We need dreamers and imagineers!

We were really pleased to have the opportunity to talk to Geoff Allen, CEO of Athlone based company, Mersus Technologies, in advance of this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Mersus Technologies is providing students with a unique insight into the world of Virtual Reality through their activities for Science Week this year as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers event ‘Aspire with Abbott’ in Longford this week. Here is what Geoff had to say…..

Can you tell her a little about Mersus Technologies ?

At the genesis of Mersus Technologies in 2012, NUIG Huston film school graduates, Dermot Condron and Geoffrey Allen combined innovation with three decades of experience to create a dynamic new ‘creative first’ approach to digital media production. A holistic way that would see talented artists working hand in hand with peerless creative software engineers.

Since then, the team has gone about building the Mersus’ brand into what is now recognised as a knowledge leader in the immersive content space in Ireland. Working with manufacturing leaders Siemens, Camfil and Irish Manufacturing Research, alongside the National Institute for Biopharma Research and Training (NIBRT), Mersus Technologies is the number one choice for creative and innovative digital solutions.

Leveraging our Irish aptitude for storytelling, with Mersus’ artistic talent and deep technical knowledge, makes us Ireland’s No. 1 for virtual training. The AVATAR ACADEMY™ platform captures the kind of complex procedures common throughout the Life Science, Biopharma or Medtech industry for replay at the User’s own pace, increasing learning out-comes. 

Allowing trainees to learn the basics until they are comfortable and proficient with the required task will remove a level of expense and risk before they advance to the next level in what are tightly controlled environments. Historically, early adopters of disruptive technology are rewarded by substantial increases in their productivity and this aids their digital transformation. Mersus are confident that adopting the AVATAR ACADEMY™ virtual training platform, can add value across the entire value chain for industry.

The value proposition is anchored in creativity first, followed by computer Science/Engineering. With the emphasis on superior aesthetic values, backed by a deep knowledge of the technical performance required, Mersus Technologies deliver an unequaled User Experience.  This makes Mersus unique in the field, delivering a superior product to that of our competitors. All this takes place under one roof to guarantee the kind of data integrity required today. 

Our goal at Mersus is to create high-value jobs in Ireland, that will help businesses compete on the world stage, our core values are 

 

  • Embracing and driving change.
  • Create fun and have pride in our work.
  • Be fearless, creative, and open-minded.
  • Value Knowledge, pursue understanding and practice wisdom.

 

Many technology companies choose Dublin as a location, how do you feel about the Midlands as a location ?

I am loath to tell anyone about the fantastic quality of life and opportunity lest they all move here! I love Dublin but the Dublin where I bought a house for £32,000 back in 1990! The world of 2019 is one that sees and takes for granted instant communication and access to the rest of the world, all at our fingertips. My own career producing media straddles the analog realm into the digital where the scalability involved is frightening, and not set to slow down anytime soon. Therefore if you are in certain industries your location becomes agnostic. 

Dublin has shot up the ranking in terms of a centre of international commerce but then again so has the cost of living. We have the highest costs of building apartments and very poor quality apartments they tend to be too. Urban sprawl see lives wasted sitting in traffic and this all dissolves with a life in rural Ireland. Okay connectivity can be an issue but when you factor in the swings and roundabouts I believe living outside the Dublin hinterland offers pound for pound a better lifestyle for families. 

Our operational model could not exist in Dublin as I couldn’t afford to build what we have done in the competitive landscape where our stakeholders would be facing high rents, ridiculous childcare costs and long commutes. The cost base here is lower and demand on our team is far more laid back. 

The recent publication of the Collins McNicholas Midlands skills survey reinforces the abundant opportunities that exist in the likes of Longford, Ballinasloe and Athlone (Link to download PDF: https://www.collinsmcnicholas.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/CMCN-MIDLANDS-Skills-Survey.pdf). Our IDA are attracting global powerhouses to these shores and they in turn have supply chain demand that trickles down to every corner of Ireland, be it supply of goods or services to support these firms.

 

Is Virtual Reality design a good career option for a particular type of person ?

Oh yeah! First and foremost we need dreamers and imagineers. The folks who get lost in their own imaginations. The real beauty of my job is that I get to see the future. I am privileged to get inside all of the top facilities who are in need of Mersus to help them adopt Industry 4.0 methods. Last month we were invited to join some of Ireland’s leading companies on a tour of German industry; Marquee Engineering and Scientific establishments and the human involvement in these places is changing rapidly. Computing will never replace abstract thought and imagination. Artificial Intelligence tends to be deep and in specific areas and not broad and creative. It will be a while still before a computer can imagine and thus create and deliver a good story. 

You have an artistic flair: If you enjoy doodling and enjoy art in all its forms….

A good eye for detail: When designing for the user, it’s important to think about every single tiny detail – not just aesthetically, but in terms of functionality too. You’ll also need to revise and refine your designs until they are market-ready, so an eye for detail and a tendency towards perfectionism will go a long way.

If you are interested in technology: It’s such a multidisciplinary field, comprising elements of design, human psychology, problem-solving and business. You’ll rarely be stuck at your desk doing the same task over and over, so you need to be comfortable doing varied tasks and navigating an extremely varied to-do list!

You enjoy problem-solving: How do you create the optimal product within the given time and budget constraints, and how do you design for the user while fulfilling the business objectives? If you’re a problem-solver by nature, you’ll have plenty to offer in a VR design role.

You’re a good collaborator: It’s a highly collaborative field, requiring clear communication and solid teamwork. If you enjoy working with others and are confident when it comes to presenting your ideas, you will go far.

You’re prepared for a steep learning curve: with VR design here’s so much to learn and explore that it never gets boring. If you are brand new to the field, you should be prepared for a steep learning curve – but as long as you’re passionate, it’s always exciting. You’ll need to constantly upskill in order to succeed, and keep in pace with technological updates. If you’re a keen learner and always want to better yourself, VR is a field that will push you to do so.

 

If someone wanted to get into Virtual Reality design, what are good courses to consider? 

Mersus are very involved in shaping the future and helping in the development of courses aligned to our talent pipeline. Working with academic leaders like Dundalk Institute of Technology who we helped get approval for the first dedicated Bachelor of Science in Augmented and Virtual-Reality. This is a great college for the more technically inclined. 

For the more creative, we would recommend the Bachelor of Arts in Design in Galway/Mayo Institute leading into their Gaming and Animation strand. Again Mersus host work placement students from this course each year to give them some real world experience and a flavour of what a job in this industry entails. 

 

Others avenues for consideration would be:

 

An Introduction to Augmented & Virtual Reality | Virtual/Augmented Reality (Springboard)- AIT (Two levels).

Higher Diploma in VR/AR Development – DKIT.

Bachelor’s Degree in Design – GMIT – divides into Game Design Year Two.

Computer Science – Augmented and Virtual Reality -TCD.

There are many self learning avenues too with a lot of material available on YouTube, Udemy, Udacity and other online resources. These are very low cost options and where a lot of our team turn to.

If you could give advice to yourself as a Leaving Cert student knowing what you know now, what would you say to 18 year old Geoff!

Ha! I do love this question! Academics were never my strong suit! That said, I someday intend to finish my formal education in completing a PhD. I do love academia as it affords one the opportunity to debate and discuss with one’s peers without undue pressure. College is a fantastic stage of life but more for the social aspect these days given the gargantuan shift in the way we are learning via technology. Learning is taking a new form and the traditional education system that exists today is set to be disrupted. There is a fantastic array for online learning that is growing every day each day. Take for example… Sugata Mitra’s ‘The School in the Cloud documentary’. 

Never has there been a better time for you to follow where you feel you want to go.  Don’t seek things, seek knowledge. As purveyor of the virtual, nothing beats human interaction. Laughs, even cries are what makes us human. I still think that to be human is awesome, never before can we go everywhere and see everything at such a low cost. I had an interview in London in 1989 and it cost £300 to fly there!

I have had a charmed life of privilege in terms of education and opportunity. Those who have, need to give. The person with nothing will give you half of what they have, but those with much…. will give you nothing. The 50 year old Geoff knows now that we have a lot here in Ireland. The Ireland that I grew up in was monochromatic. Today we are blessed with many many cultures who contribute at many levels that Ireland today could not exist without.   

 

‘Everything happens at the edge of chaos’