Hamilton Forth’s Rachel Sim shares some key takeaways from “Moving Beyond Brexit: The Future of the Scottish Tech Sector” event which she recently attended at the University of Glasgow within the School of Computing Science.
The event welcomed a discussion panel of Toni Scullion (Founder of dressCode and Scottish Teachers Advancing Computing Science), Loral Quinn (CEO of CodeClan), Alisdair Gunn (Director of the Glasgow City Innovation District) and Per Hammer (Professor in Practice, University of Glasgow and Senior Director GitHub Education).
Brexit and recent economic and socio-political events have created a landscape of change for the Scottish tech industry: talent challenges, limited access to entrepreneurial investment, changes to trade agreements and the move towards sustainable practices. This diverse range of factors is reforming the sector, creating challenges and opportunities which must be exploited for the sector’s development.
Tech Talent Shortage
The first topic the panel discussed was the challenge of talent shortages in the tech sector. Given the dramatic pace of change, there are skills gaps within the industry. Diversity is also a problem; Toni Scullion, DressCode Founder, shared some hard-hitting facts about the dramatic decrease in females within the industry over the last 20 years.
Computer Science is not a core subject within schools and therefore is optional in the curriculum. By imposing some Computer Science as part of the curriculum, pupils would have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of what it consists of and the fantastic career prospects it can offer. Most pupils and parents think that pursuing Computer Science means you will have a career in software engineering. However, the range of opportunities is vast; from product design and owner roles, to data analysts and engineers, to cyber or project management positions.
With industry salaries and benefits far more competitive than teachers’ compensation, there is a lack of educators willing to bring on the next generation. Perhaps by increasing awareness of voluntary opportunities, industry experts can be incentivised to give back and nurture the next generation whilst still being able to prioritise industry careers. Additionally, encouraging a career change into tech enables people to transfer the soft skills gained in other industries into the tech sector. Loral Quinn (CEO of CodeClan) shared that due to the varied experience that career switchers have, they often progress more quickly than new graduates when starting a career in technology. It is evident that a multi-faceted approach will be imperative to reducing the talent gap.
Highly skilled entrepreneurs and developers are often looking to pursue new opportunities but do not have the connections to do so. Investment and support in the form of business accelerators and incubators may be crucial in connecting ambitious technical professionals with the people and resources that can take their start-ups and ideas to the point of maturity.
A group of visiting students and staff from Columbia State University attending the event prompted a discussion about how the surge in remote working, and embracing international talent, could allow countries facing local talent shortages to tap into international resources. The panellists recognised the opportunity but said barriers to this include a lack of understanding of right-to-work policies, HR policies, and varying fair pay rates between countries. If organisations and HR departments can develop a better understanding of these aspects, there could be great opportunities for collaboration and securing resources from other locations out with the UK.
Green Coding, Efficiency & Emerging Technologies
Thereafter, the panel discussed new technologies and their contribution to meeting environmental targets. As companies review their environmental impact and sustainability initiatives, prompted by the government’s Net Zero targets and high-profile events such as COP26, organisations are becoming more conscious of how tech impacts energy usage. Organisations are embracing “Green Coding”, an environmentally friendly computing technique that aims to reduce the amount of energy used to process lines of code. This technique is growing in popularity, positively impacting organisations’ bottom line and environmental footprint.
Efficiency is key when it comes to ensuring organisations are meeting business goals, and consumer and government socio-economic expectations. Artificial Intelligence has been a recent topic of controversy, with many reports discussing how its development could lead to the extinction of the human race. As automation continues to develop, questions were asked to the interview panel about whether AI will help tackle talent shortages, filling skills gaps, or whether this could be detrimental to skill development. The panel discussed that in their experience, senior developers’ output can be highly optimised through the adoption of assistive AI tools, whereas junior developers’ work suffers when assistive tools are utilised. Developers must first learn their craft before high-power tools can be used to improve efficiency and output – otherwise, there is an increased risk of errors.
Encouraging younger generations and career switchers to consider a career in tech, ensuring equity of access and opportunity, and embracing diversity and international opportunity will be pillars of success for the development of the tech sector in Scotland and further afield. The panel and attendees had a range of backgrounds from the public, private and third sector, and university students; ensuring the event took into account a range of perspectives and experiences, and additional networking enabled attendees to continue the conversation.
To discuss developing your tech team, please contact Consultant Rachel Sim: [email protected].