Leap – Change in Career Construction to IT

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Neil O'Driscoll

Interview with Neil O’Driscoll, Chef Operations Officer, www.platformavenue.com

What did the start of your career look like?

After completing a Degree in Civil Engineering in UCC I worked in London for 10 years working as a Project Engineer on large scale concrete projects. I moved back to Cork to be closer to family in 2007. Douglas shopping center and the Elysian were the last major construction projects I worked on. The company I worked for closed down due to the recession which was great timing as I had just found out I had cancer.

How did you cope with the loss of a job and cancer?

My philosophy in life is there is no point wallowing make the most of where you are. Having to stop working gave me a chance to take stock and regain my health. I spent the time catching up with old friends and reconnecting with my family as I hadn’t lived with them since I was 17. I had a great time, playing golf and badminton in the local club. On a night out I bumped into an old college friend who manages a college in China. He told me they were looking for teachers, so I jumped at the chance to try something new and see a part of the world that was so different to where I grew up. Thankfully I passed my five-year cancer checks so I am now in the all clear.

How did you find changing from an Engineer to a teacher? 

Both my parents were teachers, so I felt very comfortable in that environment. I was advised that Chinese students like to know what is happening so explain what you will do before you do it, that tip stood me well. Teaching was the easy part, the real challenge was everyday life in China but that was all part of the adventure.

How did you go from a teacher into IT?

China was always a stop gap for me I would have been open to staying but having lived there I knew I didn’t want to build a life there. I returned home originally and looked for Civil Engineering work which provided very difficult to find. I was seriously considering emigrating to Canada when my mother spotted an ICT skills conversion Springboard post grad course in Cloud Computing in CIT. I jumped at the chance as my heart wasn’t really in Engineering anymore. I had gotten used to not working on building sites and I liked the feeling of being in calmer and warmer environments.

What supported you to make the decision to change?

Realising I had nothing to loose. I could always go back into Civil Engineering if things didn’t work out.

Any songs, phrases etc. that motivated you through that time of change?

Canned Heat – Going up the Country 

How did you find the transition into IT from Construction?

I really enjoyed being back in college full-time. As a mature student, I was better able to concentrate and was genuinely interested in learning how things worked. I liked having the luxury of putting the head and not having to think about much else. The bonus was it showed in my final grade too.

How did you get your first job after your post-grad?

I had just finished my studies and had bumped into an old college friend on the street. He asked what I was up to and it transpired he had a small IT start-up. We arranged to meet for coffee to discuss where we were both at. My gut instinct said this could well be something and thankfully it has paid off. I have been working there for over five years now.

What sacrifices did you make if any to change career?

Time and money. I returned to education full-time for an academic year to retrain and dedicated that time fully to developing my IT skills. I initially started on a Job Bridge which also meant for a number of years my earnings were not where I would have been while working as a Civil Engineer.

Was the move worth the sacrifice?

Definitely. We all know lots of people who get paid well be are in jobs they hate. I’d prefer to get paid less and enjoy what I am doing. Even though I could be paid more as a Civil Engineer I’d have no life while working on a project. My lifestyle has improved ten fold working in IT as I have time for my own interests outside of work also.  The continued success of www.platformavenue.com also means that in the future I can see the sacrifices I have made paying off financially also which is the icing on the cake.

Did you feel like a fish out of water at the beginning?

Honestly no. I had heard about transferable skills but it was only when I started working in IT I realised just how useful my background in Engineering was. I had a lot of experience in project management it was just a different environment. The sales aspect of my role is something new but I have always liked meeting people from all walks of life so that part does not bother me too much. My post grad supported me to be comfortable with the unique IT lingo etc.

That sounds like there are allot of aspects to your role, what is it you do as a COO?

As we are a small start-up I get involved in every aspect of the business from Project Management, Sales, Team Management, General Operations, Strategic Planning, Customer Relationship Management, Testing. Basically, I lend my hand to whatever needs to be done.

Greatest moment in your current role?

Selling our wares to reality TV shows in Hollywood!

Where do you see your career going?

Our software is really versatile, awe can help reduce time and cost on application administration. We currently support reality TV shows to shortlist online through forms and videos etc, we also support HR with recruitment drives, competition entries and public service with online forms. I see use expanding our customer base and breaking into new markets.

If you could go back to your younger self what advice would you give yourself?

I’m a strong believer in allowing the young and to make their own mistakes, so I wouldn’t give my younger self any advice, I trust in them to make their own way.

What advice do you give your future self?

Look after what is most important to you.

Tips on moving into IT?

I would advise you start as a hobby. If you are interested in the programming side in particular. Spend time at home learning and programming first. See if you like it enough to want to work with it every day and to invest time and effort to retrain.

Any advice for people looking to make a career change?

Be open to possibility.

Interviewed by Patricia Tiernan.

Leap Coaching offers several services that can support you to make a career change, most notably career coaching. Contact Patricia for more information at patricia@leapcoaching.ie or 087-3221548.

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