Conor Flannery

Co-Founder and CTO
Cytidel
IT and telecoms
BEng Electronic Engineering and Computers
2014

This will sound cliché but when I was in 6th year and going to all of the open days, Maynooth was the one that I immediately felt at home in. I loved the college, the town, the people I met and before leaving for the day had decided that this was the university I wanted to go to. 10 years later and I’ve no regrets.

The Engineering Dept in Maynooth was a lot smaller than some of the other large departments in the college. At the time, each year wouldn’t have had more than 30 students and so it was very easy to build relationships with your lecturers and there was very much a close-knit vibe around the place. I remember I used to just go and sit and chat with certain lecturers between classes, sometimes to talk about college work, but usually to just chat. While it might not seem like much, coming from secondary school and being treated like an adult and equal by your lecturers had a big impact on me. Violetta McLoone and Andrew Meehan were lecturers that I would often look to for advice and always leant an ear when needed. 

As an engineering student, the problem-solving mindset that is instilled in you is something that you can apply to almost any job. When I went to work for Accenture after graduating, I applied very little of my academic knowledge to my role. Accenture was not an electrical engineering company after all. However, completing a degree is not just about the specific knowledge you gain from your modules, it can be about the transferable skills you gain from your studies and from the environment you’re immersed in for 3 or 4 years. While I may not have been building electrical circuits or solving complex maths problems in my work, I was able to apply my problem-solving mentality to any of the challenges I faced at the beginning of my career.

As I progressed through my career, especially since co-founding Cytidel, the technical ability that I learned in MU, the programming classes in particular, have been front and centre. As CTO, I am currently the lead software developer for the business. Without the passion for programming I gained from my degree, I would never be in this position.Secondly, but no less importantly, Maynooth helped increase my sociability. In my 4th year I joined and took part in a number of societies after some coaxing from friends. I joined the Lifesaving club. I campaigned for a friend in the Student Union elections, I started saying yes to any event going (which was very unlike me in previous years). This might not resonate with many, but getting out of my comfort zone in that way made me a much more well-rounded person. It’s also how I met my wife… so there’s that too!

I have plenty! I asked for a letter of recommendation from a member of the Engineering department while I was in 3rd year. He sat me down and asked me questions about what I had done since joining the university – had I done anything of note within the department, did I have any projects I was working on, had I applied for the SPUR programme, etc etc. A long list of questions to which every answer I gave was “no”. At the end of our conversation, he told me that to stand out, doing your classes and getting good exam results might not be enough and that I should look into expanding my extracurriculars. I didn’t like this response, I was frustrated by it, my ego wouldn’t stand for it! As I began to progress in my career and now as someone who interviews and employs people, that kind of thing is something that stands out for me. As much as my 21-year-old self would hate for me to admit - That Engineering Dept lecturer was right, in a way. I’m not saying it’s something you have you to do. But it can help. Take the internship, do the extra training course, attend the seminar.  

My last bit of advice is for anyone still in the University or coming to attend the university next year. Jump out of your comfort zone earlier than I did. Obviously, your studies are an incredibly important but there is so much more to be enjoyed in MU or any college when you are open to it. It doesn’t need to be sports, it doesn’t need to be about partying, there are literally societies full of all different kinds of like-minded people. My one regret from my time at Maynooth is that I didn’t take advantage of those kinds of things sooner.