For a country of such relatively small stature, Ireland continues to punch well above its weight in terms of its performance in software development and sales. According to the Irish Exporter’s Association, ICT exports from Ireland in 2011 reached the impressive tally of €40.2 billion – more than three-quarters of which came directly from software export sales.
Yet only a decade ago the export sales for software amounted to just €10 billion. Such a huge increase in the sales figure surely illustrates the sector’s gathering momentum – something that is compounded by the fact that the top 10 global technology companies have a significant presence here. Among the ICT behemoths currently residing within these shores are Google (whose Irish operation is the company’s largest outside of the US), Facebook, EA Games, Big Fish Games, Dell, HP and Microsoft.
Hosting such an impressive roster of organisations is no coincidence: it is the result of a heady mixture of tax incentives and on-demand access to a talent-rich local labour force.
Postgraduate courses in Software Engineering aim to equip students with the theoretical, procedural, methodological and technical knowledge necessary to the development of high-quality – and cost effective – software. Although course content obviously differs depending on the educational institution, typical electives include Human-Computer Interaction, Software Architecture and Accessible Web Design. A postgraduate course will not concentrate solely on aspects of computer programming; it will also assist graduates in compiling the necessary qualities for working their way up the industry ladder (e.g. by improving their project management skills or problem-solving abilities).
The volume of taught programmes in Software Development and Engineering is a clear reflection of the sector’s ongoing expansion. Relevant courses are available from UCD (Software Engineering – Advanced), NUI Galway, UL, DCU, CIT, Dundalk IT, and Athlone IT. Typical modules include Artificial Intelligence, Software Design, Testing and Quality, and Graphics. Most Software Engineering/Development programmes require that applicants possess at least a second-class honours degree in a related field, or have a significant level of industry-related work experience. Note that some colleges may include interviews as part of the admission process.
Interesting alternatives include the University of Limerick’s MSc in Software Engineering & Entrepreneurship Management (one year full time). The programme provides graduates with a business and management education that will prepare them to either start new software firms or to work in existing organisations. Waterford IT’s MSc in Communications Software is another option that produces graduates fit to take leading roles in the highly profitable telecommunications software sector. Students with little or no background in IT can enrol on a conversion course (such as NUI Maynooth’s PGrad Dip in Software Engineering, which runs for one year, full time). Those unable to attend classes due to other commitments need not feel excluded – NUI Galway offers a distance-learning option for its MSc in Software Engineering and Database Technologies. This part-time programme is of two years’ duration and is aimed at those wishing to learn about information technology while gaining advanced research skills, along with anyone already working in the area seeking to obtain a recognised masters qualification.
Game development is a parallel area that has also seen tremendous expansion in recent years. Figures posted by the Irish Games Industry Survey 2012 indicate an incredible industry growth rate of 91 per cent since 2009, with close to 3,000 people now employed in the sector. The announcement that Digit Games Studios, a Dublin-based games developer founded in early 2012, is to receive funding of $2.5 million from investors is further testimony to the upward momentum the industry currently enjoys.
Students looking to find work in the sector have a number of postgraduate options that will greatly enhance their chances of success. Trinity College Dublin’s MSc in Computer Science (Interactive Entertainment Technology), for instance, is a one-year full-time programme that has been developed in co-operation with leading local and international game industry companies. The course will provide guidance in the design and development of the technology that supports the video game market. Among the modules on offer are Graphics and Console Hardware, Artificial Intelligence and Real-time Physics. Students on the course must participate in a group project as well as complete a dissertation based on their individual research.
Dublin Institute of Technology’s MSc in Digital Games (one year full time) is a programme that aims to exploit the current boom in the area of digital gaming. The course provides multi-disciplinary training in game conception, design and manufacture. Group projects play a vital role in the course as the varying levels of students’ skills and experiences are taken into account and integrated (indeed the course culminates in a major group project in digital games, which must be accompanied by a research report). Core modules on the programme include Engine Programming, Design Principles, and Game Modding and Production. The programme is designed to appeal to graduates from diverse undergraduate backgrounds (2.2 honours degree required) – including the visual and media arts, and computer science. However, candidates with work experience in a related field are also encouraged to apply.
The quality of postgraduate courses in both software and games development therefore plays an essential part in maintaining, or in building, Ireland’s technology-based impetus.
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