Wexford man’s computer idea worth millions
A Co. Wextord native is being hailed as the next Bill Gales of the computer world following the design of a final year university project which is being valued as an $11 million franchise by industry experts.
The project, created by Walter O’Brien formerly of Boro Hill House, Ballymachesy, Enniscorthy, offers software companies the opportunity to open up their markets by 150%, and the original idea alone is worth a cool half million dollars.
Called WinLocX, the product has the ability to aid software companies in translating the sentences and commands displayed within programmes into other languages.
This process used to be very slow, expensive and error prone and meant that “localizing” software to sell it abroad was not economically viable for small companies.
Walter developed the project while studying for his final BSc degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at Brighton University in England.
The fact that it was put together as a final year project caused some problems for Walter, as in general, universities hold legal ownership over the final year projects of their students.
However, he successfully contested the University’s claim for the Intellectual Property Rights of the project by arguing that his own personal lab equipment had been powerful enough to support the entire project.
“Basically I managed to produce and develop the project on my own. No extra expertise of lab equipment from the University was available or necessary,” he said.
Following a number of tempting offers from companies in Italy, Poland, England, Ireland and the US to buy the project, Walter is considering his options before deciding on his next career move.
The son of Cushinstown native Maurice O’Brien and his wife Ann who hails from the Irishtown in New Ross, Walter grew up in Boro Hill House and got his first taste of computers while attending school in Enniscorthy.
Aged just twelve, he was so hooked on computers that he sold some livestock which his father had given him in payment for chores, and purchased an Amstrad home computer.
When the family left Boro Hill and moved to a farm in Callan, Co Kilkenny a year later, Walter was isolated from friends and occupied himself totally with his computers.
In order to assess his own ability, he met with New Ross based computer teacher Luke Roche, who according to Walter, was astounded at his ability to grasp structured programming.
At just 14 he established his own company called Scorpion Computer Services which offered tutoring and other courses to individuals and companies.
In 1990 he entered the Wisconsin International Computer Problem Solving Competition in Ireland for the first time and astounded everyone by winning. The following year he repeated his success and this time was just half a mark away from being one of the top five programmers in the world. Three years ago he represented Ireland at the Information Olympics in Mendoza, Argentina and did very well.
During his three years studying the double degree course at Brighton University, Walter carried out a lot of consultancy work including redesigning the profile security and business systems of a graphic design company.
Having qualified with honours in both his BSc degrees, Walter hopes to do full-time research into Virtual Reality in California.
As a self-taught expert, he hopes his success will encourage other young people to follow their interests.
“Hopefully my experience will help to encourage the next generation of gifted children to persist with their unpopular quest of coding excellence,” he said.