What is Smart Futures?

Smart Futures is a collaborative Government-Industry-Education programme promoting STEM careers to students in Ireland. It provides access to careers information and role models to students, parents, guidance councillors and teachers. It is managed by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in partnership with Engineers Ireland.

On this website you can:

  • Browse STEM ‘Career Stories’ about people working in all kinds of STEM-related roles or look up a specific career area by entering a keyword (e.g. chemistry) in the search box (top left hand corner). 
  • Request a STEM volunteer to visit your school for free here or become a volunteer yourself!
  • Watch careers video with people working in areas such as food and sports science, cybersecurity, engineering, energy, app development, biotechnology, medical devices and lots more hereSTEM Infographic

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Career Stories: Emmet O’Brien, Farran Technology, Manufacturing Test Engineer

Emmet o'Brien  - Farran imag

Emmet O’Brien talks to Smart Futures about being a Manufacturing Test Engineer with Farran Technology.

What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?

The main ‘career decision’ milestones I have made to date was deciding to study topics I really enjoyed in college. I was really interested maths and physics in school so this led to me studying Electronic Engineering in college.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

My teachers were probably the biggest influences on my career choices. Also, advice I got from guidance councillors who told me to study what I enjoy was great advice. I then picked a course with broad options that allowed me to find a role in engineering that keeps me interested. Reading books from authors like Carl Sagan  , Isaac Asimov  ,  Gene Roddenberry  and Stephen Hawking  also had a big influence on my interest in space technology.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes reasonably, but like any job you would always like a higher salary with more holiday time.

How did you go about getting your current job?

I heard from a colleague in another company that Farran were hiring. Farran was appealing as it is very much a Research and Development company with a small staff developing new products and devices. I went for an interview and got the job. I previously worked for an American supplier of aeronautical and space data processing devices.

Describe a typical day?

I don’t really have a typical day! The product range is large and different projects have different issues and rules to follow. It can range from product design, product assembly, testing, meeting customers, report writing and reading academic papers. With a small staff everybody is exposed to wide range of responsibility.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

The core responsibilities would include ensuring that the devices we make meet the needs of the customer in terms of quality and performance. It is important to ensure that the customer receives the product they want.

What are the main challenges?

Some of the main challenges of my job include finding solutions to problems or requests I receive from industry. When you are working within a research and development environment there is not always a solution immediately at hand. Thinking on your feet with time constraints can lead to a few stressful days, although it is very satisfying when you find a solution.

What are the aspects of your job that you like?

It is always very satisfying to find solutions to new and unexpected problems and it gives you a great sense of completion when the problem is solved and you learn something new .

What are the main challenges of your job?

Writing reports and paperwork in general can be tedious.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

The main skills I bring include an interest in the ideas we work on and the ability to solve problems swiftly and efficiently. I am also able to work within a team and have the flexibility to complete a number of tasks under pressure.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

For the Leaving Certificate I studied maths, applied maths, physics, geography, German, Irish, English and technical drawing. Maths and physics were the most influential of my subjects by far as they led me to choosing Electronic Engineering in college.

What is your education to date?

I have a degree in Robotics and Automation and a Degree in Electronic Engineering design with first class honours. I received both of these degrees from Cork Institute of Technology.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

All the education I completed in third level is needed for my job. Degrees in Electrical Engineering or Physics would apply equally to the role. Increasingly the use of programming skills  is becoming very important. Lego Mindstorms or the Raspberry PI  are great starting points for learning programming skills.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

I would love to undertake a PhD but that would take a huge amount of my time at the moment so I plan to undertake a masters degree in the next year or so, I can’t decide what topic to study!

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Learning new things and being involved in big projects are always enjoyable. A few projects I’ve worked on have been launched into space!

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

Being hard working and diligent are two of the best qualities I bring to my job.

What is your dream job?

Work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN or mission control with NASA or ESA  would be my dream job as I’m too old at this stage to play rugby for Munster or soccer for Liverpool!

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Make sure you enjoy maths and physics and working on complex problems. If you look at technology and want to see how it works then you are suited to engineering. When I was 10 or 11 , I would disassemble radios and TVs to see what was going on inside.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

The three most important characteristics needed for my position is an ability to work on your own and in a team, having a good work ethic and being able to communicate your ideas.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

There are a number of ways to get a good background for this position. Any electronic circuit experience, working with radios, radars, computer programming and debugging circuits also provides good experience.

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Career Stories: Sara Haupt, SAP, Solution Management

Sara Haupt SAP

Sara Haupt, talks to Smart Futures about her career as a Fellow in Solution Management Advanced Analytics.

What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?

The solution management team (or Go-To-Market team) works between the customers and the development team. We are talking to potential customers about advanced analytics software and then have to educate them about the new features with the help of proof of concepts that we develop for them.

At the same time we record any other requirements they might have and we pass them on to the development team.

For this role good communication skills and business knowledge is required, as well as some technical knowledge about our products.

Describe a typical day?

In the morning I would typically go through my new emails and see what new pieces of work have come in. My team works online and most people I interact with are spread across different countries and time zones. Most communication is therefore done by email.

As most of my colleagues are located in the US, regular update calls in the late afternoon would be one of my routine tasks. I work with our advanced analytics tools quite frequently. However most of the other tasks change a lot and I don’t have a daily routine for them.

What’s aspects of the job do you enjoy?

I like the advanced analytics tools that we are working with! It’s fascinating to see how our strategy for the product delivery is shaping up and how the software development is progressing, to see what impact that has on the market. Also, all the people I’m working with are smart and I enjoy working here.

Occasionally I can travel for work which is nice for a change and good to meet people that I usually only work virtually with. Last but not least, our office is REALLY cool.

What are the main challenges?

Sometimes things can get quite hectic when deadlines are approaching. But I guess that’s the same in every job. We still get to play a match of table football now and then, so I don’t think I can complain about it too much. Another difficult thing is having to work in virtual teams.

My current boss is located in Vancouver. I never get to see him and because of the big time difference I can only call him during late hours in the day. But eventually I got used to that as well. On the positive side I am working together with team members across the whole globe which can be very interesting.

Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

I think I inherited the fascination for computers from my dad who kept on buying cool devices. Other influencers on my career were friends I had during my studies. We stayed in close contact and I have the feeling that we are still mentoring each other throughout our careers.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Absolutely yes! In terms of progression opportunities I am currently working on a fellowship which is a six month long “exchange program” within SAP. If you join this program you have the opportunity to work in a different role, department or even country for six months. I learned a lot during my fellowship already and I’m sure that these new skills and contacts will help me in my future career.

In terms of work-life balance my job is great too. I don’t have my own family yet however I have plenty of time for leisure activities while my job is also very secure.

What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?

I always liked computer science, languages and art. I also took several business classes. Later on I studied Business Informatics in my home university in Germany. I continued to follow those passions. In my job I see myself as a negotiator between the business user requirements on one side and the possibilities of the software product on the other side.

What is your education to date?

I went to school and university in Germany. I have a double Masters degree in Business Informatics from my home university TU Dresden and from the EM Strasbourg in France.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

In retrospect, I found the courses around project management and planning very relevant. Furthermore, even though I hated statistics at the time, the things I learned from statistics come in handy from time to time in my job.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

You need to fit into the team. You will be invited to an interview based on your degree and experiences. The requirements for this will be explained in the job description. However during the interview your passions, motivations and values will be in the center of attention.

There is a strong team spirit in my department. If both sides feel good about working together, you will be welcomed into the team.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Definitely try to do an internship in a similar field during your studies. It is also a good opportunity for yourself to find out which roles you like and which ones you don’t.

I did an internship in sales for a big IT company but decided that sales wasn’t for me. After this internship, I decided to do my Master’s thesis together with SAP during another internship which focused on development. I liked this working environment much more and after the completion of my degree I was hired for a full time position.

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Report finds bright futures ahead for Engineers, IT professionals and Scientists in Ireland

 

SOLAS logo

A new report conducted by SOLAS and the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs has found that engineering, IT and science have the most promising career opportunities for professionals in this field. Each of these job sectors have continued to flourish despite the recent economic downturn as the demand for professionals with STEM skills continues to grow.

The unemployment rate in engineering stood at 5.1% at the end of 2014 and there was an average yearly jobs growth of 6.5% from 2009-2014. This growth is due in part to the switch towards high-end manufacturing and design jobs in Ireland. Prospects continue to be very good for engineering graduates and this is expected to remain steady in the future.

Expert Group on Future Skills Needs logo

 

IT professionals are also enjoying excellent career prospects as their unemployment rate stands at just 3%, with a yearly jobs growth of 4.1%. Not only that, but IT workers have also seen the biggest increase in their earnings over the past four years. Ireland continues to be seen as one of the top places in the world to have an IT company due to the availability of a highly skilled, educated workforce.

The science sector is also reporting very low unemployment rates, as it currently stands at just 5%. Scientists and lab technicians are crucial to some of Ireland’s biggest exporting sectors including pharmaceuticals, medical technology and food processing. This is an area that is expected to continue to grow with a wide range of opportunities available for graduates with a science-related degree.

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Career Stories: Daniel Vagg, Parameter Space, System Architect

Daniel Vagg 2  image

What is your name and job title?

Daniel Vagg, I’m a System Architect at Parameter Space.

What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?

I was studying tech drawing, art and construction studies in secondary school with the aim of becoming an architect. However, I soon decided that architecture wasn’t for me. I then decided that I wanted to study physics with computing despite never having studied physics before in either school or college. I applied to the European Space Agency  (ESA) for an internship whilst doing my undergraduate degree in physics. I worked with FeedHenry for a while after completing my degree in physics. It was during this time that I gained a lot of Python experience while I was also studying online. It was during this time that I realised I wanted to do something more scientific so I completed a Masters in Space Science in UCD. I felt that either space science or quantum mechanics are the frontiers of physics and that this is where I wanted to work.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

Not a single person really. The construction crash made physics one of the better options for a degree. I then wanted to apply my education to something that challenged me and is also beneficial to the world of science.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Generally, yes. I suppose with software and science, it is a very mentally demanding field, so it can be hard to identify and manage the toll it takes. There is also a risk of burning yourself out and losing your passion for the job, but I’m getting better at managing these issues with time.

How did you go about getting your current job?

I was told about an “invitation to tender” provided by ESA. I said I was interested and wrote the technical content of the response. Then when the contract was awarded I was offered a job. I guess it was easier than most interview processes!

Describe a typical day?

I will read over recent emails from stakeholders in our system and mentally juggle the various technologies and implementations we can use to try find the best fit. Sometimes I work on system prototypes, or sketching ideas on whiteboards, or writing system documentation. The documentation admittedly is a bit dull, but it’s making me much better at conveying complex ideas – which is a very easy task to underestimate when you have these ideas in your head for weeks.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

I am a system architect, so I design the system we will be using to analyse Gaia data products  (approximately one petabyte in size). I present and liaise with other groups who will use the system. I will then develop and write the majority of documentation on these systems.

What are the main challenges?

Trying to design a system that will answer the problems scientists will face in three years when the data products are released without adopting hyped new technologies. There are also lots of unknowns in how people can use our system. It’s constantly a balance of providing freedom and functionality without being too restrictive.

What’s cool?

What I really like is knowing that this system will be used to analyse some of the most exciting scientific data available. It’s also using a lot of exciting technology in a quite unique way (especially unique in the astronomy community).

What’s are the main challenges of your job?

Documentation is perhaps my least favourite part of the job. Also, dealing with Ubuntu and dodgy display drivers can be quite a challenge as well.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

Some of the main skills I bring to the workplace include my knowledge of physics and astronomy. I also have experience with data analysis, various programming languages, software design/development/management, cloud computing knowledge and operations. I also make a decent coffee!

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

Not many were too useful, but that’s a good thing! You are not tied down in college because of choices you made in secondary school. I also took art in secondary school, and I really like drawing; I think it’s a great way of unwinding. Actually, I think art would be nice if it was provided for an hour during the week in third level – optional of course, but I think it would help.

What is your education to date?

A Bachelor of Science in Physics with Computing and a Masters in Physics specialising in Space Science and Technology.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

With space science, understanding astronomy and space systems help me understand aspects of Gaia data and what to expect. Physics with computing probably provide some obvious ones like algorithms or data structures. But I think the most important part of physics is that it changes how you think about problems in every aspect of life. It’s not a set of equations you learn off and forget, it’s a lot more.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

It’s too early at this time to say for sure. I’d be happy to, but it’s very early days yet.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

I started in March, so it’s quite early still. However, we had a meeting in ESAC where we presented our system concept, and the other groups who have to use it were quite happy. So that was a huge relief given the challenges in designing the system.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

Being hugely patient, while having enough experience/confidence to know I can get something done if I keep at it. A sense of humour helps too, and also the coffee – I make good coffee! I suppose as a related quality, I recognize that taking a break to relax is crucial to working well. Even a half hour walk outside (during work hours) has made a huge difference. If I think I haven’t achieved enough to balance out the break, I will be happy to stay and work if I am relaxed.

What is your dream job?

It’s very early to say. It would always change along with the challenges we face. Soon we could be trying to support humans on Mars, or something equally exciting. So it will change, but perhaps after this job something with SpaceX would be pretty interesting.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

System architect is one thing, while a system architect solving space data problems is another. If you have a job and the domain planned, maybe try to get as much experience in different areas as possible. For people choosing further education, work experience is always valuable!

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

The three most important characteristics needed are patience, humility, and motivation. You have to keep calm and work without panic, must accept when your idea is not the best, and you must actively research something better ways of doing things.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Having experience as a system architect would be very useful. Without that, a lot of experience managing personal scientific/software projects, as well as a broad range of experience in science and computing.

 

 

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