Jan 13 2009

The Calibre of Irish Software Engineers

Category: Second Level,Third LevelTeknovis @ 20:58

I read a really interesting blog post recently titled The hard truth about the Irish knowledge economy that is commenting on the fact that Google has decided to abandon its plans to create an additional 100 jobs in Dublin for software engineers. The apparent reason for this change is plan is that it has been unable to recruit staff of the right calibre.

According to the original newspaper article upon which this post is made, John Herlihy (Google’s vice-president for online sales and the head of its Dublin-based European headquarters) made the following comments:

We wanted to recruit up to 100 software engineers, but we couldn’t find candidates of the calibre we were looking for in Ireland

The jobs have been lost. We have since built different engineering teams in countries including Poland, Norway and Switzerland. We have a great team of 30 engineers here, but it could have been 100

Many of the comments in response to this post believe that Google actually cancelled these new jobs due to the changing economic circumstances. I actually tend to agree with this point of view, especially after I read Details about Google’s layoffs — actually, no, none. That article seems to suggest that Google is not very forthcoming in relation to its employment details.

John Herlihy is also attributed to saying:

I’m not sure the quality and the output of our third level [colleges] is as good as we think it is. There’s a huge amount of dumbing down at third level and second level

John Looney (a Google employee) makes the same argument in the response that he posted:

Most Irish computing graduates are crap, due to our apathetic university system.

I do not think that I would describe computing graduates as “crap”, but I understand why John is saying this. I would say that there are huge variations in standards between software engineering graduates. Many employers in Ireland share this opinion, as I described in IT Graduate Recruitment in Ireland.

John Looney continues:

… Ireland is just not an attractive location for high-end computing folk (wages vs. cost-of-living is rubbish).

Yes, I fully agree with him regarding the cost-of-living in Ireland. Furthermore, I think that the quality-of-life here is quite poor compared to many other EU countries.

John Looney continues:

It doesn’t help that most good Irish engineers get jobs through their friends, so have no interviewing experience…

I agree with John that a lot of good Irish software engineers get jobs through contacts and referrals, but I think that this is a good for both the potential employees and the employers. In my experience, recruitment by referral happens more in Ireland than any other country.

Finally, John Loney writes:

If the government is serious about a ‘knowledge economy’, we need real tech universities. Ones that fail people if they can’t pass the course (rather than make the course easier) …

My perception, and experience, is that the Irish universities are simplifying courses to ensure that failure rates remain low. I find it absolutely amazing that some Irish universities will accept students who do not have the highest level of maths into engineering courses!

I think that this simplification approach actually began within second level education. There are too many people choosing “easy” subjects that have no relevance to their chosen career paths.

Perhaps the most controversial opinion is one expressed by John Herlihy:

We’re throwing massive amounts of money at third level institutes. Too much. You can’t continue to throw public money after seven universities. You have to decide whether we only need two or three, and which of those will be top.

Wow! I bet that the Irish universities will not be happy with that opinion, but I actually think that it makes sense. However, I think that this is already changing, because money is now being invested into research groups that span multiple universities rather than replicating the same research on a smaller scale in each university. See Science Foundation Ireland Funded Research Groups for examples of this approach.

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2 Responses to “The Calibre of Irish Software Engineers”

  1. tibo says:

    The problem with Irish universities is that they’ve become a kind of company that wants to make money but that is not preoccupied with the level of service they are providing (a bit like a state owned monopoly :)), mainly because that level of service is overshadowed by the health of the economy.

    They do care how many students are joining them (and therefore how many $$ they will collect) but are not really preoccupied with maintaining a high standard of teaching/research. For example, there is strictly no evaluation of lecturers/research supervisors/researchers that I am aware of. The admission standard is also dropping to be sure to catch more students and the course content is dumbed down to … and people don’t really care as long as there are jobs at the end. Now that the economy is getting worse and that Irish students will need to emigrate to find jobs, they’ll face tougher competition and university programs will need to adapt.

    There is a need for more selection at the student admission, tougher and slightly more theoretical courses to raise the bar and above all, evaluation of lecturers researchers. How can you get that within the current system, I don’t know.

  2. Aaron Quigley says:

    “We wanted to recruit up to 100 software engineers, but we couldn’t find candidates of the calibre we were looking for in Ireland”

    I doubt it was a “calibre” issue.

    I know IBM and Microsoft have hired a lot of top notch people here in the last 12 months (both graduated from inside and outside of Ireland). I’ve seen Google’s recruitment process, two of the very best people (1 Irish, 1 Australian) I know didn’t get beyond interview 3. These people are now earning boatloads elsewhere (Google’s loss).

    Google want “Google type people” which is not the same thing as just high calibre people.

    Also note their changes to recruiting
    1/14/2009 03:01:00 PM – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/changes-to-recruiting.html

    “…Google is still hiring but at a reduced rate. Given the state of the economy, we recognized that we needed fewer people focused on hiring…”