My Griffith Story: From Global Game Jam to Jaguar Land Rover for Computing Science Graduate

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Computing science graduate and Jaguar Land Rover employee Donal Byrne recalls the fond memories he forged as a student at Griffith. Since he commenced his education, there have been ups and downs, including debilitating health issues which almost jeopardised his college plans. Donal speaks about his course and his Griffith experience with passion. 

Inside the Mind of a Graduate: Donal Byrne

I have always been really excited by technology, especially video games. As a kid, I would spend hours sitting in front of a screen trying to beat a level or outperform my friends online. I am also a little competitive and don’t enjoy losing. Aside from video games I always loved to create things, whether it was drawing, painting or building Legos, I could be enthralled for hours. As I got older, I discovered how people actually built their own video games and I was immediately infatuated with the world of coding and game development. In particular, I loved creating the AI for the games enemies and the non-player characters (NPC's).

From Student to AI & Algorithms With Jaguar

During college, my passion for software development and AI grew. By the time I reached my final year, I knew that the only job I wanted was in AI and machine learning. Since leaving Griffith I have joined the AI & Algorithms team at Jaguar Land Rover. Here I get to work with some incredibly smart people, experience cutting edge research and most importantly, every day (and some nights) I work on projects that I love. 

The Importance of Project Management For an FYP

When I was about 13 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that left me bedridden and housebound for days at a time. So during secondary school, I didn't make it to a lot of classes and subsequently quickly fell behind my classmates. Failing the leaving cert was a very real concern for me and I was constantly worrying about what options I would have after school, if any. Luckily I was able to pass my leaving cert and apply to the Computing Science BSc (level 7) in Griffith College Dublin. After deferring my first year of the course, my health issues were finally resolved and I was able to give college everything I had.  

“With the help of my lecturers and the friends I made while at Griffith I excelled in my studies.”

I continued into the level 8 BSc (Hons) in Computing Science and graduated top of my class with first class honours, an achievement that I previously thought was impossible.

The Griffith College Lifelong Learning Experience

I learned a lot during my time at Griffith. Looking back I can pick out several key points that helped me to grow. During 3rd year, students have the opportunity to take on an internship for the second semester. This experience was invaluable for me and taught me essential skills that played a big role in where I am now. If possible I would urge future students to start looking for internships early and take every opportunity they can.

Another key part of my college experience was my final year project (FYP). Up until this point, the projects and assignments are relatively small and manageable, the FYP is different. You need to take a project all the way from brainstorming to completion. You need to do real research as well as being able to report your findings clearly and professionally. 

“Most importantly you need to act as your own project manager. These are skills that are essential for your future career and was a big part of how I got my first job out of college.”

Aside from the course work itself, I was able to pick up invaluable soft skills and grow as a person through simply being active with the Students' Union and getting outside my comfort zone. During my time at Griffith, I took part in writing for the college magazine “Griffiti”. As a computer science student, it’s very easy to just focus on the technology and have blinders to other key skills that developers sometimes put to the side (like communicating with other people). Griffiti gave me the opportunity to get experience writing for people and learning how to share my thoughts and opinions while still maintaining a person's attention.

Finally, I need to give credit to all the lecturers that took the time to help me throughout my time in Griffith. This took the form of helping me work through bugs, sharing personal insights and simply encouraging my growing enthusiasm. 

Computer Science is all About Perseverance and Problem Solving 

There are a lot of misconceptions about computer science as a degree. First, people think that you need to be really smart or really good at math in order to do a subject like computer science. Trust me - you don't. It helps, but it's not a deal breaker. The real skills required to do well in computer science are problem solving, creativity and perseverance. Everything we do is problem-solving. Very few things work as you intended and you will spend 90% of your work trying to figure out why. To excel at this type of work you need to be able to problem solve; you need to be able to look at things in new ways and come at issues from new angles. 

“Most importantly, you need to not give in when it seems like you will never find a solution. You will, you just need to keep at it.”

If this doesn't sound like something you would enjoy, then maybe computer science isn’t for you, but trust me when I say there is no better feeling than when you finally solve the one problem you have been working on for two weeks (ok there might be better feelings, but it's still pretty good). Also, computer science is going to involve a lot of code, so it’s a good idea to try a bit of coding before you throw yourself into four years on the topic. Within an hour or two you can be up and running with your first programmes. There are plenty of free resources online to get you started. If those two hours felt like torture, you will have a pretty good idea that this course isn’t for you. But if you are left itching to learn more, you know where to go next.

Memories are Made at Griffith College

Griffith College has an amazing Students' Union that gave me some of my best memories in college. Whether it was during the numerous trips across Ireland, the society nights out or just the people that I bonded with over the years, I always had a great time. Aside from the SU, I loved getting involved in the tech community. 

“An annual highlight for me was the global game jam (GGJ), an annual hackathon held in various sites across the world.” 

Each year thousands of people participate in the event to build a video game in 48 hours. For the past several years Griffith has hosted one of the Dublin sites for the Global Game Jam. These were always amazing. The GGJ gives students a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals in the tech industry, experiment with new ideas and learn how to work with time limits.

What Inspires You?

The people who inspire me the most are my friends and family. I’ve been really lucky to be surrounded by people who are smarter and more hardworking than myself. My parents have provided me with good examples to learn from while my friends are constantly raising the bar that I use to judge myself.

“A good friend and mentor of mine told me that if I wanted to be as good as him at coding I would first have to match the number of hours he has dedicated to that skill.”

That would get me to the point where the skill gap stopped increasing. In order to reduce the gap, I would have to do all the work that person was doing, plus an additional 20% in order to one day catch up to him. Having people like this around you in your day to day life makes you want to strive to become better.

Embrace the College Experience; The Social and Study Balance

My final piece of advice to prospective students is to make the most out of college. Grades are important and the higher you score the better position you'll be in when you leave, but don’t forget to take advantage of all the opportunities available to you. Although I was pretty active in college, I regret not taking part in more extra-curricular activities and side projects. Get involved in the SU, socialise with people from other courses, work on passion projects, volunteer, become active in your chosen industry and give it everything you have.

Interested in computing?

Learn more about the Computing faculty at Griffith College!