IT Career Path: Niall (33), Software Engineer

What is your degree in?

Bachelor of Engineering (Civil)

Master of Engineering (Software)

Why did you do the degree you did?

I was always interested in big construction projects. However, looking back at it, I liked the bigger picture of what went on instead of the nitty gritty day to day engineering side of it.

Did you seek advice from anyone following an engineering / IT Career Path?

I talked to my cousin who did engineering, he liked it, and recommended it.

Did the degree prepare you for working as an engineer?

The course was as good as any other university course. However, when I went back to do my software engineering postgrad 10 years later in the same university, I noticed a big difference, they were a lot more modern in their teaching methods. In my civil undergrad degree, the lecturers were old guys doing long detailed hand calculations, with hardly any computer modelling which you use all the time when you get out working.

I’m not sure the civil undergrad course prepared you that well for the real world. Sometimes the university courses are a bit removed from the working world. If you are looking to do something like software, try to look for the most practical courses geared towards jobs/industry.

IT career path 2

If you were 18 again, knowing all you do now, would you do anything differently degree wise?

Both my parents were Teachers, and I was probably a bit one track minded i.e. I need a job, and this is the degree I need to do to get that job. I liked the idea that a civil degree led into a job in civil engineering. If I could go back I’d probably do maths as it was what I liked and it would not have narrowed down my options as much as the civil engineering degree did.

What jobs have you done since you graduated? What did they entail?

2017 – 2018

Software Engineer, Travel Company, Ireland

Writing software for a range of applications.

2014 – 2017

Software Engineer, IT Firm, Ireland

Writing software for a range of applications.

2013 – 2014,

Software Development Intern, Telecoms firm, Ireland

Design of the user interface for a cloud-based engineering application.

2006 – 2011

Structural Engineer (Design), Construction Firm, Ireland

Designing structural elements for large construction projects.

What are the things you most like about your job, and the things you don’t like?

Like:

  1. The problem solving aspect of both jobs.
  2. Applying maths to solving practical problems.

Don’t like:

  1. The boom and bust nature of the construction industry, there is never a middle ground, it’s always one or the other.
  2. The long hours in the construction industry.
Do you prefer to work for a small company or a big company?

I’ve worked in both, I’d prefer working somewhere mid-sized. My first job was with a company who employed 80 people, management knew you, so that is good, but you didn’t have huge security if things go wrong. In a bigger company, there are more opportunities, whereas in a smaller company, you are nearly waiting for someone to leave to get an opportunity.

Have you done long hours over the years?

CIVIL: It’s long hours, there is a lot of Saturday working in the construction industry in general, it can be stressful and time pressured.

SOFTWARE: There is an endless supply of work, projects are broken down into nice planned chunks. You are always busy, but it’s very structured compared to civil. You do your 40-hour week and go home at 5pm and don’t worry about your work in the evenings and weekends.

Have you had much fun over the years? and if so why?

There is a lot more collaboration in software, you are always part of a team, it’s always good fun. In civil you might be the one representative of your company on-site and you can feel a bit isolated.

How did you know you needed to make a career change and pursue and IT career path?

I found the bigger picture of how construction projects came together more interesting than the day to day grind of civil engineering. I liked the maths and problem solving, but when I worked in civil I found the day dragging a bit, so I knew I wanted a change, now in software I’d never be looking at the clock.

IT Career path 2

Would you have been able to make the switch to an IT career path without the postgraduate study?

The course I did was nine months then an internship for three months which then led to a full-time job. I don’t think there is any reason you couldn’t switch careers without a postgrad, but you’d be up against people with lots of experience. The postgrad gave me some experience and was very related to my coursework, so that was a big advantage.

Even if you did a four year degree, companies are reluctant to give graduates a chance, they all want people with four years’ experience instead of four years’ study, so I’d advise doing a course that has an internship in it, that will give you a great chance to stay with the company if you do well.

If you could go back and you were 22 again, what would you do differently career wise and why?

I like my job now, the one thing I’d do is a broader degree, and keep more doors open for myself. I did have a six-month placement in the third year, an on-site work placement, which showed me I had no interest in working on a building site, but it wasn’t enough to show me that civil engineering wasn’t for me.

What career advice would you give a young person now?

Keep your degree as broad as possible, then try to figure out what you want to do when you are a little bit older, i.e. 21 or 22. It’s very hard to know what you want to do at 18, so try and give yourself a few options instead of closing doors on yourself.

No matter what degree you do you can always do a postgrad once you have a few years of work under your belt, and have more of an idea about what you want to do.

What is your advice on how to get involved in software engineering?

Do a good degree in computer science, or do maths and then a conversion course into what specific area you want to be working in.

Was it hard to switch into an IT career path?

The postgrad course was tough, but the software engineering work I didn’t find hard. The hardest thing was deciding to switch, it was only a one year course but at the time it was a massive decision. I was battling with the fact I had wasted the last five years of my life working as a design engineer, then I realised it was better to cut my losses if I’m not happy, as I have to spend the next 40 years working!

I know loads of people on my course who were 40 years old when they switched and they will probably work for another 30 years following an IT career path. It’s not one job for  life anymore.

Which gets you further in a career – knowing people or being good at your job?

In professions like law it might be about connections, but in software its black and white about what you can and can’t do. So it would be more being good at your job in software engineering.

For another slight different ‘IT Career Path’, check out Jan’s story

If you have any questions about an IT career path, or career advice in general I’d love to hear them, just get in touch using the ‘contact’ section of the blog, Thanks!

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Paul Murphy

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