Listen: Paul has moved into a new space at WP Engine in Limerick

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Paul Ryan, WP Engine. Pic: Cian Reinhardt
Paul Ryan, WP Engine. Pic: Cian Reinhardt

Paul Ryan’s passion for space exploration lost altitude as his career took off and life got in the way.

“The guys outside in the office would say that if could be an astronaut, that’s where I would be right now,” he declares.

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And when his list of friends includes US astronaut Al Worden, who was Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971, you know it isn’t just a passing interest.

“Every kid wants to be an astronaut and that was the way it was when I went to school out in Hospital. We had one of those career open days and there was a poetry competition that I won for my age bracket and the prize was a book voucher for O’Mahony’s so I went in and bought a book on NASA.

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“I still have it even after moving from house to house and country to country.

“Then you have to think about college and getting a job and a mortgage and setting up a home. Reality hits and you realise you have a better chance of being a software engineer than an astronaut.

Then in 2010, he hit a speed wobble.

“I had a number of heart issues and I ended up needing a stent. What follows very quickly after that is a guaranteed low – “the lowest low in your life, four to six months after the surgery.”

He felt so good after leaving surgery that he couldn’t see where it would come from.

“Sure enough, six months later I slipped in to depression for about a year because your body slows down and begins adjusting to the stent.

“Post op, you get this medication to make sure you are slowing down as well as your heart rate – it was about 36 beats per minute around that time. So thats a heartbeat every two seconds.”

“Your brain and the rest of your body is in survival mode and this made personal and business life difficult.

On the advice of a therapist, Paul was encouraged to talk to others and realise that he was not alone with this condition.

“My therapist asked me what interested me when I was a kid and I said I loved space so she said why don’t you get back in to an old hobby and reignite that. Within two days of that, I got an email to say that there was an astronaut event in Leeds if you are interested in coming. So off I went and met Dick Gordon who flew an Apollo 12 mission and I became good friends with Al Worden”.

Paul describes how his reinvigorated love of space exploration prompted him to develop events for fellow enthusiasts both young and old.

“I don’t live too far from Lough Gur and I am a native of Ballybricken so I brought Al to Lough Gur as a visit and he was fascinated by the ancient beliefs and views of the heavens. That got me thinking if we could we do more for kids around science.”

Lectures, talks and working with the Dark Skies projects in Lough Gur became a natural fit for Paul.

He was still working his way up the corporate ladder of when “along came WP Engine who said they had this great job but they were looking for somebody who was a business leader and a community leader as well.

Although he had studied computer systems at UL, his decision to join a start-up company carried an element of risk. This was mitigated by the fact that he considers himself a reasonably lucky person.

“When Steve Jobs left Apple, he created a platform called ‘Next’ and when I was finishing up in UL there were a few of those systems around. That led me to a start up company in Dublin called ISOCOR.

“They were mainly involved in the US market so that got me on the road very early in my career supporting customers like Viacom, MTV, RJ Reynolds and Anheuser Busch.

Paul moved to St Louis for a number of years before returning to Ireland just before 9/11. He worked with GE as a systems architect and progressed through management levels before the move to WP Engine.

Now based on Cecil Street at the Innovate Limerick ‘Engine’ offices, the US based firm has grown from ten employees two years ago to 55 on site this week.

Part of the company’s attraction is the opportunity it gives graduates and others looking to begin their software career.

“When I joined, I was looking at a start-up with a passion for WordPress and website development. I shared those passions and felt that I could make a worthwhile contribution.

“Even for someone applying for a basic entry level support position, we will interview them four or five times – so we can get a feel for them and they can get a feel for the culture in WP Engine.

“We are growing and expanding so, if you’ll pardon to pun, WP Engine is moving into a whole new space.”