Sensory stimulation at IADT’s student showcase

On a sunny morning, top tech companies gather at IADT to see the talent on display. By 11am most of the students will have jobs

IADT student Jack Luke trying out a wireless assistive display housed in a 3D printed enclosure capable of transcribing speech into text to assist the hearing impaired

IADT student Jack Luke trying out a wireless assistive display housed in a 3D printed enclosure capable of transcribing speech into text to assist the hearing impaired

 

A blue robotic hand sits on a stand on one table. On another, a cube constructed of LED lights flashes sequences of shapes expressing mathematical equations. Over here is an insect robot. Over there, a transistor-based Theremin making sci-fi sound effects. Several guitars wage an audio battle.

This is definitely the noisiest room of several packed with Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) student showcase projects on a sunny Dublin morning. Most other projects from the Department of Technology and Psychology students are displayed on computer screens, but this room has been taken over by engineering students who love audio-visual hardware.

“We see our job as saying to students, ‘come in, take the lid off, break it,’” says electronics lecturer Paul Comiskey, who is overseeing the cacophony with undisguised delight. Thanks to a burgeoning market for devices, sensors, wearables and other electronic goods, hardware is high-profile these days.

“What’s happened over the years is, we were providing technology solutions to creative problems. It’s switched around. Now we’re using creativity to solve technology problems,” he says. “In 10 years, I think the boundaries between hardware and software for this generation are going to be gone.”

Change has come swiftly, and has affected how engineering is taught.

“Even a decade ago, this was seen as peripheral,” he says, gesturing towards the projects that now represent the culmination of a student’s learning. “It was, teach them maths and get on with it.”

Now, employers are eager to find graduates with the multidisciplinary digital skillsets displayed by these engineers and their fellow students in the other project rooms.

There, rows of computer displays show off apps, games, websites, data manipulators, data analysers, 3D visualisation tools, and a huge range of applied psychology projects that explore video games, websites, social media, online interactions and more.

Sentiment analysis

John Montayne

“It’s looking for keywords and assigning a sentiment score,” explains student Bryan Maloney. “Say, if you post ‘I love my Samsung phone’, companies might want to target the forum you posted on” with a relevant advertisement. The trick is getting the sentiment right, he notes. If someone says ‘this really sucks’, it is most likely a negative comment – unless the post is from someone talking about their Dyson vacuum, he says.

According to Montayne, the multidisciplinary approach structured into IADT’s degree programmes is what makes these students attractive potential employees.

“The fact that you have a designer that can talk to an engineer is priceless.”

IBM would no doubt agree with that assessment. The company snapped up around a dozen design-focused graduates last year for its new IBM Design Thinking centre in Ireland, which has 30 designers and is rapidly expanding.

Several IBM managers from different areas within the company are walking around the project rooms and talking to students. Rory Caren, IBM Ireland’s software developer and academic relations manager, has just finished talking to one student about his 3D game visualisation and is craning to look across the room at another 3D project. Amongst other abilities, IBM is currently looking for some graduates with 3D experience, he says.

‘Richness of talent’

IBM had already spoken to some graduates about jobs in advance of the project show, and will likely approach several more by the end of the morning, he says.

Philip Sharpe, the CEO of network data analysis company DANU Technologies, is also recruiting and has arrived at the showcase with DANU employee and IADT graduate Gordon McGuire.

“We recruited Gordon three years ago, and we’re back for more,” Sharpe laughs. “We’re here fishing again to find graduates for the company. The projects are a great way to get a sense of the students.”

McGuire went to DANU initially as a summer intern, to fulfil the work-placement requirement of his IADT degree. He hadn’t done anything in computing before he went to IADT, but had heard about its web development course, he says. As he learned how to do the behind-the-scenes programming for websites, his imagination was piqued.

‘Foot in both camps’

He’s now a software development engineer at the company.

“It gets me involved with a lot of aspects of business development. Not just the code. When I came in to DANU, I was the only one who could do both sides. But it’s starting to open up. There are more people with that bridge,” he says.

Dr Annie Doona, IADT’s president, tells students and visitors to the showcase that IADT is unique in creating an interdisciplinary environment for students. Graduates have gone on to work in fields as varied as film, television, design, gaming, the sciences and computing, she notes.

By 11am, the rooms are emptying. Most of the graduates leave knowing which of these areas their new degree is taking them to, at least for their first post-college job.

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