President of Engineers Ireland Prof Orla Feely was fortunate to meet hero Gordon Moore and has never forgotten how such an eminent man engaged so respectfully with students. She regards the Intel facility in Leixlip as an engineering feat of particular significance, while she loves how the London Underground's history feels very close as you move through it, and says the scale of the original engineering achievement is 'breathtaking'.

Professor Orla Feely, vice-president for research, innovation and impact and a professor of electronic engineering at University College Dublin (UCD), is the 129th president of Engineers Ireland.

Prof Feely holds a BE degree from UCD and MS and PhD degrees from the University of California, (UC) Berkeley, where her PhD thesis won the David J Sakrison Memorial Prize for outstanding and innovative research. 

While at UC Berkeley, she also won the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award. Her research is in the area of nonlinear circuits and systems, and she has been awarded research grants and prizes from a number of national, international and industry sources.

Prof Orla Feely, president, Engineers Ireland 2021-22

Prof Feely is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a Fellow of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), Engineers Ireland and the Irish Academy of Engineering.

She has served as chair of the Irish Research Council, the EU Advisory Group on Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions, and the IEEE Technical Committee on Nonlinear Circuits and Systems, and as a member of a number of editorial boards.

She is a director of the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and deputy chair of the Higher Education Authority. Prof Feely became a Fellow of Engineers Ireland by presidential invitation in 2012. 

1) When did you first become interested in engineering?

Prof John Kelly, former dean of engineering, UCD

When I was in secondary school in the early 1980s there was great excitement around electronic engineering as a field with transformative potential for Ireland and for the world more generally. 

This was also the time when the number of women studying engineering began to rise steadily, and there was a focus on conveying the opportunities of the profession to schoolgirls. I attended an event for this purpose in UCD, led by the then dean of engineering, Prof John Kelly, and I was immediately convinced.  

2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?   

Prof Jane Grimson, past president, Engineers Ireland

University College Dublin professors Seán Scanlan, Annraoi de Paor and Tom Brazil were unfailingly supportive of me as a student and later as a colleague. Jane Grimson, a past president of Engineers Ireland, has also been a regular source of insight and inspiration. 

3) Who is your engineer hero, or the nearest you have to one?     

Gordon Moore, co-founder, Intel

They say that you should never meet your heroes, but I was fortunate enough to meet mine. He is Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and great visionary of the electronics industry. Moore’s Law has predicted – and indeed driven – the rate of progress in integrated circuit complexity, and therefore across the technology sector, since he first proposed it in 1965.   

In the early 1990s, towards the end of my PhD studies in the University of California (UC) Berkeley, I won a scholarship from Intel. The small group of scholarship recipients got to go out for dinner with Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty. The Moores were gracious, charming and greatly interested in what we students had to say. 

I remember that in my case Gordon Moore was particularly interested in finding out more about Ireland. That an individual of such eminence and power would take the time to seek the views of those of us just starting out on our careers, and to engage with us with such respect, is something that remains with me to this day. 

4) What are your favourite engineering feats – both in Ireland and globally? 

Intel campus, Leixlip, Co Kildare

In Ireland, the Intel facility in Leixlip is a feat of particular significance for me, given my background and generation. In the late 1980s, when I and so many of my engineering classmates were outside Ireland, Intel’s decision to locate here seemed to point to a different future for the country. 

I attended the official opening of that original facility, Fab 10, shortly after I returned to Ireland and started work at UCD. To have witnessed the success of that facility and the multiple investments that have followed on from it, delivered by the outstanding workforce in Leixlip, has been amazing. 

London Underground: marvel of engineering

Looking beyond Ireland, I still marvel at the London Underground every time I travel on it. I love how its engineering history feels very close as you move through it, with the scale of the original engineering achievement for its time just breathtaking. 

I love the aesthetic design of the different stations and, of course, the iconic map (inspired as it was by electric circuit diagrams). I am also in constant awe of the way in which it moves so many people with such efficiency, facilitating all the work, leisure and life of the vast city above it.   

5) In your presidential address you described how, from 1990-2020, Ireland grabbed its opportunities in tech, pharma, medtech and advanced manufacturing – where will the opportunities be in the next 30 years? 

Our track record of success in existing major sectors is one of our greatest strengths as we target future success. These areas are always evolving, and will continue to present myriad opportunities for Ireland. 

Just look at how the tech sector in Ireland evolved from pre-internet times to include the 'born on the internet' companies, and is evolving further into an era (metaverse?) of widespread artificial intelligence, virtual reality and big data. 

Overlaps between sectors will also present opportunities, looking for example at new applications of digitalisation in sectors such as manufacturing and finance. In addition to this, the areas of sustainability and climate change adaptation and mitigation will present many new opportunities and challenges in which Ireland can make very significant contributions.    

6) Regarding 'world-class levels of business education in Ireland' would you agree that it is important to strengthen the links between engineering and management even more, and perhaps this is becoming an integral part of engineering education also?  

Yes, definitely. I can’t remember the last time I read a data sheet, but almost every day I am examining financial reports, contracts or policy documents. I also lead a team of high-performing individuals, and people management skills, along with communication skills, are essential for engineers as they move into management.   

I think the key here is to realise that our education as engineers does not stop at graduation, but is a lifelong process where we have to gather the skills we need as we advance. This is why Engineers Ireland is such a strong supporter and provider of Continuing Professional Development. 

7) Have you travelled widely work-wise and, if so, is there any country or experience that stands out? 

UC Berkeley

One of the great joys of an academic career is travelling to other institutions around the world, encountering new ideas, new people and new places. Of all my travels, the experience that absolutely stands out is my time as a PhD student in Berkeley, California. 

UC Berkeley is a superb university in one of the most dynamic parts of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area, and getting to study there in the late 1980s and early 1990s was an enormous privilege. 

8) Is government/society doing enough to keep FDI strong? Is there any area in which you would like to see us ‘move up a couple of gears’? 

We are at a very interesting time in our industrial evolution, and we need to be strategic in our choices. With tax now less of a differentiator when targeting foreign direct investment (FDI), we need to make sure that our talent base is strong and robust. 

We need to address the challenges of sustainability, including the reliable and sustainable provision of energy and water. We need to support an evolution of our indigenous industries. And, underpinning all of this, we need to make sure that Ireland remains a place in which people want to live and work, which is a function of our culture and society as much as our economy. 

9) The ‘data centre conundrum’ is interesting is it not, ie, how do we continue to attract inward investment in this area while ‘avoiding blackouts or using up too much electricity’ as it were?  

Absolutely. This is an example of how we need a strategic and joined-up approach to our industrial policy decisions. 

10) What are your favourite book/s? And what are you currently reading?    

I have always loved reading, and couldn’t possibly pick one favourite book. My siblings still remind me of how as a child I had a small battered old-style suitcase and would carefully fill it with books for every family holiday. 

More recently, lockdown walks introduced me to the joys of audiobooks. At the moment, I’m listening to Middlemarch, brilliantly read by Juliet Stevenson, who somehow manages to bring a distinctive voice to each of the large cast of characters. 

11) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?    

A working life lasts a very long time, and will present untold opportunities through many waves of change. Always be alert to those opportunities that align with your strengths, your values and your passions. Pursue with conviction at least some of these, and you will be amazed by what you can achieve. 

12) You have mentioned the importance of progressing in fields such as quantum technology, the bioeconomy, sustainable manufacturing, cell and gene therapy and so on – are we investing enough in research and education in order to catch the wave in these areas? 

In a word, no. We have some examples where funding has been concentrated to good effect in certain areas, including a number from this list, but overall we are not investing enough in research and in our higher education system. We have any number of reports from national and international sources that tell us this. This will significantly restrict our ability to compete for the leading-edge jobs of the future. 

The creation of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is a positive development, and the department is leading the preparation of our next national strategy for research and innovation, so I am hopeful of progress. 

13) Are there any other measures that we need to take in order to help improve the gender balance within the profession? 

We have invested a lot of effort in attracting young women into engineering careers, going all the way back to my own student days, and Engineers Ireland has been a driving force behind this. While the rate of improvement has been slower than many of us would like, we continue to see an increase in the number of women entering the profession, which is great.   

I wonder whether we are doing enough at other stages of the pipeline to address the retention and progression of women within the profession. Worldwide we are seeing how the experience of the pandemic is causing many people to take a new look at their relationship with work. 

As the pandemic (we hope) recedes, we have an opportunity to look at our workplaces to see whether they are optimally configured to get the best from the diversity of talent that they contain. That diversity is not restricted to gender diversity, of course – we need to examine and support all aspects of diversity within the profession. I hope that we can see real commitment and creative thinking here now that we get to examine the world of work with fresh eyes. 

14) Looking back over your career, is there any project, or particular time in your life, that stands out? 

Government Buildings, Dublin

A project that I loved, in part because it was an unusual one for me, came in 2011, when I led a group documenting and celebrating the history of science and engineering in what is now Government Buildings in Dublin but was previously the Royal College of Science for Ireland and later UCD in Merrion Street. 

I loved this building when I studied there as an undergraduate, and when I discovered that it would be one hundred years old in 2011 it seemed like a great opportunity to tell its story. 

What fascinates me in particular is how scientists and engineers shared the complex with government up until 1989, with all of them working in their different ways to address the challenges of the time and build the Ireland of today. You can find out more about this story at

15) What is a typical day for you?   

One of my sons, when he was quite young, was asked what his mum’s job was, and he replied “emails”; mix in lots of meetings and he wasn’t far off. What brings these to life are the brilliant people and brilliant projects with which I get to engage. 

In Engineers Ireland I get to witness the commitment of our staff and member volunteers working in all sorts of creative ways to advance the engineering profession. 

In UCD I get to support our researchers and innovators across every discipline as they seek to make a real difference to the world through their ideas and dedication. As I look down at my list of meetings at the start of each day there is always something there that really excites me, which is a great position to be in. 

16) What are your favourite films/TV dramas?  


Again, too many to mention, but a particular recent favourite was Succession

17) What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given? 

A good friend and wise colleague ends most of our conversations by exhorting me to “keep smiling”, which always has the desired effect of making me smile. This reminds me that, no matter how intractable or interminable a problem at work may seem, there is always a way forward, and it is more likely to be identified through a positive outlook and a collaborative spirit. 

18) What do you do to relax?  

Sandymount Strand, Dublin

I love nothing more than to spend time with family and friends, and one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic for me was the absence of the big family get-togethers that we had been used to. 

I also love to travel, so that is another pleasure that I have missed very much over the past two years. On the plus side, Sandymount, the part of Dublin where I live, is a wonderful location for evening walks, and I must have worn a groove along Sandymount Strand from all the times I walked there during the pandemic.