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Will academic education ever satisfy the skills needs for IT?

June 20, 2013 1 comment

“This house believes that academic education will never satisfy the skills needs of the IT Profession” was the title of last week’s Oxford Union style debate, jointly hosted by BCS Chartered Institute for IT (via Learning Development Specialist Group) and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, at Armourer’s Hall in the City of London.  

BCS Debate

BCS Debate

In this historical and fully weaponised environment, (with apparently enough arms and armour to record an episode of The Game of Thrones), the scene was set for a pitched battle between two teams, for and against the house position, with limited audience participation and a final vote to decide the winners. Some key observations from the debate include:

  • Academic education provides a foundation for the skills needed to work in IT, and much like a building’s foundation, “you can’t live in it but you can build great structures upon it”
  • Academic education only teaches the core skills (e.g. how to think) for working in IT, but education also happens through out life, and not just during periods of formal education
  •  Academic education is insufficient for working in IT because it is purposely designed to cater for more cerebral, rather than hands-on, skills training.
  • Apprenticeships may be necessary but universities and other educational institutions are not best suited for apprenticeships. The IT industry should play its part too.
  • In no other profession would you trust a fresh graduate with key responsibilities. Academic education provides the live ware, but it’s the employer’s job to configure them.
  • Both sides seemed almost in violent agreement that academic education in itself wasn’t sufficient for the IT profession, however the opposition felt this was more a design feature rather than outright flaw.

Overall, I got the impression that attendees may have expected something a tad more passionate than the well argued but mostly polite points and counterpoints from both sides.

Furthermore, some interesting slants were omitted in the debate, e.g. digital entrepreneurship as a viable option for freshly minted graduates. According to one attendee, academic education could do more to encourage and equip students to create, or seek to work, in new start-ups after graduation. This could pay off in many ways e.g. by providing graduates with: practical on-the-job training; immediate employment; business relevant skills and unfettered creativity (which are not always available within a rigid corporate environment), besides – fresh graduates likely have ‘nothing to lose’ and everything to gain by doing this at this stage in their careers. Even more to the point, corporates will also benefit by recruiting seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs with more practical and immediately deployable skills.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular event; the topic / debate, the excellent venue and networking opportunities all made for a brilliant evening, and I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in, and sometimes contribute to, events such as these that help move the industry forward. Next week, we’ve scheduled an event featuring Andy Mulholland (Capgemini’s ex-Global CTO), who will speak about the emerging digital enterprise. Do register and try to attend if at all possible – it promises to be another excellent event, courtesy of the BCS North London and BCS Elite groups.

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Creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors

June 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors

What do you get when you gather some entrepreneurs, serious investors, and innovators together at a jam-packed, invitation-only, event on entrepreneurship? Read on to find out…

Follow The Entrepreneur

Follow The Entrepreneur Summit 2013

I attended the third annual Follow the Entrepreneur Investor Summit, and wasn’t disappointed by the impressive speakers, entrepreneurs and location. The event focused on: “The New Common Sense” (why society needs to organise around the entrepreneur), and “The New Future” (how entrepreneurs are transforming the future of business). Among the superb array of speakers and topics, a few highlights include:

Former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox MP, delivered a key note calling for the UK to focus more on growing the economy by encouraging entrepreneurship.

Dell’s entrepreneur in resident, Ingrid Vanderveldt, descibed how corporates can get into the action by providing the facility to connect startups with resources (e.g. Dell’s Entrepreneur Centre), and she wondered why more corporates were not already doing this.

Mark Hoffman, ceo of Oxygen Finance group, and founder of Sybase and Commerce One, explained how to make money from account payables, via an innovative new service

Panelist, Geoff Knott, recalled how social innovation and reform has always had the biggest impact on society, and called for entrepreneurs to “think broader than just business”.

Panelist, Frank Meehan, described how a 16 year old created a news summarisation service, and  secured investment from Li-Kashing’s Horizons Venture. The service is set to be acquired by Yahoo!

Matternet Drones

Matternet Drones

Panellist, Andreas Raptopoulos presented a bold vision for radical transformation of the transport and logistics industry with Matternet, an AI enabled network of drones and ground stations that can be used to deliver medicine and other lightweight goods in remote or road challenged locations around the world. I said it was a bold vision.

Mary Turner, serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Tiscali UK, described a service that senses and alerts users to events at home. The sensing network being a key component of the intelligent home and the Internet of Things.

This event was full of entrepreneurs with fascinating ideas in different stages of maturity, and it felt very much like an innovations parade; one idea even better than the next. For example, I ran into the founder of Scoopshot, (a service providing crowd-sourced visual content – i.e. images and footage for breaking news); then heard from the founders of Quill (a service for bespoke, branded content, articles which has since raised £1M from Ariadne & partners), and Taggstar (a data rich, content tagging service that enables shopping, sharing, viewing and targeting). When combined with investors and established legal / media industry representatives, one could easily see the future of transmedia content publishing and usage business models all present together in the one room. The same could be said for any other industry e.g. health, defence, logistics or manufacturing you care to name.

In conclusion, I believe it is this sort of occasion and environment (with the right mix of investors, innovators and entrepreneurs) that some key connections and relationships are sparked off, which ultimately go on to impact the world.