Niamh O’Connell, Customer Adoption Co-Lead on Sailing & Exercising

What I love about Exercising is that it makes you feel great, alert, and energetic. It’s such a good way to de-stress. Exercising is definitely a form of mindfulness for me.

My name is Niamh O’Connell, I’m Irish, and I’m based in New York. I’ve been working in the blockchain space for the last 5 years. I’m the Customer Adoption Co-Lead at Treum, a ConsenSys-backed blockchain and supply chain company. In a nutshell, I onboard our customers, look at how to help them best grow their business using Treum, and focus on optimizing the onboarding and platform user experience.

I always knew I’d work in Business, but during my undergraduate course (BESS) at Trinity, I undertook some IT modules, so I started to really think about marrying the two: business and tech. In 2015, I joined one of the big four consulting firms in Dublin, which was heavily investing in disruptive tech at the time, and I had the opportunity to be part of the founding member team that was tasked with setting up and scaling their blockchain lab for Europe, Middle East, and South Africa (EMEA). I quickly realised I was most interested in exploring how blockchain could be used to disrupt supply chains, and how consumers specifically could really benefit from using the tech.

If consumers (aka you) have access to trusted information, they can make better decisions before buying anything! Imagine being able to check where your food or clothing or skincare products actually came from, how they were actually made, and what’s actually in them! Having access to trusted (verifiable) information should be the norm, especially when we are talking about products that we ingest or place on our skin. These kinds of applications are starting to be used today. I’ve led the development and launch of production blockchain applications like these in several European countries and in North America. This is the kind of work that excites me! I didn’t think I’d work in Tech when I finished secondary school at 17, and now I can’t imagine not working in this space.

Photo credited to onEdition

Outside of my job, I love nutrition and sports, and I have competed internationally in sailing championships. Sports have always been part of my life. My family is very active, and I was swimming and skiing as soon as I could walk! I started sailing when I was 8 years old, initially doing summer-long camps which soon became an all-year-round activity (in the cold and rain in Ireland). I initially sailed an optimist dinghy for a couple of years, competing at national events. As I got older and I grew out of the optimist class, I began to sail 420s and 29ers (bigger dinghies). This is when I met my sailing partner and I started to take the sport more seriously. By the time I was 16, my sailing partner and I were representing Ireland internationally. We qualified for the World and European championships in 2007 and 2008. The biggest event we qualified for was the ISAF Youth Worlds in 2008, which is the highest level youth event that you can do under the age of 19 in sailing.

What I love the most about sailing is the adrenaline you get – being out on the wire with waves crashing onto you, going so fast, and having to quickly adopt/change not only the sails, but your position and side of the boat depending on the wind, the conditions, and the leg of the racecourse. Whilst doing this, you’re looking at the other boats and their positions, the ripples on the water (gusts), and letting your sailing partner know what’s happening so you can make your next move.

The sailing event I will never forget is the 29er European Championships in France in 2007. It was extremely windy for the duration of the regatta. It came to a point where it was too windy to race given the conditions, but the races had to take place because the event was acting as a qualifier for the ISAF Youth Worlds. We had to place within the top 30% to qualify for the ISAF Youth Worlds. The regatta committee/organisers decided to split the fleet into 4 groups and sent the first two groups out to compete in the early afternoon. By the time my fleet went out to sea, it was starting to get dark (during winter) and the weather conditions hadn’t improved. It was the first time that I really became fully aware and focused on all my senses. As it was getting dark, you couldn’t really read the ripples (gusts) on the water because they were hard to see, so you had to rely mainly on how the boat felt and react to the wind accordingly. By the last leg of the racecourse, it was completely dark and we were sailing towards the lanterns on the boat at the finishing line. We ended up winning the race. We shortly found out afterwards that it was discarded because the jury protested given the hazard conditions. I remember my sailing partner’s brother had his full beam car headlights on (along with others) so we all knew what direction to sail towards to get back to shore!

After so many great experiences sailing internationally, I wanted to take a break from competing and focus on my Leaving Cert. I also didn’t want to stop it completely, so I decided to do the Irish Sailing Instructor Course when I was 17. This was great because I got to share what I had learned over the years, and also got to spend several summers out on the water whilst making a bit of money!

Looking at my other experiences with sports and fitness, I became interested in nutrition when I was about 15 years old. I was training and competing for international sailing events, so my sailing partner and I had to learn what foods were best to eat leading up to and during events to help with preserving energy and recovery.

My favourite types of exercises are anything really that involves being outdoors! I really enjoy hiking, tennis, cycling, and sailing. I also love weight training, and have been training outdoors (when I can) since April because of Covid, which has been a nice change!

During the week, I try to get in a few gym sessions and walks. On the weekends, I try to do different outdoor activities that involve exploring New York! I don’t follow a food plan, but I do follow an 80/20 rule when it comes to my diet. I eat a lot and train a fair amount because I’m constantly on the go, and this works for me.

I definitely see an overlap between my sailing experience specifically and my job experience. Given that my sailing partner and I were below the average combined weight for the boats we raced, we had to learn how to sail more strategically. This has definitely translated and helped me with my career. I think the most I’ve taken away from my sailing experience is the ability to focus and also be flexible and adaptable. This has been applicable to my job and personal life.

There is always more than tech. It’s important to share the passion of technologists because, on the one hand, it helps normalize tech as a career. On the other hand, by starting with people’s passion (non-tech), it loops people in who might learn something new about tech!

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