Digital Skills Academy
Meeting the Challenges of Cystic Fibrosis Head on with Distance Learning

Meeting the Challenges of Cystic Fibrosis Head on with Distance Learning

An Interview with Digital Skills Academy participant Christopher Mulvany

What is your background briefly?

My entry into the world of I.T. and the Internet began back in 1995 after finishing school.  I applied for one of the first distance education courses in Ireland which was run by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland. This provided certification in Word-processing, Spreadsheets, Desktop publishing and HTML.  After this I got started in the world of web development with a contract for the (then) National Rehabilitation Board (NRB).

From this time I progressed to work in various roles as an I.T. Technician, Systems Admin, Software Developer and back again to web developer and designer.  In the 00’s I had my own web development business and Internet hosting company which was a massive learning curve but one that stands to me today both as a person and in experience.  Today I feel more comfortable in both management and development roles and enjoy the crossover between both.

How did you find the programme?

I came across this course offered through the Digital Skills Academy in conjunction with the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), as a 1 year Level 8 add-on.  I had graduated from the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) in 2010 and had been looking for a Level 8 add-on course but found nothing of real interest to me.  The collaboration between the two organisations also was a massive plus as the course was built around market need, so the chance of employment after graduation was higher.

The new DIT Campus in Grangegorman, Dublin, Ireland. 

The BSc (Honours) in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation course provided me with the all-important Honours degree that many employers are looking for in the I.T. industry today. The course also allowed me to study subjects relevant today, Mobile Development, the MVC pattern, Responsive Design, AngularJS and the Lean Business Model.  Furthermore I could do this from the comfort of my own home, even if sick, I could continue my studies at my own pace from home or hospital.

Which stream did you choose?

I choose the Digital Technology Coders Stream as it involved many relevant coding skills which are required by the software and Internet Industry. I also had previous experience of the coding languages used and wanted to extend my knowledge within these areas and learn new techniques. I also felt having an Honours Degree in web application development skills and techniques would provide me with further employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

What are the challenges of your condition, and therefore the pros (and cons) of studying remotely?

One of the largest challenges I find is the time required to prepare and take the necessary list of medications I require.  My medications vary from capsules to nebulizers, inhalers, and injections with regard also having Cystic Fibrosis related Type 1 Diabetes.  Then I need to do at least 20 minutes exercise on my bike after taking my nebs to clear my lungs.  I also have clearance time where I use a device called a “PEP mask” Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) to help clear my airways.  All in all I would expect to spend about 3 hours per day on my health in terms of medications and exercise. To attend normal College courses can be an intense regime, where distance education provides the opportunity to better manage time between treatments and studies.

Another advantage is the opportunity to study and work with people without having to travel and be in communal areas where I can pick up viral or flu like bugs. Most people can combat these bugs, but I can be prone for them to develop into larger infections which can require either hospitalisation or home IV antibiotic treatment.

I find it hard to name a disadvantage to distance education and especially with regard to the Digital Skills Academy as they have provided me with great help and support to succeed on this course.

I suppose the hardest thing for me was asking for the help and support as you don’t want to come across as somebody who is “different” to everybody else, but you need to recognise you are. Having to inform team members you have an illness out of respect to them is another issue.  The other individuals on your project team are working just as hard so you have a responsibility to the team and explanation as to why you are out sick or unavailable for some time due to illness or hospitalisation.  It’s a matter of respect.

What do you plan to do after completing the course?

Right now I am working with two start-up companies one as more of a consultant and one as an equity share owner with two partners.  I also have several ideas which I hope to work on in the coming weeks and months ahead using the lean innovation skills obtained throughout the duration of the course in the last 12 months.  I like to have my fingers in a few pies and feel like the course has awoken my entrepreneurial spirit once again.

Which people are your inspiration both in tech and the wider world?

While a very obvious answer, I feel we lost a massive personality and tech innovator when Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011. His story from starting in a garage to Apple as we know it today is inspirational to all innovators and entrepreneurs.

I don’t think we have a character in the tech industry today, nor do I think we see as much of that type of start-up.  However as I write, the co-founders of ‘AirBnB’ started in this fashion and these three guys Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk are big inspirations to myself and the startup world.

Outside of tech the doctors, nurses and other civil servants who work in the health system in this country, on such tight margins are an inspiration.  From hours worked to the conditions they work in they are super heroes in my opinion.  However it would seem that no matter what government gets voted into power the health service is the one public service that seems to have hit after hit in reduced budgets and resources.

Where are you based? What do you think of the current Irish IT / tech scene?

I am based in Mullingar in the county of Westmeath which is more famous for its music exports to the nation and the wider world rather than our I.T. Talent, with stars such Joe Dolan, Brezzie and Niall Horan of 1 Direction all products of the area.

The Irish Tech sector is very exciting at the moment right across the board. Ireland lends itself to a large testing bed for digital and technological products and services which can span from Web to Wearable Technology and the whole area of IoT (Internet of Things) which I feel is going to be really exciting in the coming year and beyond.  I have a lot of interest in the IoT area with the costs of start-up kits like the Arduino Experiments Starter Kit approximately €120.  Add to this the amount of freely accessible information and project based tutorials available on the Internet to introduce people to these simple boards and you have a small glimpse into what the future may hold. Ireland is a prime location for IoT with the likes of companies such as Ignite from Intel, IoT Dell, and Infinite from EMC for companies to use Ireland as their springboard to develop products and services we haven’t even considered yet.

Finally I think there is still so much to come from the Digital, Big Data and Cloud products and services in Ireland.  Partner this with the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of Ireland and once again I feel there is reason for a lot of positivity and optimism for 2016 and beyond.

What tech makes your life easier?

I find the simpler the technology the greater the benefit to the end user.  To this end I have found the use of software tools like Trello and Slack to have changed how I not only organise my work but also my life.  I have a busy life with my wife, 3 daughters whom are the ages of 4, 8, and 10 and my dogs.  I need to make sure I get the balance right between work and family.

The greatest piece of tech that makes my life so much easier has to be my iPhone.  From monitoring my blood sugars, communicating with colleagues and friends, and all round communication and organisation of my life, I would be lost without it.

What tech do you wish was invented and available to help you in the future?

I have had to limit myself to two of my techs which I wish was invented to help me in the future.  The first technology I would really wish to be invented are Nanorobotics or as Richard Feyman put it “Swallow the doctor”.  In the health industry they would be revolutionary, imagine having to swallow a swarm of microscopic robots to repair damaged tissue, to fight a virus such as Ebola or fix a broken leg? The health possibilities are endless and it would be as simple as drinking a glass of water.

Second the famous “Teleporter” I grew up looking at Star Trek and their famous “transporter” which would send their exploratory teams from the Enterprise down to a nearby planet.  How I would love this to avoid all the nuances’ involved with going on holiday, the hustle and bustle and the delays involved.  Just grab a bag, your sunglasses and teleport to any destination in the world! Bliss.

There are many more like worldwide anywhere Internet access, tech to end hunger and drought, self-driving cars (when you wanted to have nap), and many more…

With so many notifications and online alerts how do you manage your online / offline activities?

Being honest I think I am a little like everybody else in that you try to put by 30 minutes to flick through what is important to you and what is not.  I then usually spend an hour at the weekend going through the important information after deleting 80% of the nonsense.  There are probably better ways but this seems to work for me right now. 

Christopher Mulvany is a participant on Digital Skills Academy's BSc (Honours) Degree in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation programme and specialises in the Digital Technology Coders Stream.