The newly-elected chair of it@cork, the burgeoning volunteer movement representing the evolving tech sector in the south of Ireland, is adamant — people with no background in IT need not fear the changes it has brought, but should be part of the adventure.
Caroline O’Driscoll, a tax partner at KPMG who became the first female chair of the organisation this month, is living proof that it is never too late to get on board with the IT revolution. Seven years ago, she was a lay person looking in from the outside.
“I was promoted to partner in 2010 and around that time, I was asked to take charge of leading service delivery in our strategy for the technology sector in Cork. I really didn’t know a lot about technology at all. I’m an accountant so obviously I had a lot to learn. I decided to get involved with it@cork in some of their committees. I started working with them on the Tech Summit and in 2013 I ended up on the board, and here I am today,” she said.
She still considers herself as someone with a lot to learn and that it why she believes this Thursday’s Tech Summit 2017 in Cork’s City Hall is an occasion for all to embrace.
“It is definitely never too late to learn when it comes to IT. If an accountant can do it, anybody can do it.
“The Tech Summit is so forward looking. Two of the themes in particular this year are artificial intelligence and the future of work. They are topics that will be very rich in debate and discussion. What do all these robots and machines mean? We are at a critical point, from cures for cancer and climate change.
“If we allow machines the capacity to learn because they can do that quickly and can process information quicker than we can, I think humans and machines working together could be an amazing scientific tool for discovery. Then there is the negative side to it. Do you need to regulate? Do machines end up replacing humans? What is the human cost if we have driverless cars? That is a challenge. There are a lot of questions and unknowns but it will be very interesting for the audience. There will be food for thought for both tech-minded people and business people,” she said.
Education is vital, according to Ms O’Driscoll. So much so that the co-founder of IWISH, which encourages young female participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), believes Ireland is behind the curve.
“I think our school system has not kept up with the pace of change at all. It’s not just girls, it’s that we don’t have enough children overall going into STEM subjects. It is a top issue with our it@cork members that comes up consistently, time and time again, that we don’t have enough talent coming out of the universities. It’s not necessarily a university issue alone, it needs to go right back to primary and secondary school. The STEM review group that reported last year issued some fantastic recommendations and the Government needs to act on them,” she said.
It is not about forcing youngsters into STEM, but rather giving them some semblance of what will pervade their entire lives everyday in the future.
“It’s not about pigeonholing any child into ‘You must be this or must be that in STEM’, it’s actually giving them a basic set of skills of mathematic and scientific literacy. That no matter what they do, they have some basic level of skills. I look at my own profession of accountancy and I think things like artificial intelligence is going to dramatically change how we do business into the future. No matter what sector you are in, whether it is farming, accountancy or core technology, I think having that skillset is going to be very important going forward,” she said.
Cork has long been the city for pharmaceutical giants. It’s now the IT centre of excellence and needs to be equipped accordingly, Ms O’Driscoll insists.
“Cork has done very well with the companies that are here, and they are accelerating on. By far the largest sector in foreign direct investment in Cork is IT. That energy has always struck me. I really don’t think we will be talking about technology as a standalone subject in the future. To me, technology is going to permeate absolutely everything that we do. It is in our homes, it is in our schools, it is in our workplaces. There is so much convergence that it is even on our farms,” she said.
Whatever sector you work in, Tech Summit will be relevant, according to Ms O’Driscoll. The event will also include networking opportunities, interactive panels and showcase cutting-edge technology currently on offer by industry. “Cork and IT are a match for the ages if the relationship is embraced,” she said upon election.
“For Cork, arguably it’s now or never to capitalise on this opportunity. We have a lot going for us. With employment in Cork based IDA-supported IT companies growing by 63% in the last five years alone, the IT sector continues to expand at an incredible pace. On our doorstep, we have a hugely talented workforce, world leading third level institutions, a pro-business friendly environment and a thriving start up ecosystem. It is also a fantastic place to live. Post-Brexit, we will be the second largest English-speaking city in Europe. Our time has come. ” she said.