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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Mary McCarthy

The dreaded Irish weather makes Shannon an ideal place to test new car technology

Russell Vickers

Vehicles are becoming a lot more software-dominated and in Shannon, Co Clare, we want to recreate an ecosystem for autonomous cars similar to the medical tech sector in Galway.

Carmakers as tech firms

Our testbed was Ireland’s first. The focus is the technology and connectivity, rather than driving around until the car falls apart.

The weather conditions in the west really stress the testing of any vehicle.

My work varies – it can be physical if I install something on a car and the next minute I will be sitting in business development meetings.

We were funded in January 2020 by the Regional Enterprise Development Fund. My background – as part of the team that helped Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) set up in Shannon in 2017 – sparked the idea for the test centre.

We have the software skills in Ireland so the idea was to create the test bed to allow companies to leverage the equipment to build their products.

We are a small team with big plans: myself and co-founder Wassim Derguech, who also came from JLR, and three more.

Enterprise Ireland is our principal funding. We want to support Irish companies to develop their products and compete on the world stage.

It’s not just the car, automation of agriculture is also our focus and because of our proximity to Shannon we have expanded to air mobility – drones and air taxis.

Functional foundations

I’m from Navan and boarded at Gormanston College. This was good and bad – but I would not put my two kids through it.

I grew up in the countryside and thought about forestry when I left school in 1994 but I could not see a career path there. I was always messing with things so I did electronic engineering in DIT Kevin Street.

Compared to my friends doing arts, it was long hours and the outdated equipment then was gritty, but it was good fun and I got a good degree that stood to me.

Before my final exams, I interviewed and got a job with a startup called Silicon Systems (SSL) – which later became Parthus Technologies where I experienced the highs and lows of the tech boom.

Chip designing at Parthus

Parthus Technologies floated on the Nasdaq in the early 2000s. I was 22, not a millionaire but thinking about my Ferrari.

I wanted to work in the US, I had never visited, and transferred to the San Jose office where my salary tripled.

There was a group of Irish expats. We would all drive into work – no liftsharing – in our Mustang convertibles.

It was a crazy time, a lifestyle which I later questioned. But then we got to witness the other side when the dotcom boom started to implode.

Half of us were laid off. I had a life in the US, and wanted to stay, but ultimately could not get a job.

'It can be physical if I install something on a car and the next minute I will be sitting in business development meetings,' says Russell Vickers

More Punto than Mustang

I ended up in Portugal for nine months as my parents had bought a place there. I had never taken a gap year. This was my time to be a beach bum and I was burnt out.

In Parthus I was designing silicon chips, not something I planned. But once you get skilled up in a certain area, it is hard to get off that track.

But the world is your oyster as there are a lot of highly paid jobs.

In 2004 along with many others who had gotten laid off, I got a job in the south of France with Texas Instruments helping make mobile phones for Nokia and Ericsson.

It was not quite the Mustang lifestyle in Nice, more Fiat Punto, but the Irish community was just as fun there. The same ilk as in San Francisco, lots of partying and skiing. And this is where I met my future French wife, Jen, who was teaching French to foreign students.


We wanted to travel so through contacts I got a job in Ericsson in 2007 in Stockholm and Jen could teach here.

I was still chip designing and working in big teams – a microchip is essentially billions of switches. It’s a really complex process.

The job I was doing was very specialised – manipulating at an atomic level the transistors to make sure they work at the processor speed.

We liked Stockholm, but in 2011 we wanted to settle down in Ireland and so I got a job with Intel, where five years later I found myself moving to a startup within the company.

Taking the automotive route

​I’m a car person and wanted to work in automotive and there was a team in Intel supporting Jaguar Land Rover – which is where I got off the chip-designing path.

I wanted to be close to the customer and became an applications engineer.

I moved teams in 2016 and I was supporting autonomous driving.

When there was a reorganisation in 2017, our team of 12 approached Land Rover to set up a unit, thinking if we could keep jobs for 20 people it would be worthwhile – they ended up making a commitment for 360.

The straight and narrow

I’m up at 7am. Jen keeps us on a healthy regime – porridge and water for breakfast. Tea but not coffee.

I bring in my lunch, it’s a time-saving thing.

Our home in Ennis is 15 minutes’ drive from work. Jen brings the girls to school but one day a week I do it.

She does part-time volunteer work and I’m at the office all day, so she does everything with the kids but on weekends I taxi Zoe, who is nine, and Milly, aged six, to swimming and gymnastics.

If I get some me time I play the drums badly, so I’ll slip into the garage to take out my frustration on them.

My chat-up line with Jen was maybe she could teach me French, but I still don’t speak it well. Jen’s parents live in Nice so we tend to go for a month and I will work some of this.

I like running at lunchtime. I can’t commit to a gym or team sports, but my Apple watch forces me to do more exercise. I like whiskey, I’m in the Ennis Whiskey Club – we meet every two months to have dinner, try some whiskeys and discuss them.

Change stress default setting

I typically work 9-to-6.

I enjoy my work, it’s exciting for me. For a while last year I was quite bad at stopping, but now I tend to finish work once I leave the office.

If I have to finish something, I do, but if I have the laptop on late, that’s my sleep ruined.

Last summer I was pretty burned out.

When we went to France I switched off notifications on my phone and I ended up never turning them back on. This helped me de-stress, it cut through the noise.

If I get an email out of hours I can deal with it when I get into work fresh the next day.

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