Mark O'Connor recently spoke to a group of fourth year students at CCT Dublin - we caught up with him afterwards to find out how it went. 

What was the event and why were you invited to take part?

I had attended CCT College in Dublin for four years and was asked to come in to do a guest talk to current fourth year students. I still speak to the teaching staff there occasionally and they knew if they wanted me to do a guest talk I’d be happy to make time for it.

So, we set a date and time, and I checked in with our Liberty IT comms team for some support. I was excited to have the chance to see some of my old lecturers and continue that relationship.

What did you talk about? What advice did you give to the students you spoke to?

The event was held in a lecture room and I spoke to about 25 students. They were all mature students who didn’t do an internship – and neither did I, so I hoped my story would be relatable for them as they come to the end of their course.

It was very informal conversation about my journey. I started off by introducing myself to the class that I am 39 years old and I work as a software engineer for Liberty IT. I only started working in IT four years ago, after four years of study at CCT. I chose not to do third level education after school and I worked in the family tiling business instead. That was going well so I decided to work for myself and set up my own business as a tiler – until the housing crash. I had some tough decisions to make then. Would I use my trade, maybe travel… but I love Ireland and would miss my mum’s home cooking if I moved away! So, I went back to the drawing board, thought about what else I enjoyed doing, and the answer was computers. I used to build and fix machines for myself and friends and liked doing that, so I looked for a suitable course, found CCT, signed up and got started.

I got introduced to coding and got that buzz of making something happen and got addicted, so I kept going and did my degree. I never thought I’d be able to as I had been out of education and didn’t really enjoy school, but I studied hard and enjoyed it. In my last year I went to a job expo – Liberty IT was there, I filled out an application and got an interview with them. I was very nervous, but the college helped me to prepare. So, I explained this to the students I was talking to, giving them advice on what kind of things you will be asked at an interview, just as this had been passed on to me.

After my interview Liberty IT made me a job offer if I got a 2:1, so the pressure was really on – I got my head down and kept studying as this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Of course, I got the job! Off I went to Belfast for induction and orientation, meeting the MD and Directors and finding my meet. I was a bit nervous and worried but was put totally at ease. When I started in the company I took part in the Training Academy – Liberty IT invests in you from day one. It's a great company to work in as it’s fast paced and there is lots to learn. Since starting I’ve worked in a range of teams and got to travel to Boston and Portsmouth. I’ve worked in different tech stacks, done loads of pairing, and been given time to learn and grow my career.

As well as sharing my story and my experiences, I told them how important I’ve found it to learn and implement the agile product experience – stand ups, sprint planning, stories, all the aspects of it are helpful tools you need for working. Get familiar with the likes of Java, JavaScript and frameworks like Springboot and Angular, but don’t feel you need to know everything straight away. Try being visible out there – follow Liberty IT and other companies on their website, social media, Medium etc.

What questions were you asked?

One of the student’s friends went to an interview and felt they were expected to be expert in so many things. I explained you will come in to work in one area, and work with really highly skilled engineers to coach and mentor you – this definitely put his mind at ease. I’m at LIT four years and I’m still learning.

Another person asked me if I’d faced any challenges. I’d say no! It’s easy to work in a team as everyone is out to help each other and there are no stupid questions. You try your best but reach out if you’re stuck and someone will help you to find solutions. That mentality and attitude will help you go far and Liberty IT is there to support you.

What did you gain from taking part in the session? What would you say to anyone who is asked to do something similar?

I got to give something back. I sat in their shoes four years ago. I was nervous and didn’t know what was going on in the job’s world. So, this was nice to come back and put their minds at ease and give some good tips on what you need to know.

Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it – it came naturally to tell my own story and experience. It was nice to go back to CCT as they were really good to me. I will definitely go back and do this again next year. If you get the opportunity to do something similar, then I definitely recommend it.


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