Interview: Harvey Wheaton, chief executive of CodeClan

Harvey Wheaton is already thinking about expanding CodeClan to Glasgow and then further afield, to somewhere in the north of Scotland. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Harvey Wheaton is already thinking about expanding CodeClan to Glasgow and then further afield, to somewhere in the north of Scotland. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

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WHEATON says heading up Scotland’s coding academy is his ‘dream job’

After more than 25 years in software development roles, including spells at JPMorgan Chase, Cap Gemini and gaming giant Electronic Arts, Harvey Wheaton decided to take what was effectively a career break to figure out what he wanted to do next.

But he says it lasted “about a nanosecond” as e-mails and phone calls soon came in when word spread that he was available, and when he heard about the opportunity to take the reins at Scotland’s first digital skills academy CodeClan, he knew he had found his ideal role.

“The minute I heard about it, I thought ‘that’s me’,” he recalls, describing the chief executive position as his “dream job”.

For him the advantages include “doing something that genuinely feels worthwhile” for the economy, businesses and individuals, as well as offering an “amazing” start-up environment and being in Scotland.

Crucially, Edinburgh-based CodeClan aims to tackle an issue Wheaton is passionate about – the growing digital skills gap. The number of tech vacancies a year north of the Border currently sits at 11,000 and rising.

The coding academy offers intensive courses to create a new generation of software developers with the skills employers need, and is backed by the Scottish Government, Scotland’s digital technologies trade body ScotlandIS, and Skills Development Scotland.

As for the appeal of coding, Wheaton says it’s “all-consuming,” explaining: “It’s scientific in the sense that’s it’s problem-solving and logical but it’s highly creative.

“There is a certain beauty to code that is elegant, well-written, does its job well and is efficient. It’s definitely something you develop a passion for.”

With the first batches of students having started in October, and its next course set to start 15 February, the plan is to train 80 students in its first year, growing to 200 a year once it is up to speed.

“We’re already starting to think about our next stage of the expansion, which is Glasgow,” Wheaton says, noting the ambition to open a centre there by September and a third “somewhere north in Scotland” a year after that.

He praises Scotland’s “vibrant entrepreneurial culture” in the digital space, calling it “absolutely incredible”.

However, in his opinion much needs to be done to make sure this progress is maintained. “We’re at a crossroads, I think, where if we get it right we continue on this exponential curve, but if we don’t… it’ll never get to where it could have done. It takes many years to recover.”

In terms of his own background he describes his career as “long and varied” and having worked in “a mixture of all sorts”.

All his roles have been in software development but mainly project-management and programme-management, starting out in manufacturing as a graduate at what was then ICI.

He then came up to Scotland, working largely in financial services, and joined Cap Gemini.

His first experience of start-ups, an environment he loves, was a “soft introduction” when JPMorgan first opened a technology centre in Glasgow, growing from 20 to 300 ­people.

He then joined video games giant Electronic Arts in 2003 as a project-manager, followed by a founding role at start-up games company SuperMassive Games in Guildford.

But it was after this “intense, rewarding” five years that he decided to take the break, travelling around the world in a coaching and consulting capacity.

CodeClan soon coming calling, and in terms of his ambitions for the non-profit organisation he says it would be “fantastic” if within five years it could deliver half of Scotland’s skills needs.

And rather than expand outside Scotland, Wheaton, who in his spare time is also chairman of non-profit, agile project-management organisation Scrum Alliance, says he hopes CodeClan becomes “such an attractive proposition… that we’d actually have an inflow of talent from around the world to Scotland”.

Wheaton says he really enjoys the rewarding aspect of the education the coding initiative provides. “I love watching people develop and grow,” he explains.

“We just need to make sure we keep this momentum going. We’re here to make a difference,” he says.

30 SECOND CV

Born: Manchester.

Education: Philosophy, politics and economics, St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

First job: Data dictionary controller (database design).

Ambition while at school: To be in a rock band.

What car do you drive: None at the moment, I prefer to cycle and walk whenever possible. I am looking after my daughters 25-year-old Mk1 MX-5 whilst she’s in Canada and I try to take it on a run every now and again.

Favourite mode of transport: Flying — I love being on a plane and started learning to fly last year.

Reading material: Management books, I’m reading several of Patrick Lencioni’s books at the moment.

What makes you angry? Self interest and ego.

Can’t live without: Internet access.

What inspires you: People who are both humble and completely inspirational.

Favourite place: San Francisco.

Best thing about your job: The people I work with — staff, partners and students.

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