January 2013 Archives

Your dream career in Technology can start now

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This is a guest blog from Colin Bannister, vice president and chief technology officer at CA Technologies UK&I, who urges young people to seize the exciting opportunities the IT industry can offer


For graduates and school leavers looking to embark on their careers, the road ahead can seem very daunting.  With damning reports of youth unemployment dominating headlines, the prospect of securing your first job, let alone pursuing your dream career - if you're fortunate to even know what that is right now - can seem impossible at times. 


At the heart of this issue is the well documented skills shortage; something which is particularly prevalent in the technology industry.  With Computing A-Level student numbers continuing to plummet, and a recent report revealing that some 16 million people in the UK lack basic online skills, the situation seems bleak.


So, what does this situation mean for today's students? I believe there is a real opportunity for young people to use the skill shortage to their advantage. Although the media paints a negative picture about the effect the skills gap is having on the technology industry, the unreported angle is the opportunities it presents individual students.


Businesses are desperately crying out for new technology and services, which in turn increases demand for skilled workers in everything from app development to website design. This offers a lucrative opportunity for young people who are willing to learn the necessary skills to set themselves apart in this fast-growing and ever-evolving sector, ultimately making themselves more employable. 


A recent study by Hotel.com revealed that 1 in 4 adults wish they had chosen a career in technology but a lack of skills is holding them back.  If this is the case, now is the time for school leavers and graduates to hone the expertise they need to succeed in this sectorThe British technology sector is vital to the UK economy, contributing £140 billion annually (the equivalent to 12% GDP) and it is one of the most innovative and exciting spaces to work in.


I would urge students to seek out opportunities in the industry and where they can gain hands-on, practical experience - in new and ever-growing specialisms. Why not research opportunities to gain work experience with entrepreneurial tech start-ups, learning from those driving innovation in the technology industry?  There are also great vocational qualifications which offer a 'sandwich' year, enabling you to gain a real insight into the working world.  And even if you don't choose a strictly technical course, there are still opportunities to gain work experience alongside your studies which can really give you an edge when it comes to meeting a potential employer.


I am pleased to see that there are an increasing number of technology initiatives and campaigns out there for ambitious young school leavers and graduates.  Take the project, led by Martha Lane Fox and Go UK which aims to get some 16 million people across the UK basic online skills so they can use the internet to its full potential. It sounds minimal but the amount you think you know about particular technologies - and their impact on our future - is often just the tip of the iceberg!


The organisation eSkills is working relentlessly to make sure Britain is getting the technology skills it needs to succeed, as well as encouraging more women to pursue careers in IT. In fact, ITMB now has 33% female students - which is a huge step forward.  It's Information Technology Management for Business degree offers students practical and vocational training rather than just a purely academic qualification which can often leave graduates poorly prepared for the workplace.  There are even opportunities to teach yourself relevant skills in your spare time. BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has launched a free mobile app development course on iTunes U last summer with a dedicated area offering free educational content from leading educational institutions.


These kinds of initiatives can go a long way in kick-starting the careers of young people and the more businesses and organisations that can get involved by offering apprenticeships, shadowing schemes or training opportunities, the better!


Rather than something to be fearful of, the skills shortage could actually be an opportunity for up and coming, ambitious students to carve themselves a career in the sector. By 'thinking outside the box' and learning skills applicable to up and coming disciplines, a whole new world of opportunities can be opened up. The IT industry is an ever evolving and exciting space to work in, and there is so much potential for the young and digital generation to excel. Now is the time to make it happen. 

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Does Tech City house the next Mark Zuckerberg?

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This is a guest blog from Stephen Ball, vice president and general manager, UK and Ireland at Hitachi Data Systems


Stephen Ball.JPGSilicon Valley has delivered an endless list of technology success stories to the world, boasting names such as Apple, eBay, Google, Western Digital and Yahoo, so it was perhaps not surprising that two years ago our Prime Minister David Cameron launched a vision to emulate the Valley's success here in the UK.


Cameron's vision called for an area of London, dubbed by the media as "Tech City", which would form a hub for technology entrepreneurship. Tech City, which broadly covers the area between London's Old Street and the Olympic Park in Stratford, is certainly an inspiring setting, partly because of the government's efforts in encouraging exciting new tech start-ups such as the likes of TweetDeck or Seatwave, as well as giants such as Google and Vodafone to set-up shop in the area.

By creating an ecosystem of funding, government incentives and a network of partnerships has helped make Tech City an attractive proposition to existing technology companies at home and from abroad.

However, for Tech City to be successful in the long-run, we must sustainably fuel it by developing the right skills and inspiring young talent to drive it forward beyond the financial incentives. This can be achieved through education, industry involvement and mentoring.

The ICT curriculum

At school my children learn ICT; however the curriculum from which they are being taught is entirely Windows-based and provides no exposure to elements such as coding, web design or social media. Yet isn't this the type of technology companies that Tech City has set out to create want and need?

This problem was recently highlighted in a  Confederation of British Industry report where over 59% employers envisaged that they will face problems finding staff with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills in the next three years. The same concern was shared by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, who earlier this year called for immediate action to ensure that enough young people are studying STEM subjects.

The recent development of the Raspberry Pi board is a symbolic reminder that all today's youth need is the right encouragement, tools and guidance to evolve into the technology entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Therefore there is also a case for industry to get involved beyond the classroom.

The UK technology scene is an inspiring hub of great talent within itself and there are great synergies that can be achieved by exposing tomorrow's talent to it. For instance, the immediate gap in STEM skills can be addressed through apprenticeships where individuals are equipped with the right skills to pursue a career in IT. In the long term, by working with academic establishments, industry players can share their expertise and even help provide the means to incubate the Google's or Facebook's of tomorrow.

Yet having been in the industry for over 25 years, I would have expected Tech City to cross my path outside of what we read in the media. The fact that it hasn't happened yet is perhaps a sign that more needs to be done from the government's perspective to work with industry and help nurture the hidden talent this country has.

Technology superstars of the future

We are fundamentally going to have a ten year skills deficit here when it comes to nurturing the technology superstars of the future unless we start building the essential coding and technical skills into the fabric of the curriculum today. Without this input, I fear that in as little as a decade's time, Tech City will merely become a stagnant, "parliamentary" technology hub.

If Tech City is to produce the next Tim Berners-Lee or Mark Zuckerberg of this world, who will go on to inspire and energise our Tech City, we must go beyond the incentives and put education back on the agenda within our schools.

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Bridging the big data skills gap

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This is a guest blog from Steve Totman, data integration business unit executive of Syncsort

Big data is considered by many to be an integral part of an organisation's IT strategy. But as the technology and strategy grow at a rapid pace, it widens a gap in necessary skills that are needed to unlock the business value of big data.

One of our customers is already seeing this. For comScore, a global Internet information provider, to which leading companies turn to for consumer behaviour insight, data is its commodity. The company has a global cross-section of more than two million members who have granted it permission to confidentially capture their browsing and transaction behaviours. As comScore's customer base grows, so too does the sheer amount of information it is tasked with analysing. This puts pressure on the company's own strategy as well as the need to ensure that their staff are equipped with the right technical skills to handle big data efficiently.

With big data also comes a discussion about new technology and solutions to support it. Technical skills in Hadoop, MapReduce and proprietary commercial big data frameworks are increasingly becoming scarce and as such, those with experience in these practices are commanding higher salaries - even if their experience is limited. This is bucking the traditional trend of IT employment that involves years of hard work, training and experience and so highlights the employment issues facing the IT industry.

So how can this skills gap be addressed?

Big data, in the very essence of the subject requires two things, the IT infrastructure to store the data and a skilled team of analytical minds to enable businesses to understand the vast amount of information. Web logs, machine-generated data such as sensor systems, social media and transaction data is amongst this raft of information that needs to be stored correctly and then analysed by trained and able individuals. 

Similarly there are two avenues to consider for companies looking to up-skill within their big data projects. Firstly, organisations should start by looking right under their noses.  

The Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) team, otherwise known as data warehousing specialists, already understand the context in which data is used within their business; they know how it is being moved and transformed as well as recognising its value when turned into useful information. For this reason, this team is often best suited to begin the implementation of Hadoop-based big data solutions. Companies should look to bring in additional skills to their ETL teams to create collaborative Data Scientist teams.

But technical proficiency isn't always enough. Organisations need skills that transcend pure data analysis and need to hire individuals that are able to ask the right questions of the data to come up with analytical insights that really add business value. As such, the scientific community could offer the IT industry the necessary bridge for the big data skills gap. Companies should look within the science departments of universities and research houses, as scientists already deal with vast amounts of data and, importantly, are coming up with the right questions to query the information.

Secondly, organisations should follow the lead of those companies that are responding to the skills gap by offering outsourced big data services from third party providers in much the same way that Red Hat did with Linux. Offering Hadoop platforms where organisations can leverage the benefits of big data without having to invest in the necessary in-house resources.

But as the value of data increases and as more sensitive data is produced, do businesses really want to entrust it to a third party? Data is fast becoming the most valuable asset of a business and with questions over security and intellectual property continuing to be asked; Big data will fast become a function that companies will want to keep in-house.

The false economy of outsourcing big data specialists is there for businesses to comprehend. Rather than outsourcing to enjoy short term cost efficiencies, businesses should ideally bring in their own big data clusters and employ people with the necessary skills. For Hadoop to really deliver to its full advantage, it is important that the right data scientists are employed and allowed to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.  

It's equally important to give the IT team the tools to simply and efficiently move data into Hadoop, (e.g. mainframe sources which can be particularly tricky), cope with the steady stream of complex data from disparate data sources including relational, non-relational, cloud-based and SaaS, and emergent, less structured data types - speeding the time and reducing the resources required to collect and query against it.

For every additional month that businesses can experiment with Hadoop and the data at their disposal, the more competent they will become at monetising big data and the more competitive advantage they will achieve.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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