Red Hat inspires our future generation of innovators

Red Hat’s Academic Outreach programme includes coordinated school visits, led by senior software engineer Rachel Lawton

Kyla Franks, intern software engineer, and Rachel Lawton, senior software engineer, Red Hat. ‘There’s no tangible reason why any and all of these roles are only for boys,’ says Lawton . PIcture: Patrick Browne

Young people should be provided with every opportunity to explore and pursue careers in technology. Red Hat, a multinational software company with 100 locations across 40 different countries, and the team in Waterford has created an Academic Outreach programme that engages with all levels of the Irish academic spectrum to raise awareness of, and create greater opportunities for, careers in technology.

“The programme has a strong emphasis on encouraging more girls to choose a technology career, but it’s by no means limited to that,” said Brendan O’Farrell, who leads the Academic Outreach programme at Red Hat in Ireland.

“We noticed several years ago that it’s all very well trying to look for more diversity in your hiring, but we recognised that people applying for roles in the sector are not as diverse as we would like because they are not pursuing software as a career in the first place.”

The comments come on the back of the South East Technological University (SETU) Women in Tech event, which promotes and encourages more secondary-school girls to take an interest in the sector. Now in its fourth year, with Red Hat sponsoring the event for the second time, its emphasis is on helping young girls to realise there is a vast array of career opportunities in technology.

“Here at Red Hat, we stepped back to see how we could tackle the problem and quickly realised that there are multiple elements to the problem,” said James Mernin, director of software engineering and site lead at Red Hat’s base in Waterford. “Given our community ethos, which is rooted in the belief that you get greater outcomes when you work together to solve a problem, we put in place a selection of small teams to help in each of these areas.”

Red Hat’s Academic Outreach programme includes coordinated school visits, led by senior software engineer Rachel Lawton; work experience for transition year students, led by engineering manager Cathal O’Connor; and college internships, led by senior manager Brendan O’Farrell; all in addition to the Women in Tech event led by project manager Lea-Anne Gaffney.

The county is now a different landscape, where people who graduate have a choice to live and work here if they want to

“In a large international company like ourselves, there are definitely a lot of jobs where you’re coding, but there are also all sorts of other roles and there’s no tangible reason why any and all of these roles are only for boys,” said Rachel Lawton, who spoke at the event. “This is one of the reasons for deliberately stepping down a level on the academic ladder and getting more girls in secondary school to consider a career in tech.”

Mernin’s own career path in software engineering shows how Waterford has grown substantially in its employment offerings across the technology sector. He studied at Waterford Regional Technical College, formerly Waterford Institute of Technology, and now SETU, before leaving for Dublin where he worked for 15 years before returning to live and work in Waterford.

“I am immensely proud of the fact that our university students now have a substantially greater level of choice in where they work after graduating,” he said. “When I graduated from college, there was barely a single software engineering job anywhere near Waterford, so the road to Dublin was the way most people went, or else abroad.

“While I do not regret that for a second, I am incredibly proud to say that the county is now a completely different landscape, where people who graduate now have a choice to live and work here if they want to. One of our proudest accomplishments is being able to offer people that choice.

“There is a richness of tech companies here, which is growing all the time, with monthly Tech Meet-ups and a range of other ways for technologists to interact and engage with each othe.r”

Red Hat was founded in 1993 in North America and was acquired by IBM in 2019. It continues to operate under the Red Hat brand, as one of over 100 locations spread across 40 countries. Red Hat’s base in Waterford came about as a result of their acquisition of Waterford start-up company FeedHenry in 2014.

Mernin said there are many advantages of living and working in Waterford, including quality of life, a lower cost of living than in other cities, and hassle-free journeys to and from the office.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say an average commute time is ten to 15 minutes from where I work, and that’s the same for many people living in Waterford,” he said.

“The choice that we’re now providing, where everyone and anyone can forge a highly successful technology career right here in Waterford, is complemented by a cheaper cost of living, schools that are not oversubscribed, a vibrant tech scene and endless ways to enjoy outdoor life, with fantastic beaches, mountains, walks and hikes, all on our doorstep.”