Business Irish

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Wild Atlantic Way tech buzz pushing back on narrative that Rural Ireland is closing down

Pictured in Strandhill, Co Sligo, are Overstock’s Sophia Price, software developer; David Kenny, director of software development; Stephen O’Connor, senior software tester; and Lucia Macari, development team lead.
Pictured in Strandhill, Co Sligo, are Overstock’s Sophia Price, software developer; David Kenny, director of software development; Stephen O’Connor, senior software tester; and Lucia Macari, development team lead.

Ciaran Byrne

Dublin is not the only show in town. That’s becoming pretty clear.

When an event is called ‘Tech on the Wild Atlantic Way’, and not Thatch on the Wild Atlantic Way, you know something is changing.

And when a tech recruitment event is being held in Sligo and not in Dublin’s tech hub, and that people are coming to it from Dublin on a special ‘Tech Express’, you know that this Silicon Sligo thing might just be happening.

I’m not a techie, but my work sometimes overlaps, particularly when a business might need help with language or in telling a story.

These software whizz guys and gals tend to be great at coding and UX, but sometimes not so hot at explaining what they do and what they have to offer. That’s changing.

On Friday, they gathered at The Model, a publicly funded arts centre that sits on a hill overlooking Sligo town, and they talked coding, data, work- and lifestyle.

Lifestyle, Lifestyle and Lifestyle. In an era of rip-off rents and out-of-reach mortgages, it’s becoming such a critical piece of the jigsaw for people, the x-factor ingredient that tips the balance between whether to sign that contract, or not.

But it’s not just about rents and the cost of living: people increasingly want a kinder, less pressured life, to live in a place where they can slow it down a little, and breathe. Maybe living with patchy rural broadband isn’t such a bad thing!

Sligo’s growing confidence as a player in Ireland’s tech scene has substance behind it; the Career Zoo event featured the Utah technology company Overstock who recently announced 100 new research and development roles for Sligo, adding to the 40 people it currently employs at its European base.

Also present at the Model were teams from New York-based Live Tiles who have set up shop in the town.

Read more: Forget Dublin's Silicon Docks...Going west means tech can offer lifestyles as well as work

The event also pulled on job and lifestyle offerings in the West and Midlands: the Sligo-based firms rubbed shoulders with Donegal-based Pramerica, Galway-based Boston Scientific, Abbvie, Ericsson, Co Leitrim firm Cora Systems, Athlone-based PPD, Abbott, VistaMed, FIT and Co Mayo-located Lionbridge.

To be strictly accurate, the event bundled tech, biopharma and medtech. Between them, these firms literally have hundreds of vacancies – or open roles as they like to all them. All of them consider themselves to be part of a wider connected region, with the Wild Atlantic Way at its heart.

At the event, the Pramerica team from Letterkenny wore bright blue tee-shirts, Live Tiles were kitted out in yellow while Overstock plumped for grey. Together, they spent four hours briefing experienced job seekers about their own roles as digital architects and whatnot, and talked their strangely compelling talk about open roles in Back-End, Front-end, Biotech, the Internet of Things, Data, Cyber, AI, DevOps, VR & AR.

It wasn’t hard to find it all quite exciting. I’m a relatively new blow-in to Sligo myself but I love the changes that are happening. "It’s a war for talent, it’s as simple as that," Niall McEvoy, the head of innovation at IT Sligo told me before.

A lot of people were seriously pushing back on the narrative that Rural Ireland is closing down. This kind of event showed some evidence that there’s actually a reverse influx going on. Yes, some traditional pubs and shops are  closing, but newer types of businesses are thriving.

Brian hOisin of Career Zoo said the turnout showed Dublin has a serious fight on its hands to keep its talent. It’s only fair to add that teams from IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have also played a role in creating these new conditions.

Much like proud parents, they watched as the companies and candidates got down to business. Denis Curran, IDA Ireland’s head of regional development spoke of “an unprecedented opportunity” to land tech, biopharma or medtech careers along the spine of the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry and to up Donegal. There was a time, he said, when Dublin or Cork were the only options for such roles, he said.

Not anymore. Now the West is buzzing and Silicon Sligo is a thing. Who’d have thought?

Ciaran Byrne is the co-founder and content director at PR agency StoryLab

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