Melinda Matthews Clarkson: The benefits of embracing change

Motivational speaker and author Mel Robbins has built her recent career around the '5 Second Rule', a concept that centres on the need for the human brain to override its natural inclination to avoid change and stick with the status quo. It's something that struck home for me when I joined CodeClan at the end of last year and saw how many people on our software-development courses are making life-changing career switches.
Melinda Matthews Clarkson of CodeClan. Picture: Stewart AttwoodMelinda Matthews Clarkson of CodeClan. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Melinda Matthews Clarkson of CodeClan. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Changing your career is a big step in so many ways and the short- to medium-term transition can be difficult, both in economic and social terms, so it takes a strong individual to commit to change. To an extent, I’ve made quite a significant career change of my own, having spent most of my working career with IBM in a global role. One month in, though, and I can safely say I’ve loved every minute, in no small part due to how inspired I’ve been by the team at CodeClan and the people undertaking our 16-week course in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Earlier this month, our latest graduating classes gathered in Edinburgh, and the passion and excitement in the room was palpable. Our chair, Polly Purvis, and the Scottish Government’s Education Minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville, addressed the group and there was a consensus that there has never been a better time to be entering Scotland’s digital economy.

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Recent history indicates that our graduates – we call our alumni “The Clan” – will go on to find work as developers and programme managers (over 90 per cent of our graduates achieve employment within five months), securing roles in the front end and back end of Scotland’s fast-growing web industry. How successfully we advance digital skills will be key in how Scotland fares in the 21st century.

Commentators agree that we don’t know what more than 50 per cent of our jobs will look like, such is the pace of technological change. This means we have to be ready to adapt to tech trends in areas like data science and machine learning, while having close links to our employer partners and the skill sets they are seeking to bring into their organisations.

Along these lines, our first senior hire since my tenure began was Kim Watson from Skyscanner to help guide how we position our programmes to set them up to achieve the best possible outcomes.

We have also launched a couple of initiatives we hope will make a meaningful contribution to the stark need to get more women into the workplace, a Digital Women’s Group and more bursaries for women, in addition to our existing system that offers bursaries to all applicants who face financial constraints. We are already engaging with Scottish firms to seek support for our bursary schemes and would encourage business leaders to get in touch. From our 270 alumni to date, roughly one in four have been women. In our latest Edinburgh class, close to half of our intake is female and going forward we want more than 40 per cent of our graduates to be women. Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace are so much more than buzzwords in 2018; instead, diversity is unequivocally shown to improve productivity.

Our employer partners from the commercial and public sectors who have taken on our graduates since CodeClan was established in 2016 are crucial to the virtual circle we are seeking to develop. Companies like FreeAgent and public bodies like the Registers of Scotland exemplify the kind of partnerships we have built to great effect.

The glue that holds CodeClan together is the instructors who lead our courses. Their enthusiasm for our students and the way our participants respond to them is a joy to behold. That doesn’t mean there are not days of frustration and tiredness but the passion they have about programming and tech is outstanding. They are the secret sauce in the success of CodeClan and the students.

Melinda Matthews Clarkson is chief executive of digital skills academy CodeClan