Joanne McKenna (Letterkenny, 1977) left Donegal 20 years ago and worked in the hospitality industry in New York for 17 years. However, when she returned to Ireland, she decided to start a new career focused on IT. Joanne currently works in FireCloud365 company, based in CoLab (LYIT, Letterkenny) and provides IT support and software testing of website and mobile applications. She was recently named International Learner of the Year in London and has been awarded a 2015-2016 City and Guilds Medal for Excellence as well.
I think it’s just the way to go. I worked in catering business and restaurants in New York for 17 years and when I came back I thought that I wasn’t going to do that in Ireland because it’s a totally different world, very hard working. IT was the big thing, so I decided to try out and see and that is what I did.
You are currently working in FireCloud 365 company. What are your main responsibilities?
I started doing software testing, testing the app, the website, everything. After that, when all was tested, I started doing support and I started going out on the road and setting up the software. We started off mostly in Ireland but we are breaking into UK. For example, I will be in Manchester this week and in London the following one. At the minute, we are 70% in Ireland. So, I literally just travel all around Ireland and UK, whenever it is needed. I set software up in whatever buildings, normally, hotels, colleges and council buildings. Apart from that, I am available for support too.
You have won two awards recently. On the one hand, International Learner of the Year at the prestigious City & Guilds Lions Awards in London. On the other hand, 2015-2016 City and Guilds Medal for Excellence, that recognizes the achievements of learners who have achieved great results. What is the secret?
I wasn’t expecting it. I think that the secret it’s just hard work. Attending these courses, I wanted to learn something new and I just put my head down and get it and learn it. They did see what I was doing even if I didn’t have no background on computers, testing or software, anything at all. So, I just learnt what I had to learnt and it worked out. I think that is why I got these awards because I have no other background.
How was the learning process without having any background on the field?
It was difficult but with the course I did, it was in Donegal ETB in Letterkenny, they literally started everybody at the same level. There were people with experience in computers and there were people that have no experience, so they started from the very bottom and worked from that. They took their time, everybody was at the same level going to same place. It worked well for me.
What do you think about the necessity of developing digital skills in Donegal?
Technology is out there, everybody is on social media, computers or apps on the phones. If you want to get your business out there and get it somewhere live, people will need to learn digital skills. That is the way it is at the minute, so Donegal is going to have to get clicked on the right track. If you don’t know how digital skills work, you will fall behind and you are not going to keep up with everything, all the new stuff that it’s coming out. So, that is why you have to develop them.
Do you think there is a lack of digital skills in the county?
At the minute, we are doing really well. Everybody seems to be picking them up now. You have to get on the train because if you don’t, you will fall off. I think Donegal is up there. For example, we just need to look at all the companies in CoLab. They are small businesses and they are unbelievable. It is really good and I think we are doing it all right.
Therefore, to be on that train, is it important to build strong digital communities as we are trying to do with Donegal Digital action plan?
Yes, definitively. Let’s say we have a small business. If you want to get the word out about your company, you are going to have to get on Internet and social media. This is how people are going to find out about you. If you have strong digital skills for your company, it is one big step to be successful. In FireCloud 365 we are using different social media platforms and that is how people can see us and see where are we going. In our case, we started off sending emails trying to get companies to engage with us. This is word of mouth, so they can find you on social media and it works for advertisement. Digital skills definitively help your business.
You have been working abroad for many years. What would you advice to students that would like to stay or come back to Donegal?
I went away for three months and didn’t come back for 17 years. But it was time to come back home. I would say that the opportunities are here. If you want to do something different, stuff in IT or creators, go looking for it because the opportunities are out there and you just need to find them. When you do find them, just hard work and do it. There are courses you can do and there are jobs as well in Donegal. I would encourage young people to go, do their travelling, experience different things, but there is always an offer to come back. I am back here now for three years, I did the course, the hard work and I got the job. There are opportunities in Donegal to develop your digital skills, there is no reason why you can’t come home.