Comment: Community is vital to develop Edinburgh’s tech hub

Events like Turing Fest do a tremendous amount of good for the Scottish economy, says Cultivate's Andy Robinson. Picture: Contributed
Events like Turing Fest do a tremendous amount of good for the Scottish economy, says Cultivate's Andy Robinson. Picture: Contributed
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Edinburgh’s technology community has a number of headline success stories. The city has created a fabled “unicorn”, a business valued at over $1 billion, in the form of Skyscanner. It boasts the largest start-up incubator in the UK, CodeBase, and there are thousands of people working in highly skilled jobs. We certainly punch above our weight but I would like to cover a few areas that I think will play an important role in our continued success.

Software is impacting most areas of our lives. At a very simple level, tech companies exist by solving human or business problems with cutting edge technology harnessed by a skilled workforce. When these three things come together, we create faster, cheaper and more efficient solutions that had not been possible before.

Our company, Cultivate, works with businesses to deliver modern software solutions. We’ve partnered with fellow Edinburgh-headquartered CareSourcer to enable the NHS to quickly and efficiently find and match approved care providers. We are working with Deliveroo, one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies, on its platform that serves millions of customers around the world. We’ve also supported 38 Degrees, one of the largest campaign organisations in the UK, on a number of projects, from making it easier to contact your MP to the real-time monitoring of televised referendum debates. These are just a few examples, but the scale of problems being worked on by the tech community in Edinburgh is huge.

A strong community like CodeBase connects people with complementary talents to work together on these sort of problems and is a fantastic source of advice and support. It’s possible to find someone who has experienced a problem you’re working on, or can introduce you to someone who can help. Having access to networks for potential partnerships is something I have focused heavily on throughout my career.

Events, conferences and meet-ups provide an essential opportunity not only to build connections, but for continued learning. One event which has played a key role in Scotland is Turing Fest, which attracted 2,000 delegates in 2018. It was affordable, accessible and friendly with an incredibly high calibre of speakers from some of the world’s top companies, as well as local success stories Skyscanner, FreeAgent and Administrate. Events like Turing also do a tremendous amount of good for the Scottish economy. We must ensure continued access to high quality learning opportunities, for people in the community and those who are interested in becoming part of it. We can make this happen through intra-community support and the correct kind of public sector investment.

Events also provide a route to learning for those considering a career in technology and cover both technical and non-technical topics. This is vital for the success of the industry in Scotland given the overwhelming demand for skilled people across a spectrum of roles. As a non-technical person, I understand that taking the first step into the industry can be daunting. There’s a common misconception that you need to be able to write code in order to work in tech, and many people may be unaware of the opportunities that exist that are a great fit for non-technical skills.

We already know that Scotland is capable of building tech companies of the highest calibre. Now we must make real efforts to retain the expert individuals with experience in building these companies and ensure that opportunities for their career progression exist here. We should also invest in attracting experienced talent from cities with large tech pools, such as London and further afield.

The Edinburgh tech community is a vibrant, supportive and talented one that I am very proud to be part of. Support and investment in the right areas can further strengthen the community and help to create the next round of Scottish success stories.

- Andy Robinson, chief commercial officer at Cultivate