something similar to what you plan to do. For some projects you want to create you may not even have to start writing code from scratch.

With the Arduino, individuals, rather than businesses and institutions, can now make intelligent tools customised for their own particular needs. From DIY home alarm systems, to a robot that reads and speaks RSS feeds. The power is now in the hands of everyday people to have control over things in a way they only ever imagined was possible. Everyday objects and environments are becoming more and more embedded with computational power.

The technology of the Arduino and the community that surrounds it enables people to be doers, not just thinkers. Rather than sitting back and letting the technology that surrounds us have all the control, people are now using Arduino as a tool through which they can sense, control and automate things around them.

All that is required is an Arduino, a computer and your imagination. Access to the online community of hackers and makers would greatly assist DIY-ers of all skill levels. Inspiration and help can be found on the Arduino-Tutorials page, the Arduino Playground, Makezine and Instructables.

The possibilities are endless for amateur and expert enthusiasts to use Arduino to improve aspects of their daily lives or simply make things more fun. So whether you chose to make your sitting room furniture re-arrange itself according to your mood or remotely control your microwave to cook your porridge while you’re still in bed, you are only limited by your imagination.

From my own perspective the real benefit of the Arduino is that it is an accessible platform that allows me as an artist and designer to add interactivity to my work. Currently I am using Arduino to build sound based interactive pieces that aim to encourage playful and social interaction among both adults and children. My first project on this theme, jogo, was developed using a web camera. While this works perfectly, it is unfortunately restricted to being used in environments with controlled lighting. To overcome this I plan to use the Arduino to make a hardware version of this in the near future.

The pictures in the text are from an Arduino project that Emma and Loraine Clarke contributed to Tweak.
You can visit Emma at her website or follow her on twitter: @legolady

The Call Of Nature


Connemara, County Galway.

Many of us live a life of information overload, and we all need a break now and then from our computers, our e-mails and our online social networks. Unlike the poor folk living remotely in the countryside with intermittent connections (that were featured in Susan’s article), we would like to get to decide when we take ourselves off the grid.

In this New York Times article “Outdoors And Out Of Reach, Studying The Brain“, five scientists disconnected themselves from the Internet, or as we like to think of it these days, civilisation.

They are five different characters, and it is not much of a surprise that they reacted to their field trip/experiment in five different ways. Apart from this being an entertaining account, I don’t think I am spoiling the ending when I tell you it concludes with the idea that getting away from it all every now and then is good for you.

But a subtheme in the article is very interesting: “Why don’t brains adapt to the heavy stimulation, turning us into ever-stronger multitaskers?”

We are well practiced with computers, dealing with e-mails, managing ourselves so we are always in a position to give a ‘timely response’ via our smart phones or from a laptop in a cafe. But it is stressful, and unlike so many more activities like playing the piano, or speaking a foreign language, we don’t seem to get better at it the more we do it. Faster maybe, but not really better. Once you have the hang of forming a tweet, there isn’t much in the way of advanced work to do.

Could it be that our interactions with computers are turning us into over-worked robots? With playing a piano or speaking another language, or joining in with a great many recreational games, there is a learning component inherent in the activity. Putting in the effort results in greater proficiency, no matter how flat the learning curve.

I would imagine for you, just like me, all the requests for action that come through the screen every day – “When is this?”, “Where is that?”, “What time will…?”, “Can you..?”, ”Would you be interested…” – are very much of a similar nature in their daily repetitiveness and are dealt with in a correspondingly similar way. This is the fabric of our connected lives, and there is great benefit in how we form our communications to make our life easier, but there is a robotic element to it as well.

Going off the grid once a week, taking ourselves away from the online world and reminding ourselves of our immediate world would – if the NYT article is anything to go by – be a good thing, and it might just save us from being slaves to the machine.

One piece of irony in the article was the discussion about how scientists are spending more effort on learning how we as humans focus. I say ironic because as the scientists began to relax themselves and relax into their surroundings, they began to see more and hear more, and exhibited a greater awareness of themselves as being alive and on the planet. Now that is being focused – everything else is just a distraction.

Should Journalists Learn Programming?


Thanks to Mark Luckie at 10000words.net

It is a great infographic but it is also a great question, not only for journalists but for anyone who would not normally consider learning how to program as something suitable or worthwhile for them to put time and effort into.

With increasingly sophisticated interfaces which hide the guts of an operating system away from the user becoming the norm and interactions reduced to pressing and swiping a screen there is barely a need to know anything about how a given computer or smartphone really works.

So what arguments exist for taking on the additional and sometimes arduous chore of learning to program a computer?

We’ll let you answer that in the comments section.

An alternative approach would be to look at why you shouldn’t learn to program.

Well, first of all programming is hard: It can be but learning to programme can be done in small bite-size chunks. There are some fantastic manuals out there and a lot of thought has gone into how best to allow newbies get their feet wet without drowning them at the get-go.

There are so many languages where would one start?: Most programmers have a preferred language they like to work with. But I would recommend HTML. Simply because it is the one you are most likely to come across on discussion boards and blogs etc. Usually, a blank dialog box with a bunch of funny symbols along the top is a big clue that you can enter your text and be able to tidy it up or lay it out using HTML. You can learn most of the commands over a weekend and it is amazing how far you can go with it before you will feel the need for something more sophisticated.

More time at the computer: Ah, well, you have me there.

Would I be worse off if I learned a little programming know-how?: Not as facetious as it first sounds. The conventional idea that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing holds true in progamming as elsewhere. However, with even a little programming knowledge an invaluable understanding can be gleaned as to what it really takes to write good code for any kind of project.

That alone might make it worth the effort.

Personally, I never got past the “crying at the keyboard” stage.