As CTO and Chief Development Officer for a multinational software company with annual revenues in excess of US$6 Billion annually, Ray O’Farrell BEng 1986 & MEng 1990 happily recalls his time as a student at UL and gives us an insight into his challenging role at VMware Inc., his life in California and his thoughts on the future of the ICT sector...
Ray, why did you choose UL?
Well, I always had an interest in science and technology and for me engineering and electronics in particular was a sector I was determined to pursue a career in. Because of its obvious focus on technology, I placed UL at the top of my CAO choices and I went on to complete both a BEng in Electronics and an MEng in Computer Systems there. Apart from its engineering focus, I also liked the way the University was adopting the US system of modules, each taught over a ten-week period. Finally, I liked the connection between NIHE and industries in the area. I was hoping that would make it easier to get a job later.
Tell us about your time as a student here
I remember being very interested in the core course work in electronics and hands-on experience in software. However, one of the most powerful parts of the curriculum for me was the Cooperative Education (work placement). I worked at a smaller company in Nenagh called Reliability Nederland. I really liked working there and returned for a few summer gigs later.
Tell us about your career journey so far:
I have worked at startups (some of them in Plassey, close to UL, including Industrial and Scientific Imaging (ISI) and Ashling Microsystems) and in large multi-national companies but always in the electronics or software sector. After I moved to the US in 1990, I worked for a relatively small but fast growing company called Microtec Research which was later bought by Mentor Graphics. After a decade there, I got the startup bug and joined a small digital signal processing company called Improv Systems. As often happens with startups, Improv did not really take off and after a few years I moved on to join an emerging startup in the systems software space - “VMware” - in early 2003. I joined as software team manager for a 6 person group driving what was at that time a fledging VMware storage technology. Over the years I have managed many different products and teams, reported to several CEOs, worked as general manager for different business units,
Silicon managed large global R&D teams and driven hundreds of product releases. We currently employ close to 20,000 people, with offices worldwide and today, I am part of the executive leadership at VMWare (I report to the CEO) in my role of Corporate CTO and Chief Development Officer. I am responsible for R&D orchestration across all of VMware’s R&D Business Units and I also lead VMware’s CTO team.
Why the move to the US?
I really think the core reason was adventure. Two months before I finished my Masters, my wife Marianne was fortunate to get a work visa for the US. After I finished my Masters, we both quit our jobs, sold our house and got on a plane to San Jose in California and started looking for work. A few weeks later, my wife started working for a Software Development company and I joined Microtec Research as Senior Software Engineer. Twenty-five years later, I feel this was an excellent career move for me, we settled here and Marianne and I have two daughters (one in high school, the other at University of California, a Biomedical Engineering Major), and we also get to visit “home” to Ireland about once a year.
What excites you about the ICT sector?
The most exciting thing is the constant change, new companies, new technologies, new products, new innovations. Silicon Valley, due to its super strong venture community, is a constant engine of new ideas and constant innovation– and that’s exciting.
Finally, do you have advice for future University students?
Since my older daughter is in her second year of college, I should be advising “stay out of trouble, focus on your studies” etc. However, the reality is that university is likely the first time that a student is away from home and is an opportunity to make new friends, take advantage of social, sporting and other opportunities being part of a university community. So, it is about working hard but also making sure to enjoy and leverage the opportunities which come from being part of a modern university.