Accreditation criteria, procedure and training

Engineers Ireland undertakes accreditation visits to universities and institutes of technology to ensure engineering and engineering technology programmes meet international standards.

Accreditation Criteria

Engineers Ireland’s Accreditation Criteria apply to engineering education programmes designed to meet the education standard required to achieve the professional titles of Chartered Engineer, Associate Engineer and Engineering Technician. The criteria are based on programme outcomes, programme areas and programme management criteria.

Engineers Ireland introduced new Accreditation Criteria in January 2021. The main changes made to the previous edition (2014) are: a new programme outcome on ‘Engineering Management’; a new programme area on ‘Sustainability’; coverage of data science, analytics and the ethical usage of technology and data; coverage of equality, diversity and inclusion in professional practice, teamwork and communication; and reorganisation and relabelling of the criteria.

Accreditation Procedure

Engineers Ireland undertakes accreditation visits to higher education institutions (HEIs) to ensure engineering and engineering technology programmes meet international standards. Before the accreditation visit, the HEI must submit detailed documents covering all aspects of the programmes for accreditation, focusing largely on compliance with programme outcomes. Every accredited programme is assigned a panel, made up of a chair and two assessors. Read more about our accreditation procedure in the document below. 

HEIs can apply for accreditation of their programmes by completing the accreditation application form and sending, along with the associated fee, to: You will find a list of accreditation fees on the application form.

Training for Accreditation Assessors

Accreditation assessors from industry and academia evaluate third-level engineering programmes by reviewing evidence, touring facilities and interviewing students, graduates, employers and staff. If you would like to volunteer as an Engineers Ireland accreditation assessor, please email

Training is available for accreditation assessors.

Engineers are naturally creative, from problem solving to designing and planning. But when you combine that with visual creativity, it leads to unique and beautiful things.

Today we meet an Irish engineer who is using his engineering skills and artistic flair to design some of the most impressive structures across the world, including a very well known New York tourist attraction.

Our expert guest has worked in over 20 countries across the globe and is passionate about the architectural response to the climate crisis. He is Principal and Founder of VOLUTA, Eoin Casserly.



  • Engineering as a passport to the world
  • Working through design limitations with efficiency
  • Complex design with user experience in mind
  • The architectural response to the climate crisis
  • Chartered Engineer of the Year award and its benefits



Eoin Casserly is principal and founder of VOLUTA, a specialist structural engineering consultancy operating internationally, based in Sligo. Previously, he held structural engineering positions in Paris, New York, and Stuttgart. He has designed advanced structures such as gridshells, cable nets, facades, stadia, and artworks in more than 20 countries, working through six languages.

Project highlights include the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, the world’s first cable net with curved glass, the largest-spanning glazed roof in South America, and gridshells for the largest botanic garden in the world. His current research combines pre-industrial materials with innovative construction and analysis techniques.

Casserly won the Engineers Ireland Chartered Engineer of the Year Award in 2023.



Looking for ways to explore or advance a career in the field of engineering? Visit Engineers Ireland to learn more about the many programs and resources on offer.  

Engineers Journal AMPLIFIED is produced by for Engineers Ireland.



We're really guided by the beauty and efficiency of nature, because if you imagine a seashell, or a snail, it doesn't want to spend undue energy making what they have to live in, they want to do in the most beautiful, most efficient, and the least energy intensive form they can, which ends up being really beautiful. - Eoin Casserly

There's a great quote, that architecture is dancing in chains.  There are limitations, but you can always work around these. Limitations can create a box for something new. And that's part of the beauty of it all. - Eoin Casserly

Around 30% of global waste is produced by the construction industry. It's a massively wasteful industry. A big focus of VOLUTA is this shift to a more sustainable method of building. - Eoin Casserly



#glass #engineering #design #climatecrisis #structuralengineering #architecture #charteredengineer



For your convenience, we include an automated AI transcription


Dusty Rhodes 00:00

Right now on AMPLIFIED we're about to find out how engineering meets art in structural design.


Eoin Casserly 00:05

To make the problem even more complex, the world is urbanizing at a huge rate, and the amount of building compared to a city the size of New York will have to be built every month until around 2060. So it's an enormous challenge.


Dusty Rhodes 00:20

Hi there, my name is Dusty Rhodes and welcome to AMPLIFIED, the Engineers Journal podcast. As we know, engineers are naturally creative from problem solving to designing and planning. But when you combine that with visual creativity, it leads to unique and beautiful things. Today, we're chatting with an Irish engineer who is using his engineering skills and artistic flair to design some of the most impressive structures across the world. We'll find out how he blends his love for engineering and art, with a passion for responding to the climate crisis, and what he's learned from working in 20 countries across the globe. I'm delighted to welcome the founder of VOLUTA, Eoin Casserly, Eoin how are you?


Eoin Casserly 00:59

Great, thanks. Thanks for having me.


Dusty Rhodes 01:00

So listen, tell me what what got you into this wonderful, crazy business we call engineering?


Eoin Casserly 01:07

Well, I suppose I didn't really have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. But engineering seemed to have this combination of technical skills, I suppose I saw a lot of my strengths and in maths and physics and and these very technical subjects, but also, other other areas, you know, languages are to design. And I think the handy thing is that you get to combine all of these with engineering. So I study structural engineering with architecture in UCD. But probably it wasn't until I moved into my first job in Paris that I really started to think of it as a something I wanted to do. I was working for a company called tests in Paris. And it was a bit more glamorous than what I would have expected for an engineering job. So the company at the time was designing the finessing. Graviton, this enormous museum on the west of Paris. And because of this, it was a new company, it was only about a year established. And they were working in a Louis Vuitton office. So I was a 22 year old guy from San Diego, going to work every day in a Louis Vuitton office with these incredibly cultured, multilingual people, who also just happen to be as well really competent and brilliant at their jobs. So it really opened my eyes to what was out there. And I think, drove my career then.


Dusty Rhodes 02:46

And they say one of the things about engineering is that once you have that it's a passport to the world. And you've opened up by saying you worked at Louis Vuitton, in Paris, what a great start, you've worked elsewhere in the world. Tell me give give us give us a sample.


Eoin Casserly 03:04

So I, after I finished my master's, I moved to New York, and eventually started working for a company called stretch begonnen, which is a German company, with offices and a few countries around the world. From there, I was mostly mostly working on us projects and a lot on a new development at the time called Hudson Yards, which was a $25 billion real estate development, basically making a new neighborhood within New York. And from there, worked a little bit on on stuff outside the US, because I had the experience in parasites, advice on some some projects there as well. My visa ends in the States. And then I decided to move to the headquarters of that company slash burger man in Stuttgart, in Germany. At that stage, I was working as I suppose the technical lead for for glass projects, so anything with a bit of glass and as I was giving technical inputs, and they're one of the leading companies in the world for architecture class. So I was advising on projects for say, the Chinese office, the Paris office, are doing a few projects in Brazil, the US a few in Canada. So all over the world, really. And then from there, I ended up leaving that company during COVID to set up my own company. Initially, I was I started off in I was living at the time in Palermo, or nearby Palermo in Sicily, where my wife's family are from, and from there had the idea to eventually move back to Ireland and set up my own company work on projects across the world, from their from my company here in Slagle I've worked on projects in Oman, the Netherlands, a few in the US, Belgium, Austria, Germany. And hopefully some soon and it's common. And you


Dusty Rhodes 05:13

said that you met your wife in Italy, the name of your company voluto is strikes me as being an Italian word, is it? And what does it mean?


Eoin Casserly 05:21

Well, I actually met my wife in New York, but her family's from from Sicily. So we all run during COVID. So it's a it's the name of a seashell, it was actually probably the toughest thing about starting a company was finding a good name. So fluid is the name of a seashell. And it's also the name of a type of facade detail. So those two things, I think, combined, give us a sense of what the company does. So we're really guided by the beauty and efficiency of nature, because if you imagine a seashell, snail or, or whatever, doesn't want to spend onto energy, making this water what they have to live in, they want to do in the most beautiful, I suppose efficient, and least energy intensive form they can they can make, which ends up being really beautiful. And so taking inspiration as well from from Moscow performing as a big, big part of the company.


Dusty Rhodes 06:19

And do you feel like kind of that little creature? Because you're just one? No, but what I mean, seriously, you're one human being, and you're designing these huge big projects, which are, you know, 1000 times bigger than you are? And you're keeping in mind the functionality of it, but also how it looks on the practicality of it. Have you ever had a design dream in your head? That was like structurally or logistically too big?


Eoin Casserly 06:51

Just on the first part, I don't think I can ever say I don't think anyone can really ever say that they're the soul. No,


Dusty Rhodes 06:58

of course, no, I don't I don't I'm not putting it all down to you. You're involved in it? I know. Yes. Yeah.


Eoin Casserly 07:05

It's something that I thought before I started working in all of this, that it was something that's portrayed or lost as one, you know, it's creative genius, alone, in engineering, which isn't ever the case at all, that it's always a team of people, there's always a huge amount of compromise. This, really a lot of the time, you're just a facilitator, that for, for other people's visions, or for a combined vision. Plus, there's limiting factors in terms of, you know, the reality of of materials, and what can be achieved with them. Plus, I think there's a, there's a great quote, This architecture is dancing in chains. So they have these limitations, that these chains, but that you can still dance, when you're held down by them. And that's, that's from God, Mark, I think. But I think that there are limitations. But you can always work around these, you know, this limitations can create a box for something new. And that's part of the beauty of it all, I think.


Dusty Rhodes 08:12

Do you think that when you have limitations when you try to achieve something, or to design something, that because of those very limitations, you come up with something brilliant?


Eoin Casserly 08:22

Exactly. I think that's the beauty of it all, that if you're designing without these limitations, then you're purely, you know, you might as well be a video game designer, that this is not based in reality, we have all of these realities are these, these limitations in what's actually constructible, the you really have to be, you can't be sitting in an ivory tower, just saying, get this done. This is I believe this is possible without basically doing it yourself, you have to first understand how someone can build it. I think that's a huge part of overall, which a lot of unfortunately, a lot of engineers they think are, are a little bit divorced from the construction side of things. And architects to this, you really have to understand that side of, of what can be built to understand the sequence of AI can be built, even for natural limitations of of who you're working with. That I think all of these combines. These limitations are actually what create, create the best projects.


Dusty Rhodes 09:26

Do you have any particular project where he is kind of started off going, Oh, my God, this is never gonna happen. And then you made the U turn it around or something.


Eoin Casserly 09:35

There were a few projects where we were doing things that had never been done before. So, you know, we're world firsts. And there's always an idea that if you're going to hire or are using something that hasn't been used before, this from first principles, you can figure this thing out. But there's always a shaky moment of Where you will question yourself and wonder, you know, how, how do we test this? How do we ensure that everything is safe, but that's the process, I suppose that you have to believe it is.


Dusty Rhodes 10:17

One of the projects that I've seen that you were involved in, I think, is one that everybody listening to the podcast will know. And that is back in your time in New York City. And I don't know if it's part of the project where you're literally developing the new neighborhood over the railway, but the edge in New York as a huge tourist attraction, where literally, I don't know what floor it is, but it looks like the 250/7 floor as you walk up to this massive balcony thing. And it looks like you're hanging over the edge of the building, how, what was your involvement in that project.


Eoin Casserly 10:48

So I was the project manager and lead engineer for the work on the secondary structure and facades, glass floor, the glass perimeter, basically everything apart from the primary structure, what directly attaches to the building. So I also didn't, there's a, there's a staircase in it, leading up to, to a second store that I also didn't want didn't have any involvement in. But basically, everything else I was, had my my hand in, I actually haven't been to a census is finished. So it's, I suppose it was one of the really unique parts of that was this, it's in a yard, these, if you think about when I was going back to thinking about how this can be constructed. So there was only basically, I think it was one night allowed for closing off the roads in New York, to transport this thing. So there has to be a huge amount of pre assembly. So there were modules are called modules, basically, individual pieces connected together, done in a factory, which would then be assembled on us. If you can imagine it almost like Lego on site. So craned up around 400 meters high, and then a fit to within three millimeters of tolerance of each other. So the three millimeters of tolerance of each other needed to be exact, because of I've actually cleaning it to allowing the facade maintenance teams to calm down the rails. And if those, if those rails were even slightly Miss connected to each other, by three millimeters or more, then they might get stuck. So this involves a huge amount of analysis on the individual modules to ensure this, there was enough adjustability, to connect them in the air at 400 meters with the battery with no scaffolding underneath, which is another big part of it. So then there was also apart from the modules, which is the, I suppose the structural part and the sad part. There's also the glass. So there's a three major tall cantilever bridge, glass barrier around the edge, and the highest outer glass floor in the world. So for this, these were, I suppose a little bit different to the more heavy structural, structural steel parts of the modules, there were more fine, lightweight, architectural designs. And we really had to find a balance between transparency and the structural stability of the glass. Because this is where you might look as glass in your window. But it's not holding up anything. The glass and these is preventing is holding itself up. And also holding up a full group of people standing on a jumping on it, whatever and needs to maintain its capacity for for many, many years. So you could go very thick with the glass. So have many, many layers. But you lose a bit of the transparency, you lose the whole idea of what you're you're putting it there for the first place. So find your balance there with some some fairly complex finite element analysis and through testing as well, to figure out exactly the minimum that we can use that will still be safe. Still be structurally sound.


Dusty Rhodes 14:33

That sounds amazing. I mean, it's such an iconic thing being the edge in New York. Was that your biggest challenge today or have you dealt with something even bigger?


Eoin Casserly 14:43

Yeah. Lots of lots of big projects like that. One that comes to mind is our first project with voluto which is over which was we're finished with a no or man Botanic Garden. So this is the biggest project in the history of of Oman, making the biggest botanic garden in the world. I was the technical consultant for the grid shells in this. So the idea behind this Botanic Garden is to showcase the diversity of plants in Oman, which actually has lots of different climates. And so there's in the north of the country, in the mountains, there's a northern climate, like juniper trees, things like this. And then in the south, they have what's called the Hareesh season, which is monsoon season, that actually brings a lot of green, very unexpectedly in the south of Oman. And this huge biodiversity, they wanted to showcase this partially for tourism, and also just to show what, what amazing biodiversity on and has. So in these two grid shells, these two quite freeform looking steel and glass structures, the ideas to house and the northern biome, the plants of the northern regions, and in the southern biome, the plants of the southern region. So this was, and still is just an amazing project. The scale is, is outstanding, the x axis and beyond photos from site A few weeks ago, which really these these things look big on a computer. But once they're actually built, it's at another level entirely. A


Dusty Rhodes 16:33

lot of the projects that you're talking about are in public spaces, and therefore the public is the experience of the people who's going to experience these spaces important to you, while you're doing the design are


Eoin Casserly 16:46

hugely I mean, to everyone in the design process, I think it's best the goal. I mean, there can be lots of little things that you you obsess over, that maybe people might not notice. But it's it's always the end goal is is the end user. And


Dusty Rhodes 17:02

with engineering, when you're coming to having to do a design for a particular purpose, and you've got so many challenges to overcome, when you figure them all out, is then also adding the fact that the public must think this is amazing. Does that add to it? Or does it make it a more interesting project? Oh,


Eoin Casserly 17:20

definitely makes it more interesting. I mean, it's it's always really interesting to see how people engage with structures and with with the architecture, because it can be completely different sometimes to what you expect her to what everyone in the design team is imagining. And I think that's, that's the beauty that, you know, you, you can spend years on, on something. But someone else can just come and have a completely fresh perspective on it. After a few minutes,


Dusty Rhodes 17:54

and as well as thinking about that a factor of that the yield, the public has to be wowed by this design, you like working with glass as well? In what ways does that make these structural process more difficult?


Eoin Casserly 18:07

Well, for one thing, glass has very different tolerances to the more standard building materials. So you're often looking at tolerances of a millimeter for glass, where you know, for steel, you might be looking at a 10 it's a very fine piece of design work that you have to have to really understand how how things will be installed, how they will be maintained, which is critical, obviously, you don't want if you design this, this brilliant piece of of glass, that it just gets dirty after a few weeks and then remains dirty forever. But you have to understand the process of of how everything's done. The fabrication process, installation process, obviously the the first principles of the engineering, and it's quite a new while it's maybe not that new, it's maybe you know, probably 40 years, where people are working with structural glass or glass to actually hold up itself or, or other parts of a building. So it's quite a niche, niche area, with research sometimes coming out. So this may change your perspective on it. What do you mean by that? What is it because it's not as well studied as other materials. The research on it can can be, I suppose, maybe a bit more groundbreaking breaking down, for example, with steel where a lot of it has already been figured out. So for example, there isn't or it's coming out soon the Euro code for glass, a design manual for glass, which of course with lots of other materials is already present for a long time. So there's debate it's very different in every country as well, there'll be huge differences in standards of, of what can be used for glass structures, say from Brazil to the US or to, to Germany, a big part of that is having to rely on your knowledge of first principles of the chemistry, the manufacturing of the material, to know what will work, what's safe, or what isn't. So take little pieces of these courts from all around the world, to add to your knowledge,


Dusty Rhodes 20:32

it's fascinating to hear these things that you're passionate about with the design of the materials and the glass and everything and how you're able to just bring it into your work. You're also passionate about the architecture response to the climate crisis. Can you tell me a little bit how you weave sustainability into your work?


Eoin Casserly 20:52

Yeah, well, I think it's the big challenge for the construction industry in general. So something this that isn't talked about a huge amount, especially not in, I suppose mainstream in papers, for example, you don't see this, the buildings and construction in general accounts for normally around 40% of, of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions. The law was the things about, you know, to reduce flying, which is a great idea. But no one ever talks about using less concrete and mainstream discussions of the climate crisis. But we are in addition to about 40%, of of global greenhouse gas emissions around 30% of of global waste, is produced by the construction industry. It's a massively wasteful industry. And it's, it's a, it's a big focus of luta. This, this shift to a more sustainable method of building those just to make the problem even more complex, the world is urbanizing at a huge rate, and a city the size of New York, basically, if you take the whole world combined, the amount of building compared to a city the size of New York will have rebuilt every month until around 2060. So it's an enormous challenge. You know, some people rightly see this a big part of that, that challenge to face this or the solution face the challenge is a shift to biomaterials, bio based materials, such as timber, bamboo stone, because concrete steel, they're very carbon intensive. And so this is something we're focusing on with Volusia shift to to biomaterials. Also, a big part of what we do is we work with complex geometry structures. So often structures that are curved in two directions. So if you imagine, say a ball, this is curved in two directions, if you imagine an arch, this is only curved in one. But the two directions don't necessarily have to be the same one. So if you imagine a saddle, one curve is in one way, the other curves in the opposite way. So this is one of the the big, kind of untapped potentials of how we can how engineers going to approach the climate crisis is the power of geometry. And a great voice in this regard is Philip block, Professor Philippe block in at Hans Ulrich, he's really pioneered what's called the war against bending. So elements that are in bending, so for example, like beams and slabs, it's quite an inefficient method of construction or method of, of internal stress, where if things are intention, so being pulled apart, or compression being pushed together, it's much more material efficient. And so, a lot of the of what we design in terms of grid shells, cable nets, these are tension or compression structures, which use a lot less material in comparison to to these bending structures. So, if you look around yourself, you will only see buildings at right angles. Now, this means that everything is in bending more or less or most things are in bending, and this is a really inefficient way to use material. So, this is a big part of what we do in with volute is is harnessing the power of geometry to and using biomaterials to really minimize this carbon footprint.


Dusty Rhodes 24:54

Let me change subject for a few minutes on because you hold the title of Chartered Engineer of the Year with Engineers, Ireland and congratulations on that. Can I ask you? How does it help you to be a chartered engineer specifically?


Eoin Casserly 25:10

Well, it's great because I can work in Ireland. So all projects in Ireland have to have a chartered engineer. And this allows me I've worked on projects in over 20 countries, but never in Ireland, never where I'm from. So being a chartered engineer allows me to, to work in Ireland and hopefully bring some of what I've learned abroad and some of the expertise of gains to Ireland's as well.


Dusty Rhodes 25:40

Well, needless to say, there's more information about going from engineer to chartered engineer on the website at engineers Can I wrap up today on by asking you, I mean, you're obviously hugely experienced person. And with all of that global knowledge that you have, from your experience, what would you like to see change in the world of engineering?


Eoin Casserly 26:04

So I suppose, like I'd mentioned, a shift to biomaterials. So cement production alone, just one part of of concrete is a percent of global greenhouse gas and gas emissions every year. We're running out of materials, from the way we construct a crazy thing that that happens is this the UAE, which is I think 99% Desert, actually import sand from Australia, for concrete,


Dusty Rhodes 26:34

you're kidding me that somebody is selling sand to the Arabs, literally.


Eoin Casserly 26:41

So it's sands from rivers is actually much more useful, as accurate, or sorry for use in countries because of the friction coefficient. But we're going to run out of materials like this are very fast, unless we started using renewable sources, and using less. So using bamboo, which is a really fast growing material has huge, huge potential, especially in the developing world, because it can be grown almost, in almost every climate, a shift away from, from the very carbon intensive materials like like concrete and steel, I would hope this, there'll be a shift to more circularity in construction. So reusing materials, most of the time, something is, is demolished. And basically, it just becomes a waste. It's something new is built from virgin materials in its place, which is, is a incredibly wasteful process. So I would hope there'd be a lot more circularity. And then something this, I also lecture in university, and it's you. And I don't lecture in engineering actually lecture in architecture. And the reason I chose to do this was because I think there needs to be much greater integration between architecture and structural engineering for one thing, because right now, especially in Ireland is quite a vertical process where an architect might design something structural engineer has to make that work. Where I think there's a lot more to be gained from a collaboration and creative tension at the start of a project. It's really where the structural engineer can contribute the most can make a huge saving in terms, especially in terms of, of carbon. I think this creative tension creates something much better than the sum of those parts in the end.


Dusty Rhodes 28:54

And it's like you said earlier, where you have limitations, you have to come up with solutions around that. And actually, often you will end up getting something even better because of those limitations. So exactly. Listen, if you would like to find out more about Eoin Casserly and some of the topics that we spoke about today, you'll find notes, and link details in the description area of the podcast. But for now, Eoin Casserly, founder of VOLUTA, thank you very much for joining us.


Eoin Casserly 29:21

Thanks very much Dusty.


Dusty Rhodes 29:23

If you enjoyed our podcast today, please do share with a friend in the business just tell them to search for Engineers Ireland in their podcast player. The podcast is produced by for Engineers Ireland for advanced episodes, more information on engineering across Ireland, or career development opportunities. There are libraries of information on the website at to check it out. Until next time from myself Dusty Rhodes. Thank you for listening


When Art & Engineering Collide | Eoin Casserly, Principal and Founder of VOLUTA

Irish engineers are incredibly creative thinkers and innovators, but it's a big leap going from innovator to entrepreneur, and taking an idea you might have to market.

Today we hear from a prominent engineer with a fascinating career history, which took her from aeronautical engineering into the biomedical space. We'll be finding out how she looks at problems, overcomes obstacles, where she sees innovation and opportunity, and getting some great advice for any engineers who are thinking of launching their own business.

Our guest is CEO of Altratech and the Assistant Director of the Stokes Research Institute at University of Limerick, Dr. Tara Dalton.


  • Transitioning through different disciplines of engineering
  • The benefits of working within interdisciplinary teams
  • Learning to ‘skate where the puck is’
  • Being aware of trends and spotting gaps in the market
  • Striving for progress over perfection and asking for help


Dr Tara Dalton, CEO of Altratech and Assistant Director of the Stokes Research Institute in the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Limerick.

Dr Dalton is a fellow of the Irish Academy of Engineers. She is one of the founders of Stokes Bio – a spin-out company that was sold to Life Technologies that developed high throughput microfluidic instruments for PCR. Her research interest is in the development of microfluidic devices for biological assays. She has graduated 20 PhD Students, published over 100 refereed papers and has over 50 granted patent and patent applications.



Looking for ways to explore or advance a career in the field of engineering? Visit Engineers Ireland to learn more about the many programs and resources on offer.  


Engineers Journal AMPLIFIED is produced by for Engineers Ireland.



In my mind, in engineering, you don't want to be at the cutting edge of absolute new science. You want to be just behind it, so you can help people with that science. - Tara Dalton


When you work with interdisciplinary team, and I work with medics, physicists, chemists or even with other entrepreneurs, it's just amazing, because I find that everybody wants to help you be better. Nobody, at least in my experience, gatekeeps their knowledge. - Tara Dalton


Skate where the puck is, right. It didn't matter that I had this great product, but to get venture capital funding, that was never going to happen, because it wasn't in that ecosystem at the time. So that was one really big learning lesson. - Tara Dalton


Ask for help. Everybody, ask for help. Go talk to people, go talk to Enterprise Ireland, go talk to lawyers, go talk to VCs. Don't go saying I want, want, want, just say, What should I do? How could you help me? You'd be surprised how many people will give you their time. - Tara Dalton



For your convenience, we include an automated AI transcription

Dusty Rhodes  00:00

Right now on AMPLIFIED, we're about to find out how seemingly impossible things are eminently possible.


Tara Dalton  00:07

He never let perfection hinder progress. And so I just say, Okay, let's just make progress. I have to be consciously aware of thinking, Oh, God, we signed a contract to do something like what have we done? Knowing full well, that's going to be a really a hard ask.


Dusty Rhodes  00:26

Hello, my name is Dusty Rhodes and you're welcome to AMPLIFIED, the Engineers Journal podcast. I think we can agree that Irish engineers are incredibly creative thinkers and innovators. But it's a big leap going from innovator to entrepreneur, and taking an idea you might have to market. In this episode, we'll be hearing from a prominent engineer with a fascinating career history, which took her from aeronautical engineering into the biomedical space, we'll be finding out how she looks at problems, overcomes obstacles, where she sees innovation and opportunity, and getting some great advice for any engineers who are thinking of launching their own business. It's a pleasure to welcome the CEO of Altratech and the Assistant Director of the Stokes Research Institute at UL. Dr. Tara Dalton. Tara, how are you?


Tara Dalton  01:14

Hi, how are you? Hi, I'm good. Thank you so much.


Dusty Rhodes  01:18

Listen, welcome onto the podcast. I always start off by asking people what what made you want to be an engineer? How did you get into this game at all?


Tara Dalton  01:28

Um, actually, I think to be to be quite truthful, I think it was, it was my father. I had all sorts of different plans. And I, you know, I, I remember not really wanting to do honors maths at school. And my father sort of saying, you know, it opens up such a lot for you. So, you know, he like he worked at the University of Limerick. And he felt that that engineering was a really good combination of creativity and of maths, you know, because I always did like the sciences. I was interested in physics and chemistry, and biology. So I think, in some senses, there was serendipitous things, I suppose it was my dad really kind of pushed me to taking that on.


Dusty Rhodes  02:05

So when you went through school and university, you got into engineering then proper, and you started with aeronautical engineering. Tell me a bit more about that. So actually,


Tara Dalton  02:13

actually, I started with mechanical and then they launched aeronautical engineering when I was in third year. So at that time, it wasn't a discipline in itself, it was something you could specialize in, in third year, I think I was just so completely fascinated, because I think it goes against every instinct in our body that we can put that thing up in the sky. Every instinct and every single time I think about something that can't be done, I look at and say they they have an engine there that is going at, you know, 15,000 RPM, that's that's huge, up at 36,000 feet. Come on, like, Of course we can do it. So I think it for me, it's just, I think it's just fascinating and in almost a romantic way. And I still love it, you know, I changed because in some senses, there's a lot more I think innovation in biomedical engineering. You know, the aeronautical engineering is quite a regulated piece. So, you know, for me, it didn't allow that creativity and that innovation, so I changed biomedical engineering, but aeronautical engineering still has a huge, you know, soft spot, I said, I didn't know they're applying them, I'm gonna watch


Dusty Rhodes  03:23

this, there's a real passion there for you for aeronautical and flying, but you went from that then into biomedical why, why did you make the switch? Well,


Tara Dalton  03:33

he so I did, I did a postdoc in the University of Limerick. And at the time, again, you know, the government had this really amazing program, it was called the programs and advanced technology programs. And basically, what they encouraged you to do was as a postdoc, they encouraged you to work hugely with industry. And then they they supported that intervention. So they wanted to link university researchers with industry and we were fortunate, we had a great kind of Pac group. And we worked with Intel, we worked with you to Packard, we worked with, you know, Nokia at the time. And I just got this feed, I just, I loved it, you know, I love that idea that what you did had an impact, you know, even if it is in a in a large multinational or a small company, commensurate with that around the same time, the size foundation Arlindo setup, and at that time, they remit to fund two big things. So ICT at the time and bio, the and, you know, that was their decision. So I thought, okay, let's be real here. You know, if you want to go research, you want to, you know, you've you've to, you have to be like, you know, like Wayne Gretzky, you know, the great ice skater, he said, skate where the puck is going to be, you know, where the puck has been. He knows I mean, so, you know, you've got to look at the landscape and say, well, that's where the research money is going to be. If you think about at the time bio, the genome had just been sequenced. This was the biggest thing ever. There was a breakthrough for peace. See our reactions and everything. So when you looked at these like, okay, there's going to be so much scope for an engineer following breaking science, in my mind and engineering, you don't want to be at the cutting edge of absolute new science. But essentially, you just want to be just behind it. So you can help to, you know, help people with that science. So for me a deal, as I said, the genome has just been sequenced, I can see for the next 15 years, you know, there's going to be massive innovation in this space, which there was. So that's why I changed from Rob arrow mechanical to much more bio COVID. But it is really applying the same principles of any engineer just to a different class of problems. If you're


Dusty Rhodes  05:42

listening to you're talking about kind of biomedical, I mean, you're very passionate about it, but I kind of get the impression that you're more are you more passionate about the fact that you're doing something challenging, and something new, and something that's gonna help people rather than it being actually to do with aeronautical or biomedical?


Tara Dalton  06:00

Yeah, I think so as I said, the same principles are applied, you know, they think engineering principles are applied to everything. But I think in Biomedical Engineering, well, first of all, it's very interdisciplinary. So you get to learn from, you know, loads of people, and it's full of problems to be solved, which is great, you know, there's loads of things that we don't know, that we want to sell. And so for me, it's like, you know, it's like, it's like, a child in a sweet shop. It Oh, there's just so many interesting things to learn. And I love learning it, there's just so much. And the other thing is, when you work with interdisciplinary team, and I work with, you know, worked with medics, with physicists, or chemists with, you know, with entrepreneurs, with with finance people, it's just, it's just amazing, because I find that everybody wants to help you be better. Nobody, I, at least in my experience, kind of gatekeepers their knowledge. And I think in in, you know, when you're in that race, where you really want to try and solve a problem, I find that people don't take the knowledge because they want to find solutions. And so it's an extraordinary place to be. And also, I think, I'm not a person that some people I think, are really good. And you see people who kind of take a problem, and they dive into it. And deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, I'm not that kind of person, I like to kind of spread out, you know what I mean? So look at, you know, applying this skill over here, over here from here, rather than doing kind of this classical, deep dive and understanding upon more. Absolutely, that's important as well, if that's just not me. So I think I think this type of problem solving, engineering suits me more than we'll say, a classic scientist, you know, where you're, you're really building on knowledge, and really getting a deep, deep understanding about that uncut of more. Okay, how do we solve a problem? So I think that's the difference between engineering Well, in my opinion, is difference between engineering and sort of deep science, if you like? Well,


Dusty Rhodes  08:00

I think that's what we do is, uh, you know, we look at problems and we go, Well, how can we fix this? Or how can we make it better? Now, a lot of people who will be working as engineers are within a company, and then they have all these thoughts and ideas. But sometimes, you know, things don't happen, because there's a boss upstairs, or the company doesn't want to go that way. You're different in that you kind of went, Well, I really want to do this. So I'm going to be an entrepreneur, and I'm going to start my own business, do you think that your engineering brain and the way that it works kind of helped you to stand on your own two feet and run your own business,


Tara Dalton  08:32

I think, on my experience, when I did the programs apart, so we ended up interacting with companies an awful lot. And I think that stood out to me. And also I just the idea that something that you created that somebody actually bought me, they paid money, I remember my my father in law saying to me that that money is a stored work, you know what I mean? And so, you know, this idea that somebody is going to pay for that. I thought, That's a brilliant idea. And I always wanted to do it, I always wanted to do it since I was like, since I was sort of 2627. And in a year, you know, whatever about a company in a university environment, you know, there's things are changing and have changed, but at that time, there is a lot of pressure put on publications, and this is what we do and the you know, it's to go and, and say, Okay, I'm going to I'm going to create a company. It's not necessary. Now, University of Limerick, I have to say we're brilliant. But you know, there are people who say, Okay, look at me, that isn't the job of an academic. But I think as an as an academic engineer, it is exactly my job, even if it's not to create enterprise to help enterprise and to work on on sort of, you know, engineering problems. So I always wanted to do that. And I think, you know, naivety is your friend in doing this, it really is because, you know, in some senses Ultratech is my second or was actually was actually technically it's my fourth company. You don't need one but That duck failed for very funny reasons. Oh, yeah, this is hilarious or silly like the first the first week, we had this amazing product, what went? Well, in my view, it was right, it was a fiber optic based system that actually was used to to turn on heaters to take ice off helicopter blades, you need to a wouldn't win helicopters and you know, obviously do ice forming on helicopter blades is really, really bad, depending on the type of ice anyway, it was a it was a piece of hardware. And for some reason I got picked to go to Boston. This is a this like 28 or something to pitch my idea in front of 100 requests, which would there would have been a lawyer firm, but with a lot of VC backing a lot of companies, there was a there was a lot of potential companies going to do that. So I remember sitting there and I had my little piece of hardware, it had my sheet with all this details on it. And I was listening to everybody present. And every single one of them was software companies, this was thing. And they were to some of them were the most stupidest ideas you could ever imagine that but that wasn't the point. The point was, is they weren't getting funding these people were looking for 1.5 million 20. I learned straightaway, okay. Again, that was skate where the puck is, right. So it didn't matter, I had this great product, but to get venture capital funding, that was never going to happen, because it wasn't in that ecosystem at the time. So that was one really big learning lesson. And again, similarly, in the the second company that we did, you know, actually did work, but it wasn't again, it wasn't a high potential startup. So that was one of the reasons I changed to bio because you are basically in VCs, you know, they like to fund we're looking to fund you know, so you're thinking, Okay, I need to be in that in that area. Stokes bio was then the third company. And until we learn, okay, say okay, look, you know, this is what we're going to do, we're going to follow breaking science, we're going to use our own skills, I'm really careful about how we kind of positioned what what we did. And of course, you know, a lot of people said, we're engineers in, in in the biosciences, you haven't opened hell. And again, you just just ignore it, you know what I mean? And I think you ignore it, because you have so much fun doing it, it doesn't really matter. You know, what I mean, you're just really enjoying learning, and we'd love to PhD students, and, you know, we bring in collaborators, and, you know, to use that horrible word, but the journey, like was the you know, was, you know, that was as important as the exit and the final part of


Dusty Rhodes  12:33

it, but it is the journey, as you say, and what I love about what you're talking about, it's kind of like, you've given us two examples where you fell down, this isn't wrong with falling down, it's how you pick yourself up afterwards. Okay, so you fell down, once you fell down twice, you picked yourself up, once you picked yourself up twice, you went into the third one. Now, the third one was quite successful. And this is kind of you're very well known for Stokes was, you mentioned it, it's been a big part of your life, because they've kind of struggles commercial company and a university. And I don't understand how that works. So tell me about it.


Tara Dalton  13:06

Okay. So that, you know, yeah, so So, so myself and my co founder, Professor Mark Davies, so he was actually my PhD supervisor, and then, you know, we we kind of drifted apart, and then we came back together to, to do this. And again, the genome has been sequenced. And we're really fascinated with that. So we started a research group in the university. And you the advantage of starting your research in the university is, it's a very, it's a very gentle place to explore ideas, so that you're not giving away equity, if you make mistakes are, it's taking time that you know, for a long time, it wasn't, you know, the stuff we were doing wasn't working. And in an in a university environment, that's that can be tolerated a lot easier. And we had we had a number of PhD students, and interestingly, so actually, so we went to the SFI, even five times five times for funding and FBI wouldn't fund what we were doing, and that's okay, I get it, you know, we didn't have a history and what we were doing, and at the time, you know, reviewers would say, Look, you know, this isn't really that novel, etc. But engineering isn't supposed to be a hugely novel, it's supposed to take science and, and if you take, yeah, if you take a hero experiment that's done once you want to engineer it, so it's, you could do it 100 million times, you know, so that's kind of where we were coming at, and, and I can I get away as if i But anyway, I at that time, when I was like, Oh my God, you know, how are we going to get funding? What are we going to do now? Enterprise Ireland was, were really supportive of what we were doing, and they funded us. And I thought, okay, you know, what we'll do, we'll, we'll um, Bucha some publicity. So we did some publicity and and I contacted a publicist. And I said, Listen, you know, I think what we're doing is really kind of clever and interesting. Could you know, could we get some traction, just even on the Irish stage, not necessarily European or American. So It was caused and caught by the Irish Times, actually. And a VC saw it. And he approached us. And he said, When you spin this company out, can we be at the table, we'll give you 100,000 euros if we're at the table. And I said, look, let's forget that, let's just do it now. You know, I was so anxious. And you know, in some senses what I said we were a bit early. Probably. That's true. So the University of Limerick, and also, under the sea did a deal for our intellectual property, we did a deal for way to whole bunch of students. And we moved the company out of the university, I wanted it out to the university. So I wanted a real separation between what we did and do well, and what appealed to commercial aspect of what we were doing. And like the university, as I said, they were, they were amazing, they allowed me, myself and mark to remain as academics, okay, full time academics and to do the company. And that took a lot of creative thinking. And what we did is, they also, they assigned us our intellectual property, which means our intellectual property was owned by the company not licensed. And I know that that isn't done now. But it was such a really good thing for the company. It gave us huge freedoms later on and raising money and enjoying strategic relationships. So you know, I know that's not done nowadays. But it was it was great. So, so we ended up taking our PhD students into the company, thankfully, as they started to graduate. So we had this well, what's the word? I'm looking for conveyor belt of amazing, amazing people that we took into the company. And yeah, but you know, don't get me wrong. It was it was hard, because you know, we were new with this new what managing VCs knew what that relationships, they were raising money. And then finally, we got to strategic you know, for the the deal, the exit happened, and that was great. But it was it was tough, but fun. You know,


Dusty Rhodes  16:52

it's fascinating listening to you taking on this problem of having an idea and wanting to run a company to implement that idea, and the reasons why you did it. And it didn't work. The first time didn't work the second time, the third time it did work and to you, you had good partners and stuff like that. Eventually, you have to sell it, which is always you know, kind of heartbreaking. Did you make much?


Tara Dalton  17:11

Yeah, we did



it. Okay. So yeah, so we put a number on a Tyra Yeah, okay. Okay. Yeah.


Tara Dalton  17:19

So, so we ended up selling, so we raised about sort of maybe six, 7 million, and that we sold it for almost $50 million, which, which is a really nice return for everybody. Because if the company hadn't got had a really nice, simple cap table, it wasn't hugely diluted. So you know, it was good. It was good in that regard. So I think everybody did, did well.


Dusty Rhodes  17:40

Well, all I could do, I'm literally standing up and applauding. Good on you fair play, okay. Because it's brilliant. Because you follow that through and you worked on all of the problems and you had some success. Okay, as somebody that was great. And it was 2010, he sold us somewhere around Yeah,


Tara Dalton  17:55

then myself and Mark White to work for the company. The acquirers were like technologies that term proficient out. So we went, we took then a two year leave of absence to work with the integration of the technology into into which was, again, I got to work with a multinational for two years, which was really exciting. And that was still that was really different. And, you know, I teach my students, we do live, we do med devices, and we do like a Dragon's Den. So I teach them, you know, and one of the things this exact same thing you do with selling an idea to a VC, you'd sell an idea to your bosses in a multinational this is same thing, it's the same ideas. And so we, you know, we had that experience as well of kind of integrating the, what we were doing into, into a US multinational, which was, you know, which was, which was different, that's for certain.


Dusty Rhodes  18:46

So, as well as teaching and inspiring people in University of Limerick, still, you're also the CEO of ultra tech, as I mentioned in the intro, now, you're leading a team of over 20 engineers and scientists there to a layman like myself, can you describe what it is that you're working on?


Tara Dalton  19:01

Okay, so so I'll check it. I'm not a founder Valtryek there are two founders, one of the founders, I knew because he was founded, he founded his previous company, the same time we, I found his Stokes bio, and he was in the university as well. So and we were funded by the same venture capitalist, so we kind of knew each other. And then, you know, we kind of both he sold his company successfully, I thought line that we kind of got together. And he said he had this idea of, he's a silicon designers, electronics engineer. And he said, Oh, you know, could I do something with silicone in the bio space? And I was like, you know, it's really interesting. You say that, because there's been this huge explosion. So I know that that live technologies brought a secrecy company for silicone. I think they bought it for north of 600 million. Okay, so it was a huge acquisition. And there were some other companies that was nanopore, there was a few and I said, Juno's on the champ. I said, Yeah, you know, there's, there's an idea there. So he went away, and he kind of thought about it. And then no other venture capitalist said, you know, Tara, you know, you know Hold this space because, you know, I'd been in that kind of bio space, etc. And he said, You know what, you'll be on the board. And I was like, hey, yeah, absolutely. Because I'd been back in the university for a while I was doing some work on cancer stuff on stuff on heterogeneity of tumors. And I was like, Oh, I'm kind of feeling the itch again, now to do something outside of that. And so I said, Yeah, I'll be on the board. And then a week later, he goes, target you CEO. And I was like, Are you kidding me? I was like, oh, gosh, no, you know, and I said to my husband, I was like, Jeff, I said, Oh, God, this is Tony, you have to, you know, you have to like, so I was like, okay, okay. Okay, I'll do it. And so basically, what what it is that it's really compelling science. And it's so interdisciplinary, it's basically it's a methodology, or a product that can take that can detect any virus in a non clinical setting. Very importantly, it doesn't use an enzymatic step. So you would be aware, Okay, everybody, listen, he says, Beware of PCR, every, you know, if I was to tell everybody, there's like, three, four years ago, pre COVID, they look at me blankly, but now kind of people get it, right. So you know, what PCR is, you know, how the importance of it, and how, cuz it's such an accurate technique for detecting any virus from COVID, to flu to, you know, to HIV doesn't matter. But the trouble with PCR is, it's a technique that you can't really take outside the laboratory or the clinical setting. And so we've invented a way that can do that. And it uses a combination of, you know, really novel chemistry, biology, and micro fluidics, which is kind of white area, and silicon chip design. So it's really difficult. And it you know, it's been tough, you know, the technological development will just help. But if it wasn't taught me, it's not going to be worth it, right? Because you will say, well, then it is tough because it is so groundbreaking. And so it's going to change the world, in my view for for viral detection, in my view, but but it is, it is technically challenging.


Dusty Rhodes  22:06

You've mentioned several times, as you're always thinking about where the puck is going to be rather than where it is now. And when you talk about Ultra Tech, I mean, that was 20s, mid, mid 20, teens, whatever you were involved in that was it.


Tara Dalton  22:18

Yeah. Just prior to COVID. Exactly.


Dusty Rhodes  22:22

My point, right is because you got involved in this, and then COVID came along, and boom, your company is perfectly. Yeah,


Tara Dalton  22:28

it's so funny, because we wait a video we to do in 2000 2019, or just before COVID In November, we to do a presentation in Boston, and party me to make a video of what your technology does. And initially, we had on the video, this will this would be you know, suitable for pandemic management and etc. At that and Marty came up. The difficulty was we were our technology was too early for it. You know what I mean? Like, and when you get a crisis situation like that, what happens is, is you reposition old technology, because that's what you have to do, you don't really have the time to to invent something new. But what a crisis does is you reposition old technology. But then what it does is it makes people aware that oh my gosh, there's there's a need there, you know, there is a need for us to be able to, to manage pandemics in a much better way than obviously what we then what's happened. And there's going to be technologies that are going to enable that whether we get there whether we were in the race, I don't know. But we're definitely in with a chance.


Dusty Rhodes  23:33

I absolutely love how your brain works. Because seriously, because you think research development, innovation is very much key to you. You're kind of always thinking about the future. But you always seem to spot a gap in the market. And what I wanted to ask you is Do you even know in your own brain, how you are able to spot a gap in the market? What how do you weigh things up when you when you're looking at?


Tara Dalton  23:57

I think I think, first of all, I don't know whether I am or not, you know what I mean? I think that that remains to be seen. But anyway, I think it's because I generally, that's the broadness, this was not the deep dive person, like, you know, it's looking around you. So I've just gotten funding now for our next company, which after Ultratech and you know, and we were just doing the the early research now in the university, and it's on, it's on the immune system. It's on immunotherapies. And, you know, if I'm just asking you say, oh, yeah, okay, you get that because, you know, if you were to pick up the newspaper 10 years ago, you wouldn't read about immunotherapies you wouldn't think about it. Now we know we think about like the immune system, autoimmune diseases, allergies are our understanding about how we react to vaccines. immunotherapies for cancer, you know, that's exploded in the last 10 years. So again, we're going to need engineering behind that technology, you know, behind that science to support the growth in that area. So that's, you know, it's just it's just kind of watching and thinking that's new. Debrett's breaking signs really is where she wants to keep an eye on for me, that's what I keep an eye on. And then


Dusty Rhodes  25:04

when you see something that you think has potential, you look into it a little bit further. And then


Tara Dalton  25:10

you know, the the virus say, I mean, that's, that's kind of obvious if you though I mean, if you think about it, all the outbreaks that we've had no stars, you know, that you just know, and you know, it was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen. It was not a question of, of if it was, it was a question of weighty. Okay. I mean, you know, that's, that's 100% I mean, everything from the Spanish Flu guys, you know, it's just, it's just a matter of when, and we were lucky this time,


Dusty Rhodes  25:38

why are you so confident when you say that COVID Was it was a matter of when not if


Tara Dalton  25:43

it because there's been because others always outbreaks, there's always outbreaks, and all you need is the right conditions. So if you take something like, if you take a virus that is that, like kills people quickly, that is probably not going to spread much. It is something that spreads a lot, it's probably not going to. So all you need to do is just get that balance, right? Where a you know, spreads quickly, and it has a potentially devastating effect, that's going to happen again, of course it is, you know, and if you think about it, you know, how the world has changed global travel or interaction where something may have been contained. You know, I remember saying to somebody, you know, five years ago, I said, we will listen, somebody would use the word quarantine and in our lifetimes, and would hear the word quarantine again, you know, we were probably going up, did you ever hear the word quarantine in the 50s? You would have heard it hear when people had scarlet fever when people had people quarantined? Now, it's, it's, you know, obviously, we tried it, it's, you know, it's not really feasible. It's you know, so we need other ways of managing when these when these things happen. And it's got to be a combination of understanding and technology in my view. So


Dusty Rhodes  26:50

I think anybody in listening, I mean, I've my own ideas, my own radio broadcasting podcasting business about where it's going to be in 10 years time, there's engineers listening to it, and the guy, oh, my God, and she's right, because I know that in 10 years, time bump is going to be a problem, or this is going to happen again, or whatever it happens to be. If somebody is listening to you, they have a big, innovative idea in their head, but they just don't know how to move forward. What What would your advice to them be?


Tara Dalton  27:17

I think I think it depends where they are, you know, where they are in their we're in a physically working as well. And well, opportunities they have, you know, obviously, it's somebody's in a university there, you know, that's the that's the ecosystem, I understand. So I can, you know, very easily direct them. If somebody is in a multinational company, or somebody is not, I would have less understanding about how they would go about you know, about doing that. I think, regardless, ask for help. Everybody asked for help, go talk to people go talk to enterprise Ireland, go talk to lawyers, go talk to VCs, ask, and don't go say, I want one just say, What should I do? How could you help me? What can I do? And you'd be surprised? How many people will give you their time. And you'll be surprised at it? In my view? You know, we had we have top lawyers in Boston who did stuff for us pro bono, because they just think oh, yeah, this is really cool. We'll do that. And we'll be we'll make our money later on when they're successful. You know, there's a lot of people who will do that for you. So talk, go out there and share your idea.


Dusty Rhodes  28:31

I love the fact that I'm speaking to a lady who has sold a company for $50 million, and says that ask for help because it's what you did. And people were willing to step up. Isn't it amazing how Yeah, humankind


Tara Dalton  28:43

can even now no matter what you do, people come to me or I still go to meet with it. Okay, you know, I need help here are, I'm not sure. People who worked for me before and still do not work for me and outreach. I could work with me and Outotec and anybody, you start to build that community, and it's true, I will, I will call like, next PhD student or somebody I knows, crikey, I need help on that. Or they can call me and say, Tara, you know, to remember that you wouldn't give me an hour of your time. As like, yeah, of course you don't I mean, and I you know, I love it. So and people do love being asked for help.


Dusty Rhodes  29:16

That's brilliant advice, and I can't be overstated so much, how good that advice is and my own experience, I know that to be true. The other thing that I want to ask you about Tara is your approach to problem solving and again, thinking of an NGO saying I've got a brilliant idea and I want to go but it's too much oh my god, how do you know I have to get over this humongously big wall which I don't know how to get over how am I going to do it you're good problem solver what way do you break down that problem?


Tara Dalton  29:45

Well actually interesting. So I'm actually I'm a bit more the way you just like oh my god. Oh my god. Like John like that isn't They do jam via the site like dig, watch, scrape. Have you gotten into today? I was like, Yeah, I know. I know. I know. And it's like, and he would say, okay, you know, what can you do tomorrow? You know, stop borrowing Tobel it's got too much interest, you know what I mean? Just what can you do? And the person I worked Davies, who I worked with as well, he was really good. He never flapped he never let perfection get in hinder progress. And so I just say, Okay, let's just make progress. And and really, I had, but I, I have to be consciously aware of thinking, Oh, God, you know what I mean? What have we committed to? We signed the contract to do something like what have we done? Knowing full? Well, it that's going to be a really a hard ask, and then you think, Okay, nope, let's just, let's just put the head down. And don't think about it. You know what I mean? Literally just say, Okay, let's not have that hinder the small progresses, you don't have any so so yeah, but I would be more the way you described it, then I would be, you know, like auction, this is fine.


Dusty Rhodes  31:05

I've written down a sheet of paper here, never let perfection hinder progress. I'm gonna type that up. I'm gonna stick it on the wall. It's gonna stay there for six months.


Tara Dalton  31:13

Yeah, don't I mean, you know, to meet our, to our children, you know, children get on with it, you know what I mean? Rather than it will, because you can get this, if you see this huge problem, it's like, you just wrap it in the headlights, you just look at it and go and feel paralyzed. And then you just gotta go. Okay? No. And also, I think having people around you that you can see that too. There's a there's a guy I love listen to this. It's Simon Sinek. But he has his eight minute rule. And he says, like, you should have a team around you that, you know, for eight minutes, you could rant and that they're not instantly you know, sometimes you don't want somebody in solution space. You just want somebody to listen to you go like, Oh my god, oh my god, this is terrible. This is not going to work. What's going to happen that anatra and you give yourself eight minutes. That's it? And then it's over and over again. So So you know, I think I think you have to allow yourself that feeling and then say, Okay, push it away. Now, let's get let's let's get let's get on with it. You know, so, Tara,


Dusty Rhodes  32:13

I have to say like listening to you, and just chatting because I have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit in me. And I have, I like to call myself a sound engineer. That's, that's that's how I get away with just presenting this particular thing. But like many engineers, I see problems and I want to fix them. And I want to make the world better. And I think you know, your success is amazing. And after listening to you for the last little while, you're now guarding my world. Okay? Well, this is it. Okay. That's what I wanted to ask you was, you know who people who are listening now who are inspired by you? What would you say to someone who's listening to us right now? Who does think you're an inspiration? Are you God? Are you a normal person?


Tara Dalton  32:56

I'm an engineer. I'm an engineer. Engineer. Those of us out there who do you know, who to all day see solve all these problems all the time? You know, and, and there's ones that artists zillion many, and I like, like Chad, when he was with this much better engineer than me, like, I'm always going to him with solving problems, you know, you know, Mark is much better. So yeah, you know, there's, I think I would say cheese your problem wisely. Often, in my mind of, for an engineer, they're often too focused on solutions, right, you solving problems. But if you want to, if you want to sort of have a impact, do that, choose your spend time choosing your problem, like, like when we were doing Stokes whale, like Mark and I spent two years in America watching what people were doing, and seeking out that landscape. So don't be afraid of taking time to figure that problem out. It'll be the solution. Anybody can do that, to be honest with you, like a lot of people if you give them a good problem, and you set the boundary conditions on that problem. And you say, okay, look, this is the kind of area that most most people weren't there salt can do that. I think that cleverness in my view, and is choosing the correct problem at the right time. That so that's what I would say, spend time doing that. And talking and socializing it and thinking of it and testing it, and arguing it. And that's why it's great to work with people because you get all that feedback. You know, it's like, if I say to you, look, I'm thinking of doing something there and you're like, why are silicones doing that? What's your angle are you know, I mean, don't be afraid to just let that argument be battered around a bit. And and it'll form much better outfits are sorry, I talk way too much apologies. Listen,


Dusty Rhodes  34:48

I can listen to you all day. Tara, I think what I was trying to get across was that what's inside of you and what's driven your success is inside all of us. It's an engineering in trait, and I just think listening to you and as I say, being inspired by what you're saying we can go off and we can just make our own lives a little bit better. So I just wanted to thank you very much for sharing with us today Dr. Tara Dalton, CEO of Altratech and Assistant Director of the Stokes Research Institute at UL Thank you.


Tara Dalton  35:17

Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


Dusty Rhodes  35:19

If you would like to find out more about Tara and some of the topics which we spoke about today you'll find notes and link details in the description area of this podcast right now. Also, if you enjoyed our podcast today do share with a friend in the business just tell them to search for engineers Ireland in their podcast player. Our podcast is produced by for Engineers Ireland. For advanced episodes, more information on engineering across Ireland or career development opportunities, there are libraries of information on our website at, until next time from myself Dusty Rhodes, as always, thank you for listening

From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Dr. Tara Dalton, CEO of Altratech

Engineers are primed to think on their feet and solve problems in record times, but dealing with the weight of a whole country’s emergency call service requires lightning approaches and a ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude.

Today we dive into the world of the most important telecommunications operation in the country, the Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS). We learn how the service operates in ways people may never consider and the contingency plans that help it weather any storm, or pandemic.

Our expert guest has been at the cutting edge of data and communications in Ireland since the introduction of the internet and is now Head of Operations with ECAS, Michael Kelly.

Listen below or on your podcast player:


  • How Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS) operates
  • Problem solving in an industry with 99.999% uptime
  • Adapting to weather and pandemic phenomena
  • Lessons learned from introducing the internet to Ireland
  • Why we shouldn’t fear AI and start seeing it as an asset

Michael Kelly - Head of Operations - Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS)

Michael has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry including his role with PostGEM where he helped introduce the public internet during the late 80s/early 90s. He has also served as Director of the Internet Services Provider Association of Ireland until he joined BT as their Head of Engineering Planning & Design. Since 2012, he has been Head of Operations for the 112/999  Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS).

Engineers Journal AMPLIFIED is produced by for Engineers Ireland.


For your convenience, we include an automated AI transcription

Dusty Rhodes  00:00

Right now on AMPLIFIED the Engineers Ireland podcast, we get behind the scenes at 999 and hear how their engineers handled the biggest emergency of our time.

Michael Kelly  00:09

We brainstormed on Thursday afternoon. We had a prototype on the Friday morning. We proved the prototype Friday night. We built our production officers on Saturday and Sunday. And the first calls were taken from home Monday afternoon.

Dusty Rhodes  00:26

Hi there, my name is Dusty Rhodes and you welcome to AMPLIFIED the Engineers Journal podcast. In this episode, we're about to dive into the world of telecommunications and hear how an engineering mindset is vital to keeping up with operations in a fast paced industry. Our guest today has worked extensively in the area where his career has taken him from the birth of the Internet in Ireland to the last few years, where he's acted as the head of operations of the emergency call answering service with BT. I'm delighted to welcome Michael Kelly. Hi, how are you doing?

Michael Kelly  01:02

I'm great. Dusty great to see you. Thanks for having me.

Dusty Rhodes  01:08

Listen, can I start with the emergency call answering service, it's kind of something that we take for granted, you just dial 112 or 999. But a few of us very few of us understand how it actually works. How do you explain the service to people simply? Well,

Michael Kelly  01:24

I think everybody's familiar with the concept of dial 909, or 112. And you're put through to the emergency services, I think the majority people probably assume that it's a guard, call taker or a guard who actually takes the call. That's not how it works. And in most countries, that's not how it works. Generally, there's what we call a stage one service. And that takes the emergency call and determines with you the caller, what is the emergency service that you really need. And in our case in Ireland, that can be Garda, ambulance, fire or Coast Guard. So that determination is made, we gather some information, we also are gathering some technical information in the background that you wouldn't be aware of. And then that is passed as a package, the video, the data, the metadata, to the emergency service, and that you get the help that that you need.

Dusty Rhodes  02:19

I have in my imagination that people are making a phone call, you talk about gathering information that people aren't aware of are you able to take things like you know, could the location of a person's mobile phone or their number or where the area they might even be? While

Michael Kelly  02:34

like most things in life, it's about location, location location. If we can find you, we can help you. If we can't find you, we can't help you. It's as simple as that. So the technology has been improved, I suppose from 99 goes back to about the 1930s, where location would have been communicated verbally. But the problem with that is that the caller may not be particularly variable, or they may be completely unaware of where they actually are, or they have unfortunately met with such an incident that they no longer remember where they are. So to get over that technology has become even more important than actually getting an address or location from the caller. So over the last probably seven or eight years, we've improved our mobile communications, particularly such that how it works now for the majority of calls and the majority of calls these days, probably 75 80% of emergency calls are made on a mobile phone as opposed to a fixed limit. In the background, the handset is using various location technology is giving a GPS coordinates of exactly where you are. And in parallel to the call, we use SMS, where there is no record on the phone at all of us. But it's used to transmit and transmit continuously updated locations. Typically, the first location that we get is relatively inaccurate, it might be maybe 200 meters accuracy, but by the time we get the second or third one, it may be down to two meters accuracy. And that happens within 15 to 20 seconds.

Dusty Rhodes  04:18

First problem I can see coming up with this is GDPR and data protection, they're held to how do you get over that problem? Very,

Michael Kelly  04:25

very simple. There is an actual carve out in the data protection legislation, which basically says in layman's language, well, if this is an emergency, then all bets are off, and it's in your best interest that we're able to find you. Now having said that, we go to enormous lengths to protect that information. People probably assumed that you know, we just pass on the location willy nilly. No we don't. It's only passed to the emergency services. Occasionally we will get requests for call recordings and other info about calls. And it is only when people have satisfied the very, very stringent, most stringent requirements that our call recording might be released. And of course, it has to be strictly relevant to the person themselves.

Dusty Rhodes  05:12

Giving people help and getting them help fast and knowing where they are. I mean, they're all very important of what kind of levels are you dealing with? I mean, how many calls you get a day or across a year? How quickly do you answer calls, that kind of stuff uptime is another?

Michael Kelly  05:25

Yeah, uptime is another thing. I'll come back to that. to your first question. We do 2.4 million calls. So 200,000 a month 50,000. A week 6000 A day. Having said that, that isn't a complete answer. Because it's, I suppose I would say that emergency calls are extremely predictable. We're dealing with human beings worldwide. And they work in very predictable patterns. And that's an area that I'm very interested myself to share predictability of it is is quite fascinating. But 6000 calls a day, it probably folds to maybe five and a half 1000. During the week. As the weekends come in, it gets a little bit busier. And in particular than Friday nights, and Saturday nights would be the busiest of all. And clearly, Friday nights and Saturday nights can also fall into the small hours of the following morning as well. It also has a there's a little bit of a different pattern between emergency calls to police, our guard and to ambulance ambulance, the volumes grow through the day on a very, very gradual basis, peaking probably around 11 or 12 o'clock at night, whereas Garda calls would probably start to peak earlier in the day will be much more erratic, up and down. The other thing that's fascinating as well about it is that a guard a call from start to finish, and one of them one of our jobs is that we record everything and all data for evidence purposes for the courts and for for investigations. The guard call typically takes about two minutes, 120 seconds, the average ambulance call takes about six minutes. But with a very, very long statistical tail, we would have some cards that would go up to 2425 minutes. This could be for a number of reasons. Either there's a difficulty with finding the person, or actually there is a paramedic providing information or instructions to the call or or the the victim Unfortunately, while the ambulance arrives. If I'd say one thing about e commerce, it's all about data. It's really, really very statistically driven. I'm

Dusty Rhodes  07:38

fascinated to hear how you say that the calls to emergency lines are very predictable. It's not anything I would have expected you to said, Can you give me an example of that kind of predictability on on a call? Well,

Michael Kelly  07:51

I can tell you that the this if you like what I would call the safest time of the week, is about 1030 on a Tuesday morning. And basically how I would rationalize it is that everybody has either gone to work, or they've gotten they're already in school, or haven't gotten out of bed yet. But they're not going anywhere. Because actually the chief determinant of nine on calls, believe it or not, is weather. If the weather is bad, we'll get more calls. Now, that doesn't mean that more people are necessarily out and about, it just means that they're more likely to get themselves into a spot of bother more likely to have a car accident, they're more likely to trip, they're more likely to slip. And obviously, the more severe the weather becomes, the more accidents that are likely to have. Ironically, even though there are probably fewer fewer people out in the boat. The other way of looking at it is that and I suppose unfortunately, and this is not unique to our but in most countries in the world, Friday nights and Saturday nights are where people get themselves into the most trouble, probably the most severe trouble. And it's it's when response times by the emergency services tend to backup a bit. Now, I would say that emergency services are built around the peace. But during busy periods, there's always going to be some sort of a of a wait. But the job of Ecosse is to somehow ease the path through to the emergency services. And even if they are busy, and they're not in a position to answer that particular emergency call that we will do a decision to reassure the caller make sure that they don't title because, again, in a panic I think a lot of people's instinct is I'll hang up and dial again. Well, if you do that, you'd go back to the beginning of the of the queue. So our advice is always just stick with us. Listen to the instructions. We'll get you there.

Dusty Rhodes  09:51

Can I ask you that as well about uptime? It's a phenomenal statistic. What is it? What is your uptime guarantee? Our uptime

Michael Kelly  09:58

guarantee as well, first and foremost, some people say, Oh, well, it must be 100%. Well, as an engineer, I know that nothing is ever 100%. So what we commit to contractually, and I don't think this is a state secret in our contract with government, but it is what we call five nines, 99.999%. Now, that's a very glib figure. But the truth is to make that work, we have to duplicate replicate quadruplicate systems, so that we've got a huge amount of redundancy in the various systems. Basically, no one issue can take out the entire platform. But the bigger challenge for us is that the system itself, we we, we need to maintain it, we need to patch software, we need to replace hardware, but it's it's like the It's like that old adage about the 747 in the air, we're changing the engines without landing the plane, we cannot say to the public, oh, we need to do a big job on E casts. So I'll tell you what, we're going to take it down nine o'clock on Friday, but we'll be back on Monday morning. That doesn't work. So there's never a good time for us to do maintenance. So therefore we do, we're constantly working on the system round the clock, and making sure that our change control is absolutely state of the art engineering was so that, even if we do make a mistake, or if we have a problem, we can roll back without anybody realizing that there was ever a problem in the first place.

Dusty Rhodes  11:31

It sounds like you have your system and then the backup for the system and then a backup for the backup system. And then a backup backup for the backup system, which you know, I'm delighted to hear that but from an engineering perspective, can you give me an example of the kind of infrastructure that you have in place? Okay,

Michael Kelly  11:47

yes, we have two operator centers. So this is where call takers can take calls. We also have connections to them, they can also work from home, which is also part of our contingency in case, we have big storms or something like that. We have two data centers, we have to backup operator centers. And we have to backup data centers, all interlinked using multiple carriers by multiple telecoms companies. Some people think one, once they hear that BT operate this, that it's all BT telecommunications links in between all of the sites. And with that number of sites, it gets incredibly complex to make sure that we've got redundant paths, and resilient links and so on. No, we actually use every telecoms provider in the state. So we use ESB telecoms, we use IE Nash, we use air, we use BT in all honesty, and a couple of other players as well. And we use a variety of even within those telecommunications networks, a variety of different telecommunications protocols and techniques, so that we're not reliant on just one protocol, like IP or something like that. We have we have backups, little backups.

Dusty Rhodes  13:06

And tell me about the engineers that are in the organization because engineers play a very important role within the cancer organization, what kind of problems that they have to solve on on a regular basis, I

Michael Kelly  13:17

suppose the basis would be that they would be all IT specialists with a very heavy emphasis on telecommunications as well. But on top of that layered in, they would have skills in in software, but also a very, very good working knowledge of handsets, particularly mobile phone headsets. And you must remember as well that we've got to be able to support calls the highest level with the highest bandwidth that we could get from the humblest, oldest Nokia phone that somebody only uses once or twice a year, all the way up to the latest Apple and Samsung handsets. The other thing that we need to watch out for is software changes on the handsets, sometimes inadvertently, depending on the manufacturer. And I won't mention any names. But sometimes issues creep in with regard to emergency calls, that were actually designed to help the more ordinary run of the mill, cause a good example of a of this year was it was in the, let's say, the Android sphere. But it had an impact on all manufacturers of Android handset. So it wasn't a particular manufacturer, a change was introduced. So that if you picked up your Android handset irrespective of make if you pressed a number of times on the side and I don't want to specify the number for obvious reasons. If she pressed a button on the side of the phone a number of times it would automatically make an emergency call. Now that generated over about a year. I don't want to put a finger on it either but a shoe huge number of silent calls, calls that should never have been made. Because people didn't know when they might notice that that evening when they pick up their phone, and they see all these 112 calls, and that that was just basically down to a software change that was designed to help other issues within within the phone. As emergency services, we don't want it to be too easy to make emergency calls, we want it to be delivered. Okay? Because otherwise, you can have a situation where, you know, people literally walking down the road with the phone in the back of their jeans in their back pocket. It can it can ring emergency services. So it was well intentioned, but it went wrong. I suspect that problem generated probably a billion calls worldwide. Wow, it would have affected every country. Well, what I can say is because because of our engineers, I'm one in particular, I think we were probably the first country to identify what the problem was. And then in conjunction with, say, our colleagues and other in other European countries, and we do work very, very closely together. And because, as I say, dealing with human beings who do tend to behave in the same way, they use the same sorts of equipment to interact with emergency services. If we see a problem in one country, 10 to one, you're gonna see it in every other country. So we do cooperate very, very closely. So that's probably the best recent example that I can give you. I

Dusty Rhodes  16:28

don't want to dwell on this because it's over, fingers crossed. But when COVID hit, that was an emergency that was developing so fast, and everybody just had to run with it. I'm sure E. CASS was no exception. And everybody was told to work from home. How did you handle that problem?

Michael Kelly  16:44

Well, right up to that point, that was the middle of March and in that year, and I can't remember which year it is now, because it's all a blur. But up to that point we didn't have working from though there was never any requirement for us. And in fact, if I'm honest, Our preference would be to have people working in centers, because all the technology is there. And they have access to engineers. They have it. They're working in centers, which are designed to work 24/7 have generators, if there's a power outage, and so on, which is completely unlike our own homes. So I think it was a Thursday. And we said right, we need to build a remote working as solution. So we brainstormed on Thursday afternoon, we had a prototype on the Friday morning. We proved the prototype Friday night. And we built it or productionize it on Saturday and Sunday. And the first calls were taken from home live calls, not test calls, Monday afternoon. Now, I will be the first one to say that, you know, we work in in BT, which is, you know, really as an engineering lead company, I think if I had put out a request, let's develop that capability in normal time, it probably would have taken six months, because we would have gone through all of the things that you have to do in terms of testing. And, and so I'm not to say that we didn't do all that we just did a hell of a lot quicker, which much, much more focus. But we then moved over to a situation where very, very quickly, I think probably 70% of calls were taken from home. The other thing that we had to do, of course, is that staff were used to working with a workstation rather than a laptop, so would have had a purpose built PC, essentially in old money on the desk in front of them. So we had to we've we've about 6570 people taking calls around 24/7. So we had to procure 70 laptops plus spares at a time when everybody else was looking for laptops. Now luckily, I was able to pull in a few favors and BJs a big company. So we were able to get you know, access to certain stocks and so on. But that was the other worry, you know, it's one thing to get the technology right. But then are you actually will you have the tools to use. And I think that's probably where a lot of companies organizations probably slipped up well meaning in a well meaning manner, they were able to get the technology to do what they want, but it just kind of fell off the last part.

Dusty Rhodes  19:18

That was an amazing feat. And all I can think of is as you tell that story is this is why we need engineers in the world. Boom, boom, boom, problem solved. Tell me aside from COVID, because that is an exceptional circumstance. What would you say was the was the second biggest emergency that you've had to deal with in your time?

Michael Kelly  19:35

Well, I did say before that the biggest determinant of emergency calls, particularly when it gets out of that predictability phase is weather. And I will think back to the various storms that we've had on this one back in 2016. We've had some years where we've had maybe one or two kind of hurricane type storms and then over years we We've had maybe nine or 10 success weekends, where we've had really, really bad storms, that has an effect on the public because that, you know, there's going to be more accidents, even if they don't leave the house, they might fall down the stairs, and that that still creates challenges. But what it meant was the weather was so bad on these occasions. And don't forget that we had not got home working, or remote working available at that stage, we still needed to get people in sites. So what we did was we increased the number of sites. And that's when we, in addition to our two permanent sites, we brought in we built contingency centers, so that the centers were actually closer to staff. And then the other thing was, with great cooperation from our staff, I have to say, we, we said, Well, look, we might, we may have to work longer shifts, but we will put you up, we may even put you up in in centers, right with sleeping bags. Now actually, as it turned out, we didn't we didn't really have to go that far. But what we did do was we would put staff up in hotels next door, so that they didn't have to go home. And our only ask of them was look, bring a bag, we'll bring it back for, you know, five days or a week, we really don't know how long this is gonna go on. But we will, you know, a bit of, I suppose bit of thought goes into us while it's stressful at the time, and you think, Oh, how are we going to solve this problem? Nothing is impossible, if you set your mind to it. And that, you know, genuinely is our mantra is has to be that way. We can't just give up. So I think I think that would probably be the the other the other issue. Obviously, we've had technical challenges over the years. But generally, through a combination of backups, and so on, we've been able to overcome that. And the great Irish public wouldn't have even been aware, Michael,

Dusty Rhodes  21:51

you're very much at the cutting edge. If you want of technology. I hate that phrase. But you're dealing with Watson now, which is fantastic. And you're probably looking at what's coming in the near future, which is fantastic. Let me take you back, though. To many, many moons ago, when you worked with post gem, which was a section of on post. And I love I only learned this recently post gem stands for Global electronic messaging. That's how far back we go and pre email all those are pre texts or pre SMS or whatever, maybe. Can you describe to me what post jam was but also of key interest, the set up between them and Ireland's first internet service provider at the time? Ireland online?

Michael Kelly  22:31

Okay, yeah, well, it's a whole subject in itself. But to start with, with post, Jim, it was a subsidiary of, of unparsed, actually decentral as a as a separate company, abroad in people with I suppose a certain amount of it or telecommunications, background plus a lot of marketing, because it was essentially what it was set up to do was to try and develop a new market. And if you if you could cast your mind back to the very late 80s 1989. This is pre mail, or builds went in the post. And that's where on POS came in. But thanks to the foresight of of a couple of very, very clever people, even then they realize that hard copy as it used to be referred to probably wasn't going to be there forever. And the on POS needed to start thinking about the future. And it was it was certainly the first, I think, a pulse office in the whole world that started to think that way. It was very, very pioneering. But when we got the was all very well saying it was electronic mail was very much in its infancy. I think I had you know, I had used it in my previous IT career to probably, you know, communicate with a few other people and maybe with some some vendors, but it wasn't in general use. And it was also quite slow. You know, you didn't get an email instantly wait like we did today. But once post jam got up and running. Initially, I think our first service was people could send in communications like bills or RS circulars electronically. And then we would actually print them and put them into a letter. So it was electronic to hard copy. But it's amazing. That sounds ridiculous now, but it actually got people into the idea. The other thing that we introduced was Electronic Data Interchange, which was electronic to electronic. And basically that was sending purchase orders and invoices from one company to another, completely electronically. And using a set of standards that worked very well. But as become the precursor of what we know now, I would say even pretty much like if you were to go on the various well known websites and order books or whatever, whatever it is definitely the precursor of that. And then also the third service that we we introduced and was pretty much the precursor of electronic mail today. At the only difference was that it was it was a connection rather than to the intranet. It was connected to an A network of other nodes around the country around the world. And only people who were subscribed to those those services or don't note could send and receive emails, it wasn't completely open system like we have today, where you can send an email to someone you don't know or you've never you've never met. So with those three services in mind, they began to pick up traction, and people began saying, okay, and actually, we had a lot of visits from other post offices interested in what we were doing, and then to underlie that. And I suppose maybe this is something that I brought to it, I realized that in order to really make this work, we needed to have our own network at that time, due to legislation and licensing. And so really, the underlying telecommunications had to be telecom era, which as we know, was the monopoly back then. So we got the first value added services license, a value added services license allowed you to offer value ads over a telecom service. But then we went, we said, right, we will build our own data network, our own packet switched network. And that actually became the precursor to our our cooperation with Arvind online. So to answer your second question, Arland online, or IOL, was becoming very, very successful in the in the marketplace, there was a real appetite there for communications. And I think also as well, because we have a certain amount of time, we had a certain amount of insight into the demographics, Ireland was becoming more open. People were emigration, there was a lot of immigration, people needed to communicate. And, you know, instant communication was was what it was all about. And bear in mind, mobile phones were still expensive to you know, to ring somebody for five minutes, or even landlines for five minutes. Whereas electronic mail was free. And you could send as much as you wanted, you could set it say as much as you wanted to mommy or daddy, there were there were no limitations.

Dusty Rhodes  27:10

It was a huge time of change around then, and very exciting. And it was kind of like Ireland was dragging itself out of the darkness of the 70s and the 80s. And all of a sudden, I mean, we we were winning Eurovision, every year, that's what I remember the 90s. All right, and it meant we could do anything. And then we have the football. And we were actually at a World Cup, we could do anything. And then you start talking about this electronic mail, email and mobile phones were becoming more common, as you say. They were very expensive. It was an amazing time. And then Ireland online. I was working with to FM at the time. And I remember, you know, kind of because we were in the younger end of RT, it was myself and Barry Lange. were kind of interested in this internet thing and what it was all about. And then we started incorporating it as part of our programs. And then everybody then wanted an email address. And of course, we were every day on on the air. And the story goes is that Bertie Ahern, who was T shock at the time was listening. And he went, What's that? I want one. And so that's that's it from my point of view in that I thought those kinds of Eddie, very early days of the Internet were quite heavy. What how was it from your point of view introduced the internet to the great Irish public.

Michael Kelly  28:23

It was really, really exciting times. I mean, very exhausting, very, very long days. But we were we really were making it up as we went along. You know, the pioneers and IOL Colin Greeley. And Barry Flanagan like we're real flagbearers for the whole thing. But what I suppose what we wanted to do was try and let them get on with what they were good at doing. And I think what post Shem brought to it was we were pretty good. We mastered the art of infrastructure, and also how we could we could post modems and so on out these days, you'd probably say, well, modem, why would you use a modem. But, you know, back then, the Internet was about getting a CD on that stuck to a magazine, and you'd stuck that CD into your PC. And it gave you a certain amount of software, which allows you to control a modem, which you have to use the home telephone line. And we it was it was quite slow, but it worked. In order to make IOL work and make it successful. We needed to have modems all over the country, because what we discovered very, very quickly was that someone in in Cork or Limerick, probably some of our listeners would say for obvious reasons, they wouldn't be prepared to die of Dublin. They wanted a local number. They wanted a local cork number or Limerick number and so on and so forth. And I think at the end, we ended up with 26 points of protests around the country in order to take in those calls. And we also had to build a fairly substantial backbone, network to form through all of that internet traffic, I think what made it even more exciting was that we just could not have anticipated the demand. As fast as we could put in infrastructure, it was gobbled up. So much so that I was dealing with. And at that time, most of them would have been Silicon Valley based companies that provided the equipment, they wanted to send us the very latest equipment, we'd be the first in Europe to use it, they might only have one or two been used maybe buy AT and T or America Online in the States, they could see that something was really, really happening here. And it was it was growing really, really quickly. And the other thing that we were able to do was because nobody had any real experience in this, we were recruiting from the universe, universities, just graduate engineers, guys that we guys and girls that we taught, you know, which would really enjoy this. And it just threw them in at the coalface and learn what needed to be done. And I can't say there was a plan, the plan probably changed every week. But it worked. And it it's it's one of the things that I'm proud of Southern way all career, I have to say. Because the internet now we moved from a situation where I think when when we went on post Bosch, Ireland online with post Sham, I think we was about 14,000 subscribers. Now there were a couple of other voted, but there was probably probably 25,000 Internet subscribers in the whole country. And that was in 9697. Now everybody use that ubiquitous, you couldn't do without it?

Dusty Rhodes  31:37

Do you have a particular story you'd like to share from that time?

Michael Kelly  31:42

Well, I do, I don't know whether it's a good story or not. But one of our struggles in Ireland online particularly was the connections to the internet. These days, people don't need to really understand how it all works. But back then we needed a connection to the outside world. And bandwidth are the pipes from Dublin to the rest of the world. Were extremely expensive. One stage I we had a 1.5 megabit connection to the outside world. Nowadays, people have, you know, I think over a gigabit into my home, just my house. So we were doing everything that we possibly called we were trading bandwidth with various providers, talking like in lots of money, like it was getting into the millions of pounds at the time. So one of the things that we did do was we we did a deal with a satellite company. Now everybody talks about satellite and you know, watch what Elon Musk is doing. And there's lots of satellite companies. But we had a headquarters on them Earth's for terrorists. At that time, we got special permission. And we did lots of licenses, because nobody was doing it to put this great big, huge satellite dish up on the roof. So Barry Flanagan and I got it working. And we said that we will look let's let's try it, you know before and we'll have it to ourselves, right? See what we can do. So Barry and I were up on the roof. This is a six story roof, where we probably really shouldn't debate to be perfectly honest. But we we plugged in a laptop into the back of it, just to see how it will perform. And it was it was going great and we tried different things. And then I pitched my arm and the laptop fell off the wall or word straight down onto the ground. It's fair to say it didn't work after that. Luckily, it didn't land on everybody. I

Dusty Rhodes  33:37

could just i All the picture in my head is just a pair of you looking. And then there's pure silence. jaws dropped pure silence. It

Michael Kelly  33:45

was it was the longest, probably 15 seconds of my life. Because a bit like Icarus, when things are going badly, time just seems to slow down. A

Dusty Rhodes  33:56

lot of what you're talking about Michael is you're talking about introducing the Internet to Ireland and satellite connections and a one five point 1.5 meg for the entire country. It's ridiculous when you think about it. Now. Another thing that we talk about all the time here, and we're very blase about it because we're one of the huge biggest centers in the world for it with Facebook and Google, Microsoft and data centers. They're everywhere. It takes 20% of the power of the country in Ireland goes just on data centers. You are the man who installed Ireland's first ever data center Tell Me More

Michael Kelly  34:32

probably some politicians would prefer that I had not done this but it yes it is true. I joined I became part of East that telecom as supposed to finish the the post Jeremiah Well story was sold to Dennis O'Brien, you may have heard of. So I moved into to ESA telecom and you know, there was there was a bit of a change around responsibilities and so on. So Oh, Dennis, as, as he did said, Well, look, are you looking for a challenge? Foolishly? I said, Yes. And he said, Well, look, one of the things that we need to do this this thing, data data centers, that's that's going to, that's going to be the next big thing. And I'll be honest, which I was skeptical myself, or really did what he said, but think your demand for this because, you know, it's datacenters are what's going to drive the internet. And I think up to that point, I certainly thought I didn't have as foresight sure, is foresight was that the internet needs lots of power and lots of space disk space, and it needs performance, these availability. And that that basically is a one line summary description of a data center. So he said, right, got to do this. So he said, I think we could get a building out and citywest, which was only really been built at that stage. Now, of course, a very mature business. But back then, it was it was nothing and it had no fiber or any of the telecommunications into its, which was what we really needed. So I think he said this to me at the end of November. And he said, I needed up and running at seven months. Now, I hadn't even seen the building when he said this, and the building was only half built. What that was the challenge. And it was, it probably was the most stressful period of my career. When we did it, by the end of June, with a very, very small team. We built a data center, it was the first of its kind, I did go and have a look at a couple of data centers in the States. I think we brought back some good ideas about it, particularly around availability, we hadn't been thinking about that. So generators was something that we spent a lot of money on. And we also had to fight tooth and nail to get telecommunications in from the various providers so that we could connect these these data service servers. And we got it up and running. I think we had our first customers running probably the month before, and probably about 18 months later was false.

Dusty Rhodes  37:07

Michael, I could chat to you all day. So just let me wrap up one or two little questions about new technologies. Because like everything you're saying, you you literally have been at the development end of everything right throughout your career. So AI is continuous learning. This is what I want to ask you about. I mean, it's not vital for engineers working telecommunications that don't mean is that something nicer is CPD something you should do? Is it vital for working in telecommunications in areas like that.

Michael Kelly  37:37

It's absolutely vital. I think when I started out my career, there was probably a very much of an emphasis on third level education. And it had, it definitely had its at its place. But however you were trained, or whatever you were qualified, and it was seen as a means to promotion. I think organizations are definitely a lot flatter now. And if you want to be really valuable to an organization may be having that master's degree or even a primary degree is not going to help you it gives you some of the tools to learn and maybe to be curious. But I think you know, CPD, getting short courses and technology is really, really valuable, you become much more valuable to an organization.

Dusty Rhodes  38:20

So it's going to ask you was how do you do? I mean, how have you done that CPD just to keep up to because you do you're right, you get your degree and you get on the first rung of the ladder. And that's it, your degree is worthless. After that. You need to keep educating yourself keeping up to speed How did you do at work in such a high level?

Michael Kelly  38:36

Well, the 1990s that is certainly the late 80s 19 1990s, even though we had the internet, and it was still an emphasis on books, and you would you would buy books, and you would learn that way. And you would experiment. Then something changed in the in the vendors, the people who sold the routers or the routers and all this telecommunications equipment, they realized that it was changing very, very quickly. And some of those got into training themselves. Good examples would be Cisco, with their certification schemes, relatively short courses, but they weren't internationally recognized. And I saw people so well, not only would it make them better at their job, but it made them internationally market. So if you know one of our young engineers, and suddenly did decide to go off to Australia or America, they had a recognised qualification. But I think that that's probably brought us up to maybe the 2010s. Now, I think it's it's almost going back. I think you do need the hard qualifications, like the masters and the bachelor's degrees. And so with the speed of change is so much that by the time of course comes out and more importantly is recognized. It's nearly out of date. So you've got to become a sponge. So to answer your question, I think I went from a very much a kind of a rigid book learning type of individual because that's what I was. That's what I was taught to maybe true the experience and so on that you've got to have your antenna, working all the time, operate as a sponge, soak up as much information as you possibly can. Some of its useful, some of it might actually lead you in a different direction that maybe didn't even know was was there. But that curiosity is something that that makes you valuable to the organization. And the more valuable to an organization, the more successful you will become.

Dusty Rhodes  40:32

Let me ask you a humdinger of an awful question. Just to wrap it up. Right. Right, because we haven't mentioned AI. I'm just interested for you who has been so successful, seeing things with potential and then seeing how they could work in the future and then successfully getting them there. You're looking at AI for the last year, we do you think AI will have us in 10 years time,

Michael Kelly  41:00

I think in 10 years time, I think it'll be slower than we thought everybody likes thick. Obviously, there's a lot of hype, I see it first and foremost, in the next 10 years as maybe an eight in your ear, whatever it is that you're doing. Say it could be anything from working in a contact center, it could be a programmer trying to write a difficult bit of code, almost that kind of help or coach in the ear. I see it as specially in them hectic areas. I don't know much about us, if anything at all. But a good example to me would be something like air traffic control, right? If an air traffic controller were to miss something, there's enough technology out there that you know, by tracking people's eyes on the screen, that the AI or some system feeding AI could say, I think he's missed that vital piece of information. Or let I think I should whisper this piece of information in her ear. It sounds incredible Bush a lot of the things that AI can already do were incredible, even five years ago. So I on the one hand, I think it will be slower. But I really do see it as as eight, I do think it will be transformative as well in certain industries. I think the first area where it could really transform is in contact centers, because it AI should be able to deal with different accents, and should be able to deal with different languages, it will be building up databases and other types of bases that are going to apply. And with just the laws of physics, you're able to apply that at the speed of light, either to a screen or you know, to generate something that you call out in the air of somebody, it to me it it has to be transformative. I don't think it's something to be frightened of. That's something that really annoys me. It's like all technology. But I think back probably 200 years ago, when the steam engine was invented, there were probably people given out about that as well. And it wasn't the be all and end all the steam engine transformed into something else. And AI and time will transform into something again,

Dusty Rhodes  43:18

I often see AI as being like the early days of the Internet, which we both experienced in the in the 80s and 90s. And it was the wild west of the Internet back then. Whereas I think we're seeing the A it's the wild west of AI right now. Michael, unfortunately, we've run out of time if you're listening and you'd like to find out more about Michael or some of the topics that we talked about today. There's some notes and link details in the description area of the podcast but for now, Michael Kelly, head of operations of the Emergency Call Answering Service at BT Ireland. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Michael Kelly  43:49

Not at all Dusty, it's been an absolute pleasure.

Dusty Rhodes  43:53

Do remember for advanced episodes of our Engineers Ireland podcast, more information on engineering across Ireland or career development opportunities, there are libraries of information on our website at Also do share a podcast with a friend in the business just tell them search for Engineers Ireland in their podcast player. The podcast is produced by for Engineers Ireland. Until next time from myself Dusty Rhodes. Thank you so much for listening. Take care

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