Digital Skills Academy
Graduate Gregory Payne: A Journey of Lifelong Learning and Innovation

Graduate Gregory Payne: A Journey of Lifelong Learning and Innovation

Greg Payne is a fellow on the NUI Galway TechInnovate programme. He currently serves as business representative on the Techinnovate defence team. Greg is a graduate of Digital Skills Academy’s BSc Honours in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation (Project Management Stream).

Greg Payne, pictured centre in photograph

What did you get out of the course, what did you learn?

The course provided learning opportunities in a number of critical skillsets, both in terms of enhancing existing skills and building new ones. As I was on the project management steam, how to apply agile methodology in project planning & execution was of major benefit. I was impressed with the inclusion of computational thinking (problem solving science). Not many courses offer this on their curriculum.  I think the Digital Skills Academy were very forward thinking in including this because it has proved very advantageous in my work to date.

What are the pros and cons of taking the course online?

I was accustomed to online learning from having undertaken courses of that nature previously so it didn’t pose any major challenges to be honest. That said, I have a young family so study was a juggling act at the best of times. I made a point of getting up early before the rest of the house to get a headstart on the day.  I don’t miss the 5:00am starts!

Once I became familiar with the online learning portal and was interacting regularly with fellow students it was plain sailing. Often fellow students answered questions I had prior to a lecturer replying to a query. I learned as much from my peers as from the course content by engaging regularly and I am indebted to many of them who shared fantastic resources and information that helped me along the way.

What were the advantages of working with the industry partners / entrepreneurial project?

I was lucky, the concept I pitched for the Major Project was chosen as one of the entrepreneurial projects to bring forward. From a learning perspective this was invaluable. Prevously I sometimes found it challenging to fully grasp and understand theories in relation to specific topics I was learning. However, in this instance, it was different as I could apply what I learned directly into something I had a passion for exploring. Having the opportunity to work on an entrepreneurial project, particularly your own really facilitated “sticky learning”. The process of creating a pitch alone was extremely useful and is something I recommend all participants try.

What skills did you learn from working on the entrepreneurial project?

The main take away for me was my approach to failure. Previously I allowed setbacks in concept development to frustrate me. Now instead of trying to avoid it, I now embrace failure because I understand how setbacks along the way are part of the agile mindset of continuous refinement. I went from trying to avoid failure to embracing it and understanding how critically important it is for the entrepreneurial journey.  The path from concept ideation to getting your product or service to market is a long road and so it is better to experience setbacks early so you can improve it as much as possible. This is a very important lesson and teaches you to remove your emotion from the process and focus on the most important factors, the ability to provide a solution to a need and an incredible user experience.

What benefits did you get out of working in a cross-functional team?

This was an interesting and beneficial contrast to some of the specific core content such as UX and responsive design. The course had a nice combination of learning hard and soft skills. While the entrepreneurial project facilitated the application of the hard skills, working in cross functional teams provided the opportunity to apply the softer skills acquired. In industry at present there is a very strong emphasis on collaboration. I don’t think enough courses place a premium on this. On the entrepreneurial project the interdependence on team members was very high and this gave a realistic experience of how collaboration occurs in industry. Unless you have experienced the real world challenges and setbacks of product development you are only dipping your toe in the water. Working on an entrepreneurial project in a cross-functional team proved beneficial as you learn very quickly how to remain composed and focused to get the project over the line.

What type of project did you develop when on the course?

My background is in sports performance so my product concept revolved around creating a SaaS product to monitor health and wellness for young athletes.  We completed a prototype as opposed to a beta version of the product. In hindsight this was a wonderful stroke of luck as I discovered that there were a number of competitors in this space using cost structures that would heavily undermine the proposed business model the team put in place. Based on these findings I pivoted and I'm currently working on modifications.

What was your speciality?

My speciality during the course was Project Management. Leadership and organizational culture are areas I find really interesting so the content of the modules aligned really well.

What were your goals when you started the course and did you achieve them?

My goals prior to starting the course where to enhance my ability to build my own business. I am passionate about the innovation space, and I really like pushing the boundaries of ideation and product development. Having completed the course, I feel I am now in a far better position to drive my business on to the next level and get a product to market.

What are you doing now and how did the Digital Skills Academy help you to get there?

Currently I am a Fellow on the Techinnovate programme running out of NUI Galway.  This is a specialist technology innovation programme based on the BioInnovate Ireland Fellowship, modeled on the Stanford Biodesign programme.

This 10-month, full-time, programme combines teams of high-calibre Fellows from either an engineering, business or design graduate background to align the domain needs with a market opportunity. Team members are chosen to contribute their skills, knowledge and expertise as part of an interdisciplinary Fellowship team.

This is the first year the programme has been run and the focus is domain Agriculture and Defense. I am the business representative on the Defense team. We have just recently completed our immersion phase with the Irish Defense Forces and are presently in the process of needs filtration.

The Digital Skills Academy was instrumental in my gaining acceptance on this programme. As part of the application process, applicants had to undergo a number of very unique and rigourous challenges. This included building prototypes in teams and presenting your proposed concept to the remainder of the group, formulating short and medium term marketing budgets and speed interviews. It was one of the most challenging, interesting and enjoyable interview processes I have ever undertaken. Without hesitation I can easily say what I learned from the Digital Skills Academy had a very large bearing on my successful acceptance onto the programme.

And anything you'd like to add / we should have asked you?

Having not come from a traditional technology background, I was unsure if venturing into a domain outside my comfort zone was wise or not. However, having completed the course it was one of the most fulfilling challenges I’ve taken on. I learned a tremendous amount of hard and soft skills, made some great friends and grew immensely during the whole experience. The fantastic help afforded to me on the course by tutor Damien Downes and Participant Experience Coordinator Kat Baker was really helpful too.  Their contribution to my learning experience was superb and greatly appreciated.