Inspiring the next generation of STEM talent

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This is a guest blog by Phil Dunmore, vice president of Cognizant Business Consulting.

The issue of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills - or lack thereof - among the next generation is never far from the news agenda. It has been suggested by many organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry, that the UK faces a serious shortage of graduates in these subjects and that the consequences are serious enough to threaten our future economic prosperity. Several steps have been taken to try and address this, from the addition of coding to the National Curriculum to a newly revealed, government backed campaign to increase participation in maths, science, and physics A-levels by 50%.

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But there is also a vital role here for technology orientated companies. We all have a vested interest in keeping the UK at the forefront of STEM innovation, and in attracting the best talent to come work for us, particularly when research suggests that a lack of relevant careers advice was a major factor in students not pursuing STEM-based further education or jobs. At Cognizant, this is a topic that's close to our hearts and one where we are taking action.

A couple of weeks ago, we held the latest in a series of events where local pupils come in for a day to spend some time with some of our recent graduates and learn more about what a career in STEM looks like at Cognizant. These 'Insight Days' take place regularly in our offices across the world, but on this occasion we welcomed thirty Year 9 students from two secondary schools in Newham and Fulham to our UK headquarters in Paddington. In the morning, the students took part in some interactive games around technology innovation and heard from our graduates about what studying STEM subjects at university is like. Then the afternoon saw me and three senior colleagues act as the 'dragons' in a Dragons' Den style challenge about wearable technology.

This exercise in particular allowed the students to express their creativity and teamwork skills, whilst also learning about how frequently STEM related topics touch our everyday lives. The students were divided into seven teams, with a mix of pupils from each school, and given a vertical market to target, ranging from Sports & Fitness to Transport. They then had just one hour to come up with a new wearable technology solution, thinking about everything from design and functionality to audience and marketing strategy. It might seem familiar to anyone who watched a recent episode of The Apprentice, but with one key difference: the ideas that were generated were actually really quite interesting.

They included a ring that would allow teachers to track the emotions of their students to better understand their engagement and attention during lessons, a smartwatch that would allow the wearer to transmit movements into video games and a smart shoe that would track the wearer's health as well as store energy from walking to recharge a phone. My fellow dragons and I were all seriously impressed with their ideas, which were all based on highly relevant insights and market trends. For example, healthcare in the wearables market is currently an extremely hot topic, and almost every idea presented to us looked to capitalise on that trend. The students also showed very strong collaborative skills, forging relationships with pupils from another school, brainstorming and then presenting their ideas in little more than an hour.

When discussing what had been learnt from the day, the pupils talked about the extent to which they are surrounded by STEM but often do not realise it - whether at school, at home or out with their friends. By showing how subjects normally perceived as 'boring' such as maths or physics relate to students' everyday lives, we can hopefully create a meaningful connection that demonstrates their relevance and drives curiosity as to where they could take the technology next. The other huge benefit of the day was to give the students a taste of the real working environment.  As one teacher put it to me: "This has been a truly invaluable experience; it has provided my maths students with a great opportunity to get out of the classroom to understand what exciting opportunities exist.  They have all been left highly motivated".

It let them see what life at a company like Cognizant is like and got them to consider, perhaps for the first time, what their careers after finishing education could look like. There are also benefits for us too. It is always very valuable to spend time with young people in this way, exploring the issues that matter to them and hearing first-hand how they view and interact with technology.

One important point to note is that the pursuit of STEM studies does not necessarily need to be entirely at the detriment of the Arts or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths). Creativity, lateral thinking and the ability to communicate are crucial skills in progressing through the ranks in an organisation, which is why we support those from the CBI and other bodies who have recently stated that pupils should also be strongly encouraged to learn a language or other creative subject.

It is our hope that initiatives like the Insight Days succeed in putting STEM subjects back on students' agendas. Getting the next generation enthused about STEM, and showing them how much of their everyday life is connected to it, is crucial if we want the best talent to come into the industry and continue to push boundaries in the future. The government has been taking action, but those of us in the industry need to do our part too.

Closing the STEM skills gap starts in the classroom

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This is a guest blog by Pete Baxter, vice president and head of Autodesk UK.

The lack of STEM skills in the UK is a topic that is continuing to make new headlines. Just recently the Labour party took to social media stating that by 2020 the UK will need 780,000 trained engineering professionals in order to meet industry demands, yet we are currently only training less than half that number. While this growth in demand is a good sign for the industry, it is concerning that we are not on track to fulfil this need for skilled workers.

Of course this problem is not just limited to engineering; at the beginning of the year Semta (the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies) claimed it faced a shortfall of 80,000 workers within the next two years alone. In March the CBI called for major action to be taken to address a STEM skills vacuum. 

So it was encouraging to see from our recent research that over half (52%) of 11-18 year olds want to pursue a career in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Digital Arts and Maths) related industries.  Note that the 'A' that has snuck in here stands for digital arts, an area arguably as important to our future economy as science, technology, engineering and maths - just look at the strength of the UK film, gaming and visual effects sector as evidence of this.

We've all heard and shared the concerns about the appetite for STEAM skills amongst the next generation. The various arguments go that: schools want to focus on 'easy' subjects to get up the league tables, students themselves would rather do 'less challenging' subjects, and even those pupils that do show an interest in STEAM subjects will ultimately end up getting swallowed up by the financial sector as they look for higher salaries.

While there may be grains of truth in some of these arguments, it is great to see that there is actually a real enthusiasm for careers in these industries amongst the next generation. If we as a country can nurture this enthusiasm within our classrooms we can develop the skilled workforce we need to succeed in the future. But this is where the potential problem lies. In the same piece of research more than half of pupils (57%) said a lack of access to technology is stopping them from using more of it in the classroom while a third (33%) also said they don't feel their school knows enough about new technology.

There are some fantastic examples of schools and higher education establishments in the UK doing amazing things to inspire their pupils in STEAM subjects. A secondary school like East Barnet is a great example of how innovative teachers can expose students to engineering and design principles using technologies like robotics and 3D printing in a classroom setting. In post-secondary education, students at New College Lanarkshire have benefited from receiving the highest level of training combined with access to industry leading software to progress into a range of industries from oil and gas to aerospace to ship building to media and entertainment.

However if we really want to create the skilled workforce of the future we need to provide secondary school students with regular hands-on access to highly visual and creative tools and technologies, while older students need the opportunity to master professional tools and techniques to ensure they hit the ground running when they begin their STEAM careers. This is part of the issue, and one Autodesk is helping to tackle by providing free access to every secondary and post-secondary institution in the UK.

In addition, industry leaders also could and should do more to open the eyes of the younger generation to the various opportunities that careers in STEAM related industries offer. More needs to be done for example to highlight the variety of roles and skills required within industries such as construction or engineering. Technological advances are opening up new career possibilities that might not have existed years ago, potentially appealing to a generation more interested and skilled in technology than previous ones.

Advances in accessible 3D design and fabrication technology are disrupting design, engineering and entertainment professions as we know them. The rise in mobile and cloud technology has also made it possible to design anywhere, at any time. However, the progress that we have seen technology make in the commercial world needs to find its way into today's classrooms. Until we succeed in bridging this gap, stories on shortages of STEAM skills may continue to be the norm. 

No classroom required?

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Everything changes - no more so than in the world of technology. As tablets and mobile devices outsell laptops and desktops the opportunities for education abound. Students and teachers have access to a bewildering array of devices and software applications are rapidly moving from a device based model to

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Remember when you used to buy your office software on a CD and install it? Not now - you download it or simply point your cursor at a link. So, armed with a browser on their trusty smartphone or tablet, learners and teachers are freed up in ways they never dreamt of five years ago. Forget Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) - the new acronym is UMODD (Using My Own Device and Data)! James Penny, solutions director at European Electronique, shares his insight into how cloud computing can have a positive impact on education.

Better learning

Schools are about learning. All schools want to provide the best quality learning opportunities for the young people they serve. ICT is clearly an essential part of the learning environment in the 21st Century. But what we want is technology that sits seamlessly in the background, is ready to use when needed, always on and always up to date.

It needs to be simple but powerful yet easy to use. In fact, exactly what we get when we use our personal mobile devices. So why can't we bring that simplicity to the infrastructure of our schools? Well that's exactly what cloud technologies can do. Put simply - Cloud technology can support more powerful learning.

Cloud use and adoption

What is driving cloud adoption? Well it's quite simple really. When devices were big boxes that were fixed by a wire to a network point, things were somewhat limited. But as mobile phone networks grew in power and smartphones became less 'phone' and more 'smart', accessing data services from anywhere became a necessity. But where do you store data, applications and everything else if the device and the user are constantly wondering from place to place?

Well it's obvious...and so the 'Cloud' was born as a convenient way of explaining where your stuff was stored. In reality of course it sits in a physical data centre on servers. It is the access that has changed. With wearable technology set to become mainstream in the next couple of years, mobility will be the watchword.

Embracing the cloud

The most powerful model for education is the idea of a Hybrid Cloud. The hybrid approach looks at where best to store data based on how the data will be used. Bringing together the best of what is available for free on the web with what is best hosted in a private data centre or left on the physical site enables the creation of a flexible and very cost effective approach. Cloud infrastructure is of course based on a pay as you go model so you can move away from the endless issues of infrastructure that keeps going out of date. In the traditional approach as soon as you install your infrastructure it starts to age.

With a cloud model, you pay for a service so whatever is needed to keep the service at the same level is covered in the costs you pay. The cloud service provider updates the hardware and software as part of the costs you pay. This means that you can reduce the costs of supporting your infrastructure and just concentrate on the learning. You also only pay for what you use.

Classrooms Required?

With the range of services available via a web browser growing every day, combined with the proliferation of mobile personal devices, the opportunities for using cloud solutions in education are staggering. It is not fanciful to imagine that the role of the classroom will significantly change over the next five years. From being the place where facts are dispensed by a teacher at the front of the class, to a place where learners and teachers gather to debate and discuss, where facts and ideas can be explored and collated.

Learning will spill beyond the boundaries of the school and beyond the normal times, all powered and supported by cloud technologies that are cost effective and reliable. We'll never do away with schools and classrooms, however  the use of spaces in schools will change as well as the way we educate, as we prepare our young people for a world where the jobs they will do may not even have been thought of yet.

If you want to see what a mobile approach to technology can achieve, where classrooms have evolved and learning is liberated, then I would recommend looking at what the students and staff are doing at an academy on the Isle of Portland on the South Coast of England. The Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, or IPACA to its friends, is a stunning example of how mobile devices and cloud technologies can be fully and successfully integrated into the everyday working life of students and staff.

They support BYOD and UMODD and have an enlightened view about making the most of free web based resources. Even their teachers are different. They have experts in cloud tools and they have a Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, Gary Spracklen, who is pushing the boundaries. As their Patron, the world renowned Stephen Heppell (www.heppell.net) says: "We don't know how good our learners can be". By giving students the tools and the power of cloud technologies, IPACA are starting to see just what is possible. You'll see a future where learners push ahead at their own pace, developing the knowledge and skills that will set them up for a successful future. After all - it's all about learning!

Check out www.ipaca.org.uk for more on what the future of learning really should be.

Can adopting a corporate philanthropy culture help in the attraction and retention of staff?

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This is a guest blog by Patrick Feast, director - training & development at IT recruiter Harris Global.

According to recent figures from KPMG, the technology sector is expanding faster than any other UK industry.  Not surprisingly, then, the latest report from recruitment body APSCo shows growth in IT job vacancies - but, worryingly, a drop in placement numbers as it becomes harder to find the right candidates.  Recruitment issues are therefore moving up the agenda for companies that want to make the most of the opportunities that industry growth can bring.

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To recruit and retain the best candidates, tech firms need to have a real point of difference that gives staff a reason to select them - and which is big enough to stop them being  tempted away by the competition or the lure of freelancing.  Of course, offering a good salary is an important starting point, but in our experience, that's not enough on its own.  Especially when you are looking the twenty-somethings who are fuelling the IT workforce.

Emerging 'Generation Y' has different values and desires compared to previous generations.  Debt from university fees and the seeming impossibility of buying property has actually made money a less motivating factor.  Increasingly they want to work for a business which looks beyond the profit sheet at making a positive impact on the lives of the people that work there, and also the wider community.

Companies with foundations based on genuine Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) values are starting to feel the benefit of this investment.  We have seen candidates with three job offers on the table reject the big corporations and big money, instead picking the smaller firms with philanthropic and environmental credentials. 

CSR is also a great long term motivator.  At Harris we work with a local organisation which helps  people with long-term mental health issues on the road back to full time employment, giving CV advice, interview practice and mentoring to its members.  This takes our staff, who are mainly in their twenties, well out of their comfort zone.  However, once they start doing it they love it, and many go on to volunteer for the charity in their own time too.  Interestingly, we have also found that adding a competitive element to CSR can work well too - dividing the company into two and seeing which team can raise the most money for a local charity.

Also, in the IT sector, we are seeing amongst Generation Y staff a growing desire to be part of 'real' communities as an antidote to the virtual ones created by social media.  CSR initiatives are a great way of creating a sense of community within a business, as well as real life connections that extend beyond the workplace.

It can be hard work for a business to implement ethical, sustainable and philanthropic practices but it's worth it.  It helps profitability through greater staff retention, but not only that, it also provides competitive advantage by helping businesses stand out to their clients and customers.  And if, on top of all that, it makes you feel great about coming to work on a Monday morning, that's an investment with a priceless return.

FDM's military personnel take to the streets for Poppy Appeal

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As a Royal British Legion Poppy Collector myself, I was pleased to hear that FDM Group had its own uniformed personnel supporting London Poppy Day this year.

In its efforts to close the IT skills gap the company offers a training programme for ex-military personnel, which was first launched in the US and came to UK shores in 2013.

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The IT service provider put together a Corporate Office Collection Team of six uniformed military personnel, along with representatives from the British Legion and Barclaycard as well as FDM Ex-Forces consultants and employees who collected on behalf of the Royal British Legion's appeal.

The team took part in the London Poppy Day event, an initiative which began eight years ago when a small group of ex-military friends decided to pin on their medals and sell poppies over their lunch breaks around Lloyds of London. After collecting £500 in two hours they realised the potential in the idea and London Poppy Day was born.

This year the collection day ended at Leadenhall Market where the armed forces met to celebrate their efforts.

FDM Group has a strong background in supporting the armed forces.  In February this year it signed the Ministry of Defence's Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.

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The Armed Forces Corporate Covenant enables businesses and charities to voluntarily pledge and outline publicly how they are willing to commit to the Armed Forces community.

In addition, FDM's UK Ex-Forces Programme offers ex-forces personnel IT training in several business and technical disciplines. The training is then followed by commercial experience at FDM for at least two years.

In the US FDM runs a Veteran's Programme which focuses on transitioning veterans into professional IT consultants. The company offers 17 weeks training at its New York based academy, and two years employment with FDM once fully qualified.

FDM's staff will also be amongst those starting the Poppy extraction process at the Tower of London this week. 







Inaccuracies in technology candidates' CVs: How the tech industry needs to respond

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This is a guest blog by Peter Robbins, managing director, of Mercato Solutions

I was taken aback by recent news that announced a worryingly high number of inaccuracies in technology candidates' CVs. The survey by First Advantage revealed that more than 37% of CVs submitted to technology companies have inconsistencies, a markedly higher number than the national average of 27%. Most alarmingly, just under a third of all these irregularities were found to be 'major,' with 45% of discrepancies found in the candidates' education history. 

This is particularly concerning given the current skills shortage within the IT sector. Recent figures indicate the industry is struggling to recruit the right talent and the problem is growing with the UK Council of Professors & Heads of Computing predicting a further 15% rise in IT jobs within the next ten yearsYet, 50% fewer graduates than a decade ago are seeking roles in our sector.  The shortfall gap is increasing.     

As the tech sector continues to lead growth in domestic and export markets, it is critical we get recruitment and development right to support innovation and growth.  This demands the industry as a whole, above and beyond London, to buoy national interest in our dynamic and exciting sector.  Several major growth hotspots exist in Birmingham and the North West, which overall will support the bigger industry mission to grow.       

As a software business, we have found it challenging to recruit developers and the latest CV related news is perhaps an indication of things to come unless the industry takes a lead to drive engagement between education and the commercial world, improving the way we train people and make them 'work ready'.  But, it is very important we do it in the right manner. 

Software development requires a great deal of skill and expertise, and by creating a long-term shared plan, we can build a pipeline of talented skilled professionals from the grass roots up.

Whilst it is early days for review, September's launch of the new 'code' focussed IT syllabus in schools could be a sound first step, assuming it is taught as a problem solving and engineering subject by teachers with relevant skills.  Hopefully it will teach students how to actually build software not just how to use it.       

 

As it stands we're going to have a gap as we wait for September's Year 1 intake to flourish and then we have to question how their early skills are going to be nurtured going forwards.

 

Apprenticeships and skills development programmes can go a long way in helping to tackle the CV issue. We have seen considerable success in taking on young dynamic people at an early stage in their tech careers as apprentices. The investment we place in young people means that in the end, we aren't just confident they have the skills - we know they do.

 

Train and retain

Allowing individuals to develop while in employment is valuable to both the employee and the employer. Investing time in young people that are willing to learn creates brand ambassadors who are trained in line with the ethos of the company and are familiar with certain processes and business-specific technology.

Nurturing this talent is so crucial and companies that retain apprentices as employees are likely to see the benefits - we certainly have.  As a result, we are committed to bridging the gap between education and employment, upskilling a local workforce and providing local apprenticeships for school leavers and young people. Within the business, we have actually used our own technology to upskill new trainees - all via a software platform that enables us to teach our apprentices how to build business applications within just 60 days of training. 

Industry effort

We need to work harder to make it clear to candidates that they needn't skirt around qualifications and experience on their CV. There's a problem if people are getting put off from telling the truth. Candidates should not feel they need to hide their passion for the industry, even if their skillsets do not reflect this. The tech industry needs to be shouting louder that it's this passion we're looking for and there are plenty of opportunities out there that can develop the skills to match!

If we want the British tech sector to grow we need to invest in our workforce - only then will we have a chance of bridging the skills gap and driving innovation.

Calling all UK tech firms and evangelists: Skills London 2014 needs you!

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This is a guest blog by Barrie Hadfield, CTO of Workshare and London First board member.

The UK tech sector continues to enjoy its greatest year of growth yet, becoming known as the 'silver economy' by many investors. With this success comes endless career opportunities for highly skilled graduates and new entrants wanting to enter the world of tech.

Yet filling such positions has become a major business challenge. Research by the Confederation of British Industry and KPMG revealed that nearly half of London businesses (45%) believe the capital is experiencing a skills shortage, and that two thirds (66%) find it difficult to recruit highly skilled workers, with IT and technology roles being the most difficult to fill.

In response to this, TechUK, the trade association for the UK's technology industry, recently published a manifesto calling on the Government to foster domestic technology skills to safeguard the country's digital economy, and secure one million IT jobs over the next five years.

As well as the Government, London's technology firms have a responsibility to entice young talent to the sector, by making it more appealing and accessible to the graduate workforce. Together with key influencers in the sector, we need to work to attract more talent to the capital by promoting the promising career opportunities that working in IT and tech can offer.

Despite the IT skills shortage, London is still one of the best places in the world to do business and for graduates to start their careers. And for this reason, we continue to see major companies and startups flood the capital's Tech City area, including Google and Apple. According to Bloomberg, London now has more jobs in financial technology than New York (44,000 versus 43,000), and because of Tech City's proximity to the city, fintech startups are blooming. 

The economic success of London's Tech City has been instrumental in attracting investment to the capital. This has led to increasing internship opportunities within the sector and it is becoming one of the best-paid industries for interns to work in today. It's also renowned for being one of the most diverse sectors, with a multitude of different skills coming together from software engineering, marketing, design and fashion.

As a tech evangelist, it's great to see the significant impact the tech sector is having on the capital. Having just been appointed to the board of London First, a not-for-profit organisation promoting London as a business destination, I'm the first representative to join from Tech City. The IT skills shortage in London is an issue high on the agenda and one that we are keen to address together.

London First will be raising awareness of the tech sector and IT skills at Skills London 2014, the capital's biggest jobs and careers event for young people from 21-22 November. The event will provide tech organisations and influencers with the perfect opportunity to showcase London's vibrant technology scene. The event will attract over 30,000 young people, parents and teachers and will provide young jobseekers with a better understanding of the careers available to them, as well as offering advice on how to gain technology and IT experience.

It is paramount that London's leading businesses recognise the opportunity Skills London presents, and participate in what is going to be a milestone event for the capital's tech sector. 

Will compulsory coding in schools solve the UK's IT skills shortage?

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This is a guest blog by Emily Dauris, group marketing manager of G2 Legal Limited & Skillsearch Limited

In September this year, Michael Gove launched his new scheme to making computer coding a mandatory part of the curriculum for primary school children in the UK. So beginning this term five year olds are being taught to write and test computer programmes and coding languages are to be learnt at age 11. Although there has been a harsh backlash from Teachers who claim these drastic changes to the curriculum have been rushed through and schools are not yet prepared or trained to teach these skills, Mrs Morgan (

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Gove's predecessor) backs the initiative and looks to continue with the scheme.

It has been a hot topic for some time now. Tiny Estonia adopted this new approach in 2012, making lessons in programming computers and mobile devises mandatory for students from 6 years old. Mainland China also joined the revolution with Hong Kong set to be next in line. So are we right to follow suit? Estonia's population is just ¼ the size of Scotland's and yet it is a technological superpower and the creators of Skype. Joanna Shields, the UK's ambassador for digital industries and chairman of TechCity UK has even gone as far as to argue that we should consider dropping lessons in foreign languages in favour of coding languages, claiming these skills will only increase in demand. So do we need to educate our children at a young age to secure our future in IT's evolution? Or could this be damaging to the future of IT as a profession?

With the next generation being given the skills to build and support technology themselves, could the IT sector be at threat of future extinction? According to some of the people who would be most effected if this were to happen, IT Recruiters, it would seem not. Andy Milford of Skillsearch Ltd firmly believes that 'If done properly, making computer programming part of the curriculum could provide a major boon for the UK's IT industry.' As a senior business intelligence and data visualisation recruitment consultant, Andy Milford confronts the shortage of skilled coders in certain UK markets on a daily basis. 'The biggest challenge to the Recruiter is not acquire the business from the client but actually finding a candidate with the skillset to match the role,' he explains. ' If children are taught to code from an earlier age then this will only have a beneficial effect on the UK where we are still seeing projects outsourced due to more available skillsets overseas.'

I asked Giles Fenwick, games and interactive manager at Skillsearch's Digital technology arm, if he was concerned that educating the entire next generation in coding could result in a saturated marketplace. 

'I don't believe so' he responded, 'what it will do is better educate those who are interested in the industry. Particularly in the games industry where success does not just come from the ability to code, but more importantly the ideas and creativity that go into making games people want to play. If children are provided the skills to produce these ideas it will only allow the industry to progress and the UK to become a major player in this high-growth digital market.'

It seems there is an uncharacteristic optimism in this particular initiative of Michael Gove and a general consensus that advancing the computer skills of the next generation is integral to this country's growth, not only in launching the careers of future technology pioneers, but in extending the choice of technology vendors. 'Within the Business Intelligence market in particular,' Andy explains, 'we have been seeing a shift away from the larger global vendors, to more affordable BI software technologies. For the smaller houses, more readily available coders and programmers is essential for them to be able to meet demand and compete'.

Perhaps what sets IT apart from other academic subjects is that it is constantly evolving and changing? This makes it increasingly difficult for the next generation to know what to expect from a career in the sector. By arming the next generation with the skills needed to build their own computer programmes we provide them a great foundation from which their imaginations are able to take over, thereby inspiring innovative future technological pioneers and establishing the UK as a leader in the digital world.

My experience of using twitter as a teaching tool

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This is a guest blog by professor Leszek Gąsieniec is the head of the University of Liverpool's Computer Science department. 

Earlier this year, he used Twitter to support the delivery of a postgraduate module, called Applied Algorithmics. 

In recent years we have noticed that certain students do not read university email on a regular basis. Students tend to use their private email accounts on Yahoo, Google, or stick to other communication technologies that naturally incorporate multimedia and reporting mechanisms allowing to engage in a more attractive (and complex) dialogue.

Twitter appears to provide a powerful alternative to email communication as it provides a good compromise between a professional communication tool and a multimedia storage platform.

This year we adopted Twitter as the communication tool for a relatively small on Applied Algorithmics. The module provides amalgamate of theory of algorithms with problem solving accompanied by several software implementations.

Apart from lectures combined with tutorials, students attend labs during which they work on Java assignments that are tested and assessed on our internally developed electronic feedback-submission system.

As the students can submit their work multiple times seeing (anonymously) their performance with respect to the others they tend to ask questions, looking for hints and clarifications.

This process requires a good communication tool. We set up new Twitter accounts for all of the students on the module, including myself, the tutor and one of my PhD students who monitored the system as part of his research interest.

During delivery of the module we used Twitter for communication almost solely. Several students used the tool extensively, and others only followed our discussions.

The public conversation was open to all students. In fact it is still open to everyone. In addition several private messages exchanged between the lecturer and the individual students. I can only assume that the students used private communication between themselves too.

While the use of Twitter was experimental and we did not use its capability to the full extent, the students' feedback was very positive and encouraging to prolong its use in the following years.

There were many advantages to using this approach. Twitter provides an open (public) forum and almost all messages, with exception of dedicated private communication, is available for others to read. This includes those who do not attend the module. Such open forum encourages greater engagement including direct contact and discussions.

In contrast to email, Twitter API is an open multimedia platform that allows collection and further analysis of messages, images, videos which can be used, to understand the mechanics of course engagement including communication.

There are, however, some disadvantages too. You need to set up new Twitter accounts for everyone on the course.  Social media is chiefly used to comment on life problems, politics, so occasionally this type of messages may slip in during course related exchange of messages.  Importantly, the course leader must be a Twitter enthusiast or it simply won't work.

The next step would be to test it on larger modules, but I would certainly encourage my colleagues in Computer Science and other fields to try it out.

The material of the module is available at http://cgi.csc.liv.ac.uk/~leszek/COMP526/ including the link to COMP526 Twitter account https://twitter.com/lag_526

What do IT professionals look for in an employer?

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This is a guest post from Matt Fahy, Unum's chief information officer.

New statistics from KPMG reveal that the current skills shortage has led to the sharpest growth in demand for IT staff in August in more than 15 years. Whilst IT vacancies are increasing year on year, it's growing increasingly difficult to find people with the right skillset for the job. As a result, employers have to work harder than ever before to beat off the competition and recruit and retain the best talent.

As IT companies gear up for the busy Autumn recruitment drive, now is the time to think about how to stand out from the crowd and bridge the looming skills gap. So what do IT professional look for when deciding which company to join?

While salary will always remain a key consideration, our research has found that feeling cared for by an employer is one of the most important factors when IT professions decide whether to join or stay with a company. In fact, a third of people working in the sector say they would consider leaving a job as a result of poor wellbeing and a further 26% say it would make them less likely to stay with an employer long-term.

An important part of making staff feel valued and cared for is paying attention to softer elements around management and recognition. IT workers increasingly expect to feel empowered at work and that their hard work is recognised and rewarded.

There are many examples of IT companies which have found innovative ways to empower and motivate staff. Google's 20% rule is a famous example, where employees spend one day a week on a new product or idea that is not part of their main job, while newer companies such as Edinburgh-based travel comparison site Skyscanner invests in training and development through the Skyscanner University, which includes subjects as diverse as negotiation skills and making sushi.

IT companies that are truly committed to retaining and attracting top talent also need to make sure these softer elements are underpinned by a comprehensive package of benefits which provide long-term financial protection - for example, Private Medical Insurance or Income Protection which provides a replacement income if an employee has to go on long-term sick leave. This is a tangible way for employers to demonstrate they care for their staff, and we know it's important to workers in the sector - Unum's Wellbeing Lag research earlier this year found that as many as 75% of IT workers say a comprehensive benefits package is important to them, and 63% specifically highlighted financial support through ill health, making this a bigger factor in staff loyalty than a good bonus (49%).

The latest evidence of the concerning skills shortage within the IT sector should be a wake-up call to businesses. People join - and stay with - companies who can demonstrate that they value their employees.

With our research finding that the cost of replacing IT professionals who earn £25,000 or more comes in at over £31,000, it makes financial sense to ensure this is an absolute priority. There needs to be more emphasis at board level on recruiting, retaining and nurturing talent, not only to ensure a happy and healthy workforce but to make sure IT companies can beat the skills gap and attract the staff they need in order to innovate and grow. 







Can your company donate old hardware for use at Technopop for young people?

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Technopop has joined forces with techUK to continue in its hunt for unwanted hardware for use at the Technopop festival for young people.

Technopop pic.jpg

Technopop, is working with techUK, to collect companies hardware for the festival and then plans to donate it to local schools after the event.

The four week long programme includes educational workshops, coding clubs, hackathons, rocketry, learning to building apps and more.

The event is aimed at 6-19 year olds and their parents and will run from 8 Oct to 2 November in Stratford.  

 If your company can help by donating old laptops, screens, pcs and macs please contact hello@technopop.co.uk. 

 To attend Technopop you can find more information here: http://technopop.co.uk/.

 

Solving the graduate STEM skill shortage: What can we learn from the financial sector?

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This is a guest blog by Tony Virdi, head of UK banking and financial services at Cognizant.

A subject of much debate over the last few months, the CBI and many of its members agree that there is a severe shortage of advanced and technical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills and that this shortage needs to be addressed imminently. The 2013 Education and Skills Survey showed that 39% of UK firms struggle to recruit workers with the appropriate skills. Even though the 2013 Autumn Statement announced an extra £185m for more technical subject teaching at university level in England, seeing real progress might still take some time.

Tony Virdi.JPG

For now, the latest round of graduates busy applying for jobs are still likely to face barriers due to a lack of experience, average university exam results or simply being put off by the STEM sector altogether. In order to introduce more and better skilled graduates to a STEM career, especially women, it is not just government and the education sector that will play a big part; the wider STEM sector has a major role to play as well.

However, some sectors are doing better than others in addressing the skills' shortage. Financial organisations, for example, are already addressing the issue directly by providing more in-house technical training schemes, and other sectors could adopt a similar approach.

Firstly, it is about communicating the opportunities and benefits of working in IT and technology- related fields to attract more graduates. As those who work in IT know, technology is a fast-paced and constantly changing sector and one in which innovative and entrepreneurial individuals thrive. Secondly, recent research for the Complete University Guide also indicated that graduate salaries within IT have increased compared to an overall decline, an obvious incentive to move into this sector, as well as the sheer number of jobs available: the European Commission  estimates that Europe might face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020. However, with many still lacking the skills and training required, what can be done to boost the number of applicants as well as boosting their confidence?

In the banking sector, we have already started to see some businesses take the initiative by encouraging and supporting school-age pupils to consider STEM careers, eventually leading to potentially becoming the graduate intake of the future.   For example, Cognizant is working closely with Teach First, a charity with the vision that no child's educational success is limited by their socio-economic background. As one of the charity's primary focuses is on encouraging young people to take an interest in STEM subjects, a number of our senior executives are volunteering some of their time in the classroom to support the charity's emphasis on STEM subjects. By connecting our employees with teachers and their pupils, we can help tackle educational inequality and encourage higher education whilst providing tangible business benefits, particularly in STEM related subjects.

This early stage, collaborative approach to entry-level IT and business training is fairly unique across all industries at the moment. However, we expect to see greater demand for this, as more and more businesses start to realise the benefits of addressing technical skills' shortages directly. Having this control also means they can tailor the training programmes with their selected partner to ensure the candidates are better prepared for their specific roles. 

In addition to mentoring and teaching technical and business skills, graduates should be exposed to different markets early on. Global companies are in the best position to offer work opportunities in different countries. Learning about different cultural practices and business models will not only enrich their careers and allow graduates to stand out from the crowd from the beginning, it also benefits companies themselves. It allows individuals in different regions to impart knowledge and skills relevant to their markets and, at the same time, it gives graduates the opportunity to understand national differences and gain valuable insight into the organisation's own culture. The value is all about increasing enterprise knowledge and skills. 

The industry should also focus on promoting more prominent women to encourage more female graduates into STEM careers. Although women now make up 46 per cent of the UK's work force, only 15.5% of the STEM workforce is female[1].  More can be done to fill this gap and having strong role models will help with this. Once on board, it is also important to ensure that women are given equal opportunities and support throughout their careers.

Although the STEM skills shortage has already been acknowledged by the education system,  the CBI and industry itself, organisations should take the lead to ensure they get the best talent entering the business which is then equipped with the right skill set according to the industry's requirements. After all, in the digital age having the right skills within the business will help them run better and give competitive edge by supporting and nurturing tomorrow's innovators. The banking sector has already made good progress in introducing graduates to IT and technology expertise. It is up to other sectors to follow suit and assess their approach now, to address their own skills shortages.

Bridging the skills gap: Security process automation

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This is a guest blog by Jody Brazil, CEO of FireMon

One of the most pressing issues in IT security management today remains the critical shortage of skilled professionals available to address current demands.

Thumbnail image for Jody Brazil, CEO of FireMon.jpg

For example, an April 2014 study conducted by Frost & Sullivan found demand for 4.25 million security professionals by 2017, with only 2.25 million trained workers worldwide today, a 47 percent shortfall.   

The situation clearly amounts to a significant challenge and this means that today's enterprises, and truthfully organisations of all sizes, find themselves in the position of needing new methods to get more out of existing IT security teams.

One available solution is the continued maturation of technologies that automate security tasks, freeing up workers to address other responsibilities. In many cases, leveraging automation also proves advantageous in performing widespread, highly repetitive tasks using computer intelligence, allowing humans to focus on jobs that require creative ingenuity.

Network firewall management is one area where automation can maximise staffing resources and greatly improve overall efficiency. These devices, and the policies that dictate their configurations, have often been in place for many years and become overly complex and inefficient.

This situation also represents one of the most troubling aspects of enterprise security, as the lack of effective review and adaptation of network access often leads to opportunities for malicious attacks and subsequent breach incidents.

Additionally, firewall policies are constantly expanded and revised to support evolving business needs, heightening the issue. As a result of these factors, industry analysts Gartner report that "through 2018, more than 95 percent of [all related] breaches will be caused by firewall misconfigurations, not firewall flaws."

Automation is also particularly helpful in addressing firewall rules and policy management because the involved review process must be practiced continually to prevent emerging risk exposures, driven by ongoing change.

Industry experts such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) back this continuous assessment approach in nearly all of their best practices (including the NIST 800-53 and 800-41 frameworks).

This is also an area where computing intelligence is clearly preferable to manual, hands-on methodologies - in a typical enterprise this process involves the ongoing evaluation of tens of thousands of rules distributed across hundreds of firewalls.

Using humans to complete this work is neither a practical nor professionally rewarding approach, as it involves documenting each rule, evaluating it against a policy, and then reviewing this data with relevant business owners, which can take hours... per rule! To do this effectively using manual processes would result in the need for dozens of full time staffers within a typical enterprise.

It's also worth noting that leveraging such "process automation" addresses the most significant element of this challenge without putting the network or security at greater potential risk, as could be the case by automating configuration changes without human oversight.

Beyond the opportunity to free up and empower existing staff, automating firewall rules and policy review - along with related risk management tasks - advances other tasks such including mandated compliance audits (such as for PCI DSS).

By using automation tools such as FireMon's for firewall analysis, policy validation, change reporting, documentation and many other related processes, some organisations have been able to cut compliance audit staffing by over 50 percent.

To address the current security staffing shortage organisations need to help their existing employees increase productivity and cover more territory until the necessary reserves eventually arrive, if ever.

The best manner of accomplishing this goal is leveraging automation to allow security teams to do so, and automating network firewall management is a prime example of how this feat can be realised.

Why is the BBC launching Make it Digital?

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This is a guest post from Jessica Cecil, project controller at the BBC. 

 

Last October, director-general Tony Hall said he wanted the BBC to embrace one big education project a year. In 2014 it is World War One. I'm delighted to announce that in 2015, the BBC's new Make it Digital initiative will shine a light on the world of digital creativity and coding. And that is exactly what we are going to do. But because there's so much to highlight we thought we'd start early, so at the start of the new school year for most, we are giving a taste of what we have planned.

 

The very first Make it Digital examples include our brand new Bitesize guides to support the new Computing curriculum that is being introduced in England. We're also launching relevant Computing content for pupils studying the subject in curricula across the rest of the UK. Our content supports both primary and secondary school pupils as well as their teachers and parents - all under the Bitesize brand for the first time.

 

Alongside these BBC Learning projects we have some exciting children's programmes coming out this Autumn that will help inspire our youngest audiences to discover the digital world and to take their journeys of digital discovery further. Dick & Dom's Absolute Genius will become Appsolute Genius, Technobabble will look at the technology which will shape children's lives, and Nina and the Neurons will go digital. You can find the full detail here.

 

Why are we doing this? This generation of coders and computing creatives are standing on the shoulders of giants. The UK is the birth place of computer science, and pioneers such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing. We have just celebrated 25 years of the World Wide Web, created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and we are home to game-changing games makers and entrepreneurs like Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy and Ian Livingstone.

 

And the BBC has history too: back in the 80's we made a commitment to inspire a generation to get passionate about computing. We broadcast hundreds of hours of TV, created a new coding language, and gave millions their first taste of computing with the BBC Micro.  It's firmly rooted in our public service commitments and is exactly what the BBC should be doing. And in 2015 we want to capture the spirit of what we did with the BBC Micro, but this time for the digital age.

 

The potential for this country's future is as rich as our past, but there are dangers. Martha Lane Fox estimates we are going to need a million more people working in the technology sector over the next ten years - but right now many of our youngsters are lacking the digital skills they need.

 

A wealth of fantastic organisations are already inspiring the next generation. Organisations like Code Club, Free:formers, Apps for Good, Coderdojo, Technology Will Save Us and Code Academy; enablers like Nesta, Nominet Trust, the Mozilla Foundation, the iDEA initiative, and the Make Things Do Stuff movement; big companies like BT, Microsoft, Google, Intel and Samsung are all running wonderful initiatives. However, it's a very different landscape to the one we had in back in the eighties when we launched the BBC Micro. So we've been talking to people across the digital and educational communities to help us define what the BBC can usefully do here, and help us answer these questions:

·         What can the BBC do in 2015 which no other organisation can deliver?

·         What are the ways in which we can partner most effectively?

 

Partnerships are the key to our approach. By working in partnership with others we want to celebrate the rich heritage of this country, but we want to play our part in inspiring a new generation to get active with computing. And that has never been more important - it helps all of us be active shapers of our world, rather than passive consumers.

 

Our conversations have highlighted that the BBC should work with the industry, raising awareness and inspiring people to get interested in coding and digital technology.

 

In early 2015 we will be able to share in-depth details of what is planned and there will be something for everyone. We want to show audiences how Britain has helped shape the digital world and why digital skills matter.

 

We will harness the power of our biggest shows - we have so many much-loved programmes and characters that can play a role introducing people to coding and digital technology. There will be new commissions, too, including dramas and documentaries. We want to do what we do best - tell stories that inspire and move people.

 

We will celebrate the UK's digital heritage, raise awareness, and help some people to take their first steps into the world of digital.

 

All our activity will link to online resources that will help our audiences play, learn and share, with a digital hub bringing all of this activity together. There will be off-air activity too, particularly focused on children and young people. We want to help people to find the fantastic resources which already exist, including learning opportunities across the UK and online. And in some cases, the very best of what they create will find its way back on to the BBC.

 

There's much, much more to come in the months ahead - including what we hope will be some life changing opportunities for school leavers so what we're announcing today is just the start.

 

With our partners we want to have a lasting impact and ensure we work with them to make a difference.

 

I hope this gives a flavour of how important this project is to us at the BBC and explains how we, and the industry, believe we can inspire people. I was asked to lead this project and pull it together so we, the BBC, can bring all of what we have to help highlight what is the future, to and inspire all our audiences to create the future.

 

Please do let us know what you think. We will update you as we build up to 2015 when we will have much more to share.

 

Why the government needs to address its fragmented approach to cyber skills

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This is a guest blog by Graeme Stewart, director of public sector strategy and relations, at McAfee

Earlier this year, the Department for Business and Innovation (BIS) launched Cyber Essentials, to accredit businesses which meet certain minimum cyber security requirements. The programme makes good sense, but the way it was developed is typical of the government's ad hoc and uncoordinated approach to cyber skills.

Cyber Essentials, as a BIS initiative, is aimed at helping businesses. But the obvious advantage of a government-led scheme is it can require its own suppliers to meet those standards - guaranteeing uptake and improving government security. So why was this not a whole government initiative?

This kind of approach is replicated everywhere. The Department for Education has promoted cyber skills for children through e-skills' Secure Futures schools campaign. The Home Office also recently launched a £4m information security awareness campaign about rising threat of hacking.  The Cabinet Office's Cyber Security Challenge is working to get people interested in cyber security careers.

Whilst these programmes are welcome and admirable, the government has fallen into its usual trap of creating multiple programmes in silos- duplicating resources, using its time and money poorly. Moreover, the government is missing a trick. Many cyber security companies have resources they'd love to share with government, schools and industry. The lack of coordination means this is largely overlooked.

Rather than doling out small amounts of money to each department, government should promote collaboration between departments on cyber security.

Fans of the status quo may argue this would result in a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. That's not true - different departments would still have the right to tailor programmes. But much of the underlying information is the same.

Most departments have similar basic security requirements, so why not work together on a cyber essentials style scheme for all government suppliers? This could then have various add-ons for different department's requirements.

And the DfE should lead on school level cyber security education, but it should run one programme for schools which coordinates the various resources available from different departments and companies.

Developing such a programme could invite cyber security companies of all sizes to offer their services and resources.

Someone needs to get representatives from different departments providing cyber skills programmes, and all the vendors, in a room together and join the dots.

The government has a duty to provide public sector organisations, business, and society at large with comprehensive cyber skills programmes. But it also has a duty to spend taxpayers money efficiently.

A unified scheme is within the reach of the government if someone would be willing to take the reins. Aside from saving time and money, it will promote the idea that cyber security should be at the core of every organisation, not an add on. Imagine a major company gave its marketing, finance, legal and HR departments separate cyber security budgets. It would make no sense, yet this is what government is doling on a much larger scale.

Cyber security companies have evangelised that organisations need security by default. But only the government has the power and resources to implement national programmes, and it can only do that through a coordinated approach. It is time for the government to stand up and lead the example.







The IT skills imperative

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This is a guest blog by Jane Richardson, Director of the Oracle Academy in EMEA

The UK job market, and in fact the job market across all of EMEA, is in trouble. Despite a growing need by businesses across virtually all industries for IT-savvy employees, the skills young people are learning in school simply do not correspond to their needs.  According a report released by the Prince's Trust, two-thirds of companies fear a lack of skilled workers could jeopardize Britain's economic recovery[1].

Jane Richardson.jpgThis reality is particularly concerning when it comes to IT and computing. A growing number of businesses are beginning to appreciate the benefits of high-value technologies such as the cloud and big data. From local start-ups to global enterprises, companies across the board are in need of data scientists, talented coders and programmers, and app developers but are struggling to find graduates who can actually fill these roles.

For their part, many young people that have put time and effort into their studies find themselves unable to secure jobs in the digital age. As a result, the world is experiencing a significant, global IT skills gap which is only set to widen. In Europe alone nearly one million IT jobs are lying vacant[2], while demand for freelancers with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills is surging by as much as 300 per cent around the world[3]. This is clearly a problem that must be addressed immediately.

But why exactly is it so important that we solve this problem? In short, developing IT skills is nothing less than fundamental to the future growth of businesses. It is every bit as important as other economic levers - such as infrastructure investment - in improving the balance sheet of a country. For countries such as Greece and Spain, that have experienced slow or negative growth over the last few years, every step possible must be taken to help businesses grow. Getting the right STEM, ICT and computing skills in place is a vital first step towards encouraging job creation and future innovation.

A deep pool of IT talent is also hugely important in enabling entrepreneurs to establish start-up businesses. SMEs form the backbone of the economy. In Europe alone, SMEs form 99 per cent of all business account for two out of three private sector jobs[4]. Having employees with the right IT and computing skills allows SMEs in every industry to utilise the latest technology bringing about cost and operational efficiencies that provide them with a competitive edge.

Furthermore, one of the hottest growth sectors in the SME space also happens to be within the technology sector, with tech hubs popping up across Europe to incubate and promote these companies. Clearly, any initial success that these tech start-ups manage to achieve will be severely curtailed if they cannot find the people they need to continue fuelling their growth. The IT skills gap is, in short, severely limiting the value technology companies will have to national economies in the future. By failing to develop graduates with the right STEM and ICT training we risk cutting off the oxygen supply to these growing organisations.

All of this raises an important question: why exactly is Europe facing such a huge skills gap in the first place? The answer lies in the fact that not enough students are taking computer science as a subject across all levels of education: primary, secondary, higher and graduate level.

At the primary and secondary school levels the main barrier to taking ICT or computing subjects at school seems to centre on the lack of awareness around how taking these subjects can lead to a variety of career paths.  Female students are met with another problem: IT careers are still seen as something of a male preserve and STEM subjects as masculine ones. This year's A-Level statistics show that the number of boys taking ICT is double the number of girls, while in computing, boys outstrip girls by nine to one[5]. In light of this, it's hardly surprising that the percentage of students taking ICT or computing at a secondary school level remains so low. Last year in the UK, fewer than 10,500 students sat an A-Level in ICT, and less than 4,000 sat exams in computing.

To solve this problem and encourage future generations to engage in a more digital literate future we must get students interested in STEM subjects. One way to do this is to make it clear just how many exciting and well-paid careers ICT and computing qualifications can lead to. Retailers, investment banks, fashion designers and production studios are just some of the businesses who need cloud computing-architects, big data experts, developers, computer games programmers, and animation coders who can contribute to their success.

For the current generation of students and graduates, a great deal of opportunity lies in gaining skills that will allow them to work in any industry. Of course, it will fall to governments and educators to take heed of the growing role of IT in business and place computer science at the heart of their curricula. Together we need to build a ladder of skills that will get students of all ages interested in computing, programming and coding and enable them to become the digitally literate experts that are so important to our future.

[1] The Skills Crunch: up-skilling the workforce of the future, The Prince's Trust and HSBC, 2014

2 http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/davos-jobs-skills/

3 https://www.elance.com/q/press/freelancers-stem-and-creative-skills-drive-record-breaking-growth-elance

4 http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sme/facts-figures-analysis/

5http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/14/a-level-results-2014-the-full-breakdown

Computer science student convinces comparethemarket.com to help source hardware

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18 year old BTEC IT student James Elmour contacted Computing at School to help with finding hardware for his project where he needed to test Android mobile software applications. 

Elmour, who studies at the City of Liverpool College, was pointed in the direction of comparethemarket.com where he pitched to its IT and software engineering team on why how the hardware would benefit him and his classmates. CTM Student Placement - Portrait.jpg

Comparethemarket.com helped him source several Hudl tablets, which are now being used by the students and their teachers on a daily basis in the college's computer science labs.

He was subsequently given a Student Research Award by his College. 

Elmour, said: "We are really grateful for the support of comparethemarket.com. Being able to use genuine Android devices for testing means we can develop bigger and better apps and make better use of all features on the device. It's definitely boosted morale and provided an incentive for higher grades."

James Lomas, IT director at comparethemarket.com, comments: "After meeting James and seeing his passion for software engineering we couldn't help but lend our support. His story truly struck a chord and we were compelled to make a contribution."

"Comparethemarket.com wants to provide students with the opportunity to learn how technology works. We support coding clubs in the Cambridgeshire area, which provides amazing opportunities for our engineers to introduce primary school children to computer science and also work with universities to help develop a syllabus that produces workplace-ready graduates."

Computer Weekly partners with Create! Campaign for Appathon

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Computer Weekly is pleased to announce a media partnership with the Create! campaign's Appathon competition.

 

The Create! campaign was launched by Founders4Schools and SVC2UK to help students to link the STEM skills they are learning at school with creating the IT businesses of the future.

Appathon logo.jpgAs part of the campaign the 'Appathon' is a competition which tasks young people with finding tech solutions to the challenges around them.

 

Sherry Coutu, chairman of Founders4Schools, told Computer Weekly that secondary school students will be asked to come up with ideas for apps they would want to use, and university students will be tasked with creating them.

Winning app teams will be invited to an awards ceremony in London during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Computer Weekly will be covering the Appathon from start to finish, with insights from experts and students.

Supporting partners involved in the Create! Campaign include Apps for Good, Behind the Screen, TeenTech and Young Rewired State, Codecademy, Decoded, Code Club, iDEA, Kano, Raspberry Pi Foundation, Make Things Do Stuff, Microsoft and Cambridge University Press UK Schools.


Can you help? Technopop festival on hunt for loaned laptops, screens, Wi-Fi and more for 100,000 students

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I spoke with Technopop recently about its London festival due to take place over a course of four weeks, in East London.

Supported by Oxley International Holdings, the festival aims to provide an environment to inspire young people to consider IT in both their future careers and social lives.

Due to take place at The International Quarter (TIQ) on the edge of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, from 8 October to 2 November, entry is free for all children and students aged six to 19.

Thousands of students from all over the UK have already registered for the event, with an anticipated 100,000 to attend overall.

Understandably Technopop is on the hunt for companies willing to loan their equipment for use at the event.

They are particularly in need of laptops to be used in hackathons, Wi-Fi connectivity for the day and screens for presentations, etc.

If you work for a company that might be interested in helping out with equipment, please drop me an email at kbateman@techtarget.com.

Proving IT's value in a cloudy world: Widening knowledge and demonstrating value

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This is a guest blog from Gareth Cartman, director of digital marketing at Clever Little Design.

We've arrived at a point where most businesses - even the most sensitive - have accepted the role of cloud technology, and have even embraced it. The advantages are trotted out regularly - pay-as-you-go, flexible, secure, scalable and crucially - it's cheaper. Thumbnail image for gareth cartman image.jpg

Why is it cheaper? Because you don't need an IT department to upgrade & maintain the system for you - the cloud solution providers do it for you.

The emphasis has moved away from the technology simply because there's no need to manage the technology. And that is leaving IT departments in something of a quandary.

 Adapt or die, basically...

And for many, that means "die" 

Thoran Rodrigues calls it "death by obsolescence", and it's coming through a variety of channels:

Increased user knowledge: we know a lot more about how to manage our devices these days. Indeed, most of us can probably navigate our way around Windows, and the advent of BYOD adds in a whole other element. 

No need for infrastructure: cloud eliminates the need for servers, and therefore the need for people to maintain those servers and networks.

Better technology: compatibility is no longer an issue for many organisations - cross-browser compatibility is more or less standard, and while larger businesses are still on Internet Explorer (with its thousands of patches and workarounds), most of us have moved on to something more reliable. 

It's going to take a radical rethink of the way IT departments work, and that should start by thinking about the way IT professionals provide value to businesses. These last few years of economic downturn have put a sharp focus on ROI. Every asset is sweated, every penny needs to provide a return.

What of IT, in that case? 

Widening our knowledge

Knowledge of IT is one thing - knowledge of how IT is crucial to business performance is quite another. 

To start this, it's time to broaden out our knowledge of business processes and start to get involved at a deeper level. What is, for instance, the difference between CRM and ERP? Even if they're both provided in the cloud, there are decisions to be made at every level of the business and the choice of one over the other will have significant IT impacts. Equally, the selection of one provider over another will come with other impacts, and there is a sizeable consultancy angle here. 

Finding our opportunities

Indeed, this argument between CRM and ERP is an interesting one. While this debate may be playing out in other departments, the very fact that this technology is changing at such a rapid rate gives IT an opportunity to deliver significant value to the business. 

Knowing more about these technologies, and which ones integrate with existing systems, is going to be essential. Not everyone within an organisation is going to understand this to any significant degree, and there's a need for this level of expertise.

Furthermore, ensuring that providers respect Service Level Agreements, and that they are indeed providing the software upgrades to the level the business requires is going to be another key business requirement. Who is going to look after that? It has to be internal. It has to be IT.

Demonstrating our value

I'd go a step further from these basic business requirements and ask IT departments to look at areas where it can provide real value. For instance, how long does it take the average user to boot up a laptop in the morning? I worked in one organisation where we unofficially measured this and discovered that people spent an average of 12 minutes booting their laptops up.

In which time, they made a coffee, went for a chat with someone, and came back usually 15 minutes later.

That's 15 minutes per person, per day - wasted due to defunct IT equipment. Add on top of that the average of 15 minutes wasted due to crashes every day (on average, one per person) - then that's 30 minutes every day per person. Add that up across 200 people, and you've got... well, you can measure that. And you can measure it in pounds and pence.

What's the productivity impact of getting that time back?

That's one simple example of how IT departments can visibly measure their impact in terms that the board can understand.

In a clouded world, IT's role is changing demonstrably - by upping our game and getting in on the pounds and pence impact of quality IT provision, we can shape that new role and make ourselves indispensable again. The alternative is that we end up like most of the technology we've been responsible for - obsolete.

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