Pádraig Hoare: The Monday Interview: Cementing Cork’s tech supremacy

With a 63% increase in employment in the last five years, and 13,000 workers currently employed in 61 IDA-supported companies, Cork is positioning itself as a city of tech supremacy.

Pádraig Hoare: The Monday Interview: Cementing Cork’s tech supremacy

The annual Tech Summit organised by it@cork will see developments in tech innovation showcased at Cork City Hall this Thursday. Pádraig Hoare talks to the event’s co-chair, Gillian Bergin.

With a 63% increase in employment in the last five years, and 13,000 workers currently employed in 61 IDA-supported companies, Cork is positioning itself as a city of tech supremacy.

Not content to just pay lip service to the notion that Cork can become Europe’s version of Silicon Valley, organisations like volunteer-led it@cork are leading the charge in promoting the region across the world.

The seventh instalment of the organisation’s Tech Summit at Cork City Hall on Thursday aims to prove that.

Co-chair of the event and director of it@cork, Gillian Bergin of Dell EMC, said the summit is a unique opportunity to showcase the leading-edge technology and innovation coming down the line and how Cork, Ireland and Europe are playing a significant role.

“Tech Summit aims to inspire businesses to adapt quickly to new technologies in order to gain access to new markets, lower costs and beat the competition. There is also a substantial networking aspect to the summit to enable delegates to connect and discuss possible areas of collaboration.”

“We have an amazing line-up of speakers this year from Vivokey Technologies, Ryanair, Stripe, UCC, CIT, axial3D, Tyndall, IDA, Soapbox Labs, TechIreland, 8West and many more. We will also be creating Ireland’s first cyborg by implanting Denis Canty — co-lead of Tech Summit and head of automation and AI software labs at McKesson in Cork — with the next generation of non-medical tech implants to allow him to control devices at the swipe of his hand.

“Delegates will also get to hear a panel of three humans and one robot — social robot Stevie from Trinity College Dublin — actively discuss if we are designing technology or if technology is designing us.” said Ms Bergin.

She joined the board of it@cork in 2015 because she was inspired by what it was doing for the city and the region.

“Representing over 300 member companies, the board is made up of volunteers from industry, academia and government, who are passionate about bringing these three areas together, along with the legal and financial profession services community, to drive greater collaboration and innovation, and attract and retain tech talent in the region and ultimately create a tech cluster,” she said.

“The entire board and staff of it@cork give generously of their time for the greater good of the region and are making significant impact. The organisation goes from strength to strength each year.”

It is difficult to predict how much more Cork’s IT sector can grow but it will continue to see more jobs in the near future, Ms Bergin said.

“With the increasing demand for talent by the tech companies, the calibre of graduates coming out of our universities and colleges — and the cost of living in Cork being almost 20% less than that of Dublin — Cork remains a compelling value proposition. Technology is so pervasive in all businesses and sectors today, that building a strong talent pipeline in Cork will benefit the whole region.”

“The nature of business and the workplace globally is changing, enabled by connected devices, IoT [the Internet of Things] and smart machines. These enabling-technologies can transform small companies into big players very quickly and with cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data analytics becoming areas of increasing interest for everyone, I can only see this growth going one way — up.”

That means attracting more young women into the industry, which has been a major focus for it@cork. Ms Bergin said the organisation, and the women involved in it, are striving to encourage and inspire girls to enter the sector.

“I’m 23 years in the tech business at Dell EMC, with 13 of those in IT applications development. I studied economics and computer science and did a post-graduate diploma in accounting and management information systems, thinking business and IT would be a compelling combination. I learned pretty quickly at college that the subjects I loved — boolean logic, programming languages and database design — were taking me down the IT route so I pursued my passions,” she said.

“In recent years I returned to study once more to do a two-year masters in data business. Lifelong learning is encouraged at many companies today so that talent and skills remain relevant as business models evolve.”

“Diversity and inclusion are core tenets of it@cork. Even the newly-elected it@cork board is 50% women, sending a strong message from our member companies that diversity is a business imperative.

“Good progress is being made here but there is still more work to be done. For women, it’s important we inspire them with real role models and the sheer breadth of careers available in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). But the bottom line is that we need more of everyone in STEM.

“With art and design set to transform our economy in the 21st century, just as STEM did in the last one, we need to weave art and design into the equation and change the conversation from STEM into STEAM,” she said.

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