Neil Smyth -Certificate in Electronics and Automation (Online)
Name: Neil Smyth
Job: Software Developer @ AIS Ltd (https://www.aisltd.ie/)
Can you share your career path to date?
Yes, my career path is quite unusual I suppose. I completed a B.Sc in Marketing (with a minor in German) in 2013 (from DIT) and then a M.Sc in International Business Management in 2014 (from Inseec (Paris, France)). Once I completed my Masters, I worked in a couple of different roles for a couple of small French tech start-ups based in Paris (from business developer to technical onboarding). I enjoyed my roles, but I found that I was always far more interested in the technical side of the businesses (in particular, the software), so I returned to Ireland after 5 years in France, to complete a level 6 degree in Software Development (with the Springboard initiative). Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get hired by a small engineering company here in Dublin as a Software Developer, mainly using Python, and I have worked there for nearly 2 years since.
What does your current role involve?
What motivated you to start studying?
My curiosity was a big factor. As I ended up working with a lot of embedded systems and electronics in my role, getting software to communicate with hardware, so I was really eager to learn more, particularly the electrical theory and the engineering mathematics. The company I work for also has a strong engineering ethos and so there is a positive atmosphere around education and upskilling.
Why did you choose this course from ATU Sligo?
I began researching and I discovered the online courses in ATU Sligo. The course modules were exactly what I was looking for, theoretical yet also with a strong practical element (with on-site days, labs etc.) as well as being industry relevant. ATU Sligoalso has a really nice campus and seemed to have a great structure for their online courses. I liked this a lot as the bulk of work was online, but it was important to me to be able to physically go to the campus to add to the experience and learning. Also, the course webpage was very informative and accurate. For example, I read the detailed syllabus for each module on the ‘Course Format’ page, so I knew exactly what I would be studying, the learning outcomes, if the course was continuous assessment and so on. So it gave me a sense of being well informed. Before registering, I also reached out via email to their admissions office, and they were really helpful and kind. So overall the process to choose and register for the course was really smooth. I’m not finished the course yet but I’m already looking another add-on course next year.
How did you find the process of studying online? What elements did you find helpful? Were there elements you found challenging?
As mentioned, I had previously undertaken an online course at another institute, and I found it difficult as I was quite isolated as a student. However, I’ve found that ATU Sligo are very experienced in delivering online courses. The structure of the online course is the best I have seen, it’s very robust with a real sense of a student community. The lecturers are excellent and empathetic, knowing that a lot of the online students work full time and have families etc., so the course is very adaptable. All classes are recorded so students can rewatch at suitable times and deadlines for projects are fair and flexible. As an online student, I feel there is a community of peers, lecturers and our course co-ordinator that I could reach out to if I had any questions, issues or queries.
Generally speaking, it’s always a challenge to return to college to learn new subjects and undertake tests, assessments, exams. The semesters are short and intense, with a decent workload but I find it to be fair and I’m definitely learning a huge amount that I’m sure will prove to be invaluable as I continue! I also really liked that the projects, tests and assessments were individually based (not involving group work). I think group work is particularly difficult to coordinate online, and, as most online students have full time jobs, so they already had experience in group/teamwork in abundance so I was happy I didn’t have any more. So the tools and community were in place in the course, but the onus was upon the individual students to get the work done. This a subjective preference but I’m really glad the course was conducted in this manner.
In terms of your employer, were they supportive of your decision to study? Were there elements of the course that were particularly relevant to your current employer?
My employer, luckily, was very supportive – they helped me finance the course and also gave me time off for exams. As it’s an online course, a lot of my time studying was outside of work hours, so it hasn’t affected my professional workload. And as mentioned, I’ve remarked that a lot of concepts in work have made far more sense after learning about the theory in my modules. One of the main reasons I chose the course at Sligo is because the course modules were so relevant to what I was working on and that has indeed been the case. My choice has been totally vindicated!
What advice would you have for anyone considering studying online?
My advice would be that, if you’re curious and already considering it, go pursue the course. Reaching out to the college to get information and sign up is probably the biggest step. There are plenty of other students in the same boat as you, people returning after years out of education, with families and full-time work and we all manage to get through the course workload together. There is a great support system within the college and as I mentioned, the lectures are really considerate of people’s situations. Even doing extra classes to help students who need a bit of help (like our Eng Maths and Instrumentation lecturer Eva Murphy sacrificing her Friday evenings to do extra Q&A classes). The students also set up a few Whatsapp groups, which is a great tool for us to come together and get through it. And there’s no judgement, as we are all on same the journey together! Overall, the course will be challenging but if you’re curious and willing to put few hours in the evenings, it’s 100% worth it.
In what way has studying online with ATU Sligo benefitted your career?
Generally, as mentioned, a lot of topics and theories that I had encountered in work that I struggled to make sense of previously, became clear after studying my courses and I was able to connect the dots. This enabled me to be more confident and proactive on projects, which in turn, gives me a positive sense of purpose in work.
Did this course provide any unexpected benefits to your career?
It’s still early days but as I have been able to get a more holistic view of my work and different projects as well as the industry as a whole and it’s opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities.
Did you find that the elements you were studying had practical relevance in your day-to-day role?
Yes, I found in particular that the on-site lab days and assessments were very helpful as they put us in an environment, with some time constraints, where we had to think of solutions to resolve problems. For example, in our C-Programming and Embedded Programming courses, we were given some technical problem that we needed to solve, within a period of time, and I found this was helpful in my day-to-day role to be able to think with clarity under time constraints.
What were the key skills you took away from your time studying at ATU Sligo?
The theoretical aspects of the course I encountered: I use them daily in work. I also have taken on some concepts such as incorporating software ‘flowcharts’ (from our C-Programming module) to help me design a procedural flow for different projects I’m working on, as well as solving technical issues by breaking them down separate parts in an attempt to resolve the logic. I also apply a lot of the electrical theory when I’m physically testing some electronic parts using the multimeter. More generally, the course instilled in the students a sense of approaching problems with an engineering mindset.
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