This post originally appeared in StartupCity in the Galway Advertiser on the 14th of January 2015. StartupCity is a weekly column written by Tracy Keogh on the budding startup community in Galway.
It was by relative chance that my first job was in startups. In university, the career days focused around big companies hiring big intakes. Moving to a startup (with no knowledge of tech at the time) was one of the best moves I made. People often ask about how you get started at a startup, so I asked Mike Rockall just that question.
November 2011. IT250 in NUIG. A group of people from NUIG, GMIT and the tech community in Galway were kicking off an app development competition called CodeNinja. I was convinced to attend by a good friend of mine who insisted we go ‘for a look’. I distinctly remember the introductory pitch, the explanation of the competition and the strange group games intended to break the ice between the people in the room. The competition was straightforward, two months to design, build and submit an app. No requirements. No specifications. Build whatever you like.
I was in final year of college but this competition quickly took up most of my free time. That same friend pitched me an idea and within a week we had our first working prototype. Two months and several iterations later we submitted the app to the competition. We were awarded first place in the team section but for me that was only part of the prize. Two weeks later Paul Killoran, one of the competition’s organisers, approached me about a job in his web development company called Starlight.
Joining Starlight was a no brainer. Despite my recently acquired engineering degree, coding websites and applications was what I wanted to do. I just had no idea that career path was open to me, never mind it being available in Galway.
Paul had been running Starlight for a number of years but his real baby was Ex Ordo. Ex Ordo is a suite of software designed to make the process of running a conference as seamless as possible. The company had been around a number of years but never got the attention it deserved because of Starlight. At the end of 2012, Paul and his co-founder Dermot made the decision to close Starlight and focus all of their attention on Ex Ordo.
I moved over at the beginning of 2013 and at the time was the only developer working on the codebase. It felt like I used a cheat code. There I was, not one year after leaving college, as the sole developer in a company with real customers who had a real problem waiting to be solved. I was in a position of significant responsibility and had no choice but to raise my game to meet the challenge.
Over the next couple of years our dev team went from two to three, then temporarily to five when we had two NUIG interns join us. Today we have four full time developers. There’s eleven people in total in the office — the third office we’ve occupied since I joined. This one, however, is only a stopgap until we move into the PorterShed sometime in 2016.
My role has also changed dramatically in those years too. At some point I’ve been a designer, a teacher and several different types of developer. Just before Christmas, my career at Ex Ordo took another leap when I was was appointed Founder and CTO. The challenges around here never stop, they just get bigger.
I owe a tremendous amount to the startup community in Galway. Since I’ve joined it, I’ve been in an ideal position to witness it’s significant growth. Competitions like CodeNinja have been replaced by Startup Weekends. There are community events happening almost every week. Startlab, the PorterShed and the GTC — to name only a few — provide opportunities for companies to grow like Ex Ordo has done. There never has been a better time to be involved in this industry in Galway.
Four years ago, I took part in a small app competition. I never thought it would have such an effect on life. It fuelled my interest in coding, introduced me into the tech community in Galway and kickstarted my career. With all of the work ongoing in the startup community these days, I’ve no doubts that the same opportunities will be able to others in the future.