Coders choosing Edinburgh over London, report finds

Edinburgh is attracting tech start-ups from across the UK. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/JP Resell
Edinburgh is attracting tech start-ups from across the UK. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/JP Resell
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A growing number of coders employed in the booming digital technology sector are choosing to live in Edinburgh rather than London, an industry report has suggested.

The Scottish capital was the UK’s fastest growing tech hub in 2017 according to leading global developer community Stack Overflow.

It found Edinburgh’s developer population grew eight per cent in the second half of 2017, bringing the total developer population to nearly 20,000 - or seven developers per 100 people in the labour force.

The number of data scientists working in the city grew 19 per cent over the same period - a sign that Scottish Government-backed institutions such as The Data Lab are succeeding in their push to drive more participation in the burgeoning data science sector.

London remains the heart of the UK’s tech sector, Stack Overflow’s Q4 developer ecosystem report found, but the cost of living in the UK capital’s has been cited as one reason for the growing number of coders north of the Border.

READ MORE: ‘Majestic pull’ of Edinburgh is attracting tech start-ups

Nick Freer, an industry consultant and technology columnist for The Scotsman, said the capital offered material benefits that other cities could not. “Edinburgh is a lifestyle choice, it gives a coder or developer the opportunity to live in one of Northern Europe’s most alluring cities, the feeling of being in a capital, with bags of culture and the chance to mountain bike up an old volcano within minutes of the office, hike in the Pentlands, ski in the Cairngorms or surf down in East Lothian,” he said.

“London can be too sprawling a metropolis with horrendous commutes, the cost of living is one the highest in the world and if you want to settle down with a young family London can be prohibitive. The other main factor is that companies like Skyscanner or Administrate mean you can work for a tech company that is going global.”

That echoes what Steve Coates, CEO of data analysis firm Brainnwave, told The Scotsman in March. “Having been based in London, you quickly realise how easy it is to do business in Scotland,” he said.

“In Edinburgh, it feels like everybody is there to help you and wants you to succeed. You can’t underestimate that.

“In the wider start-up world there are a lot of people who think you will fail or are competing with you for investment and talent. But then you come to Scotland and it’s the opposite.”

The attraction of Edinburgh, with its three universities and supply of graduates, is obvious to start-ups. But the capital’s more traditional charms also help its standing in the tech world. “Relocating your family when you work for a start-up is a bit of a gamble,” added Coates. “You’re not working for a multinational that’s offering a relocation package.”

The latest research comes after Tech City UK’s 2017 report found that Edinburgh was the second strongest technology hub in the UK – securing more investment than any other tech cluster outside London.

Stack Overflow said that London remained home to the UK’s biggest developer population, with more than 300,000 people specialising in that area. Birmingham and Manchester have the UK’s highest developer populations outside London, at 40,300 and 39,000 respectively.

Glasgow trails behind with about 16,500 developers, or six developers per 100 people in the labour force.

Adam Bannon, acting CEO of digital skills academy CodeClan, said: “We opened our first Scottish campus at Edinburgh’s CodeBase in 2015, so we’re delighted to see the city named the UK’s fastest growing tech hub; over 150 of our graduates have been placed in tech jobs in the city.

“Edinburgh is a fantastic place to work and live and the opportunities for people to gain a new career in the tech sector has increased over the last 18 months. We’ll be running nine more cohorts in Edinburgh 2018, producing 200 more job-ready software developers to meet the skills needed for the industry to grow even further.”