Day 2 of Tech Trek 2017: A Day of Surprises

By Paul Tallon, Ph.D.

Our first day, Monday, set a very high bar for the quality of our site visits and, dare I say, for the quality of questions from the 25 Loyola students for our various hosts and presenters. What surprises lay in store for us on Tuesday.

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The day began in atypical fashion: clear blue skies with a fresh breeze and dry sidewalks. Walking to our first visit of the day at Ellucian, we strolled along the banks of the picturesque and historically significant Grand Canal—the canal that links Silicon Docks in Dublin to the River Shannon.

Ellucian, an ERP company with whom Loyola has had a 20-year relationship, is the company behind Webadvisor and Colleague… so if you are a Loyola student, faculty member, administrator, or staff member, yes, you’ve seen them before in one form or another.

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We were welcomed by video by Dan Maier, a Loyola alum (Class of 1996) who is now a Senior VP at Ellucian. After an office tour where we met and interacted with personnel in R&D, sales, software development, and IT operations, we got to learn more about Loyola’s pending transition of Colleague from a server in Loyola’s datacenter in Knott Hall into the Amazon Cloud. The Ellucian team fired a lot of technical jargon at the Loyola group, but the big picture definitely sunk in. The cloud is here to stay and moving to the cloud is a no-brainer for colleges seeking flexibility, adaptability, and agility.

After Ellucian, we walked to a building adjoining our hotel to meet with Amazon Web Services. With the story of Loyola’s move to the cloud fresh in our minds, we listened to another technical presentation on how Amazon Web Services (AWS) has emerged as a world leader in cloud services. AWS presents itself as a provider of infrastructure as a service (IaaS). AWS offers an array of over 90 different infrastructure services. You’re almost certainly a user of AWS even if you don’t know it. If you have you watched a Netflix video recently, searched Expedia, or watched a PBS show, you’ve used AWS. Next, it was time for a AWS demo. In the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph, an AWS solution’s architect stood up a fully functioning web server complete with security and database connectivity. We ended the site visit with a recruitment discussion. Yes, AWS wants to hire Loyola students. Location is not an issue. And if you want to work in Dublin, well that’s possible, too.

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After lunch, we jumped onto the LUAS—the local tram system—for a 20-minute journey to the Microsoft European Development Center (EDC) in Leopardstown, a suburb of Dublin. Our host was Regina Murray, Senior Director EMEA for Microsoft Education, and her colleague Mark Fitzsimons, a client solution architect for Western Europe.

We learned about Azure—a competing product to AWS—before turning to a conversation about machine learning. Using FAQ data from different parts of Loyola’s website, Mark—in a matter of seconds—created a machine learning QnA demo that allows users to type questions and receive edited responses, based on the answers that Loyola has posted to its FAQs.

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Next we watched a demo of technology that extracts keywords and phrases from recorded videos in multiple languages. By clicking on these keywords, you can then jump forward to the relevant part of the video where those words are spoken. Even more interesting is the ability to conduct sentiment analysis of the recorded video. So you can see at a glance whether the speaker is projecting positive, negative, or neutral terms. I can see myself playing with this technology when I record videos for my online classes. We also spoke about recruitment. Microsoft is open to recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds and, yes, our Loyola students were interested in following up.

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So, overall, today was probably the most technical of all of the five days we’ll spend visiting companies in Ireland. We learned about the cloud and the people that work in the cloud. We heard about graduate recruitment. We caught a glimpse of future technologies… virtual reality and cognitive computing. We have a newfound appreciation for what it takes to run IT infrastructure and the opportunities that come with moving to the cloud.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Dublin before we catch the train to Cork. We have scheduled visits to AOL and Intel, plus an alumni event where we’ll get to meet with four Loyola alumni who now live and work in Dublin.

(Lastly, I have to give a shout out to Loyola CIO Louise Finn. Louise was instrumental in introducing me to all of today’s hosts. Next time you see Louise, be sure to thank her.)

Follow the students’ travels here.

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