Soft skills for developing hard code
The story of multinational tech companies setting up shop in Ireland is well-known, with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Avid, eBay and others all present in Dublin, many running their European operations from the country. What might be less obvious is that the indigenous software scene is also a strong player.
Indeed, according to IDA Ireland, the country is the world’s second largest exporter of software. Multinationals have a role in this, of course, with developers working in Ireland to address global markets, something that some trace to IBM opening its first Irish office in 1956. The indigenous software is a significant player, however.
Young people today considering a career in technology could do a lot worse than considering cyber security given the global skills shortage, but other options are available, and development should be front and centre – including by starting software businesses.
Despite the fuss around ‘learn to code’, an admittedly irksome slogan that implies every lost job can be mopped up by technology, it is undeniable that a career in software can be lucrative, and if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is that software is the oil lubricating the wheels of society.
Domestic companies like accounts provider Big Red Cloud and video shopping platform Axonista are out there creating and selling software to businesses. A lot of software is hidden from most of us, though. Some years ago, on assignment for a Linux magazine, I had the chance to interview Bruce Perens, the developer who penned the open source definition. Among the things Perens talked about, one stuck in my mind: asked how open source software could be a viable career (this was in the early-ish days of the shift away from wholly proprietary systems), Perens replied that as much as 90% of software was developed for internal use by businesses.
Though concrete figures are almost impossible to obtain, it is self-evident that this is still the case in today’s app-happy world.
As a result, this is a moment of real opportunity: seeing the indigenous software industry grow would not only re-balance the national economy, alleviating concerns about over-dependence on foreign investment, it would also challenge the idea that Ireland is little more than a damp tax haven.
Artyom Zorin, who co-founded Zorin OS in Dublin with his brother Kyrill, said that help is out there and that they go well beyond a low corporation tax rate. For example, Local Enterprise Office supports, Knowledge Development Box and R&D tax credits are all out there for would-be entrepreneurs.
“All in all, I’d say Ireland is a good place to start a company,” he said.
Zorin itself did not avail of support, but there is another route to getting off the ground: the company, which develops the well-regarded Linux distribution Zorin OS, got its start as a school science project and ran as a sort of hobby business before going fully commercial. This meant the brothers could test the waters before fully committing. In other words, the risk, including the psychological difficulty of going out on your own, can be reduced.
“Those fundamentals don’t change from country to country. The risk of starting a start-up, especially if you’re working in an existing job, is something people lose sleep over, but I think a good approach to starting a company is to try to spend as much of your free time outside of work to see if it can get up and running. Then, only when you’re able to support yourself financially from the business alone, go for it full-time,” said Zorin.