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Over the past decade, London has established itself as a global tech powerhouse, attracting investment from some of the most innovative digital companies in the world, from Yelp to Facebook, Salesforce to Apple. The city is also producing some of the fastest-growing tech companies, adding 20 new unicorns to its ranks in 2021, more than any other previous 12-month period. Where will this momentum take the UK capital in 2022? How will London make the most of this movement to ensure prosperity for digital businesses and talent?
BrainStation gathered four industry experts from British broadcasting giant BBC, social networking multinational Meta, European media company Sky, and global cycling brand Rapha to answer these questions and more as part of BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series on our London campus.
Our panellists agreed that London’s strength lies in its diversity. “The varied economy of music, culture, financial services, and more, has fostered a city of diverse thinkers,” said David Jones, Executive Product Manager at the BBC. Innovation in London tech is informed and also tempered by these other fields.
“London — and by extension, Europe — is catching up with Silicon Valley in terms of venture capital and incubator opportunities, as well as risk tolerance. For the first time, venture capital outweighs the amount of startups in London,” said Ankur Modi, Product Leader at Meta. Jason Field, BrainStation’s Founder and CEO agreed. “The UK acknowledges that tech, like finance, is a source of strength.” he said.
While all the panellists agreed that remote work will be a constant going forwards, Ranjani Parthasarathy, Head of Digital Marketing at Sky, explained that the organisation’s approach is “to go ‘remote-first’ rather than treating it as an option. Our team relies on tools like shared docs and live collaboration to work from anywhere in the world — location no longer needs to be a factor.”
Sky’s approach challenged our panellists to define what hybrid working truly means. For Jones and his team at the BBC, remote work has provided an opportunity for more introverted colleagues to participate in group discussions. “Features such as the raise-hand function and the comment section of a video chat have had a positive impact on the way we work,” he said. However, Ben Bodien, Technology Director at Rapha, expressed concern about the challenges of hybrid and remote working for those in need of mentorship and a sense of community.
“At Rapha we have created a culture that centres around one thing that we can bond over. Ours is cycling, but it can be anything: an activity, a sport, or simply professionals connecting over new trends in tech. There needs to be a central focus,” he said.
As well as sharing their predictions for the future of work, our panel of digital leaders explained what their organisations are looking for in the talent applying to open digital roles. “There is an abundance of tech talent on offer given the so-called ‘Great Resignation’. There is a hot market for digital roles in 2022 — and Sky is hiring!” said Parthasarathy. In response to questions from aspiring tech professionals in the audience about breaking into the industry, the panellists encouraged applicants to lean into their backgrounds.
Jones explained that he had originally completed a degree in literature before moving into the product field. He encouraged audience members to get creative with their applications, including evidence of independent work as well as the traditional CV. “The tech industry is one of the few to hire talent rather than qualifications,” he said. “The BBC is looking for those with the initiative to work on their own projects and arrive with enthusiasm, ready to learn on the job.”
“Traditional education is becoming the exception rather than the rule,” agreed Modi. “Strong digital leaders have experienced a variety of roles in their past — a mixed professional background is an asset for anyone looking to move into a digital role.”
It’s clear that the tech industry is welcoming applications from a variety of backgrounds, but recent studies from Tech Nation suggest only 19 per cent of the UK tech workforce is made up of women. This figure is even less for black and Hispanic women at just 3 per cent and Asian women just 5 per cent. What can we be doing better to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace?
“The tech industry is gender-skewed. We have a collective responsibility to create and fund initiatives that encourage girls into STEM early on in their education. We need more diversity champions and role models in the industry for incoming generations to look up to,” said Parthasarathy.
Meanwhile, at the BBC, Jones and his team have increased the size of interview rounds to incorporate a greater variety of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as creating a regional headquarters in Manchester to incorporate the north of the country. “The steps taken so far are positive to see, but more inclusivity is required across the entire tech stack. We all need to do more,” he said.
As the discussion drew to a close, the panellists looked towards the future of London’s tech industry. Is this culture of digital innovation here to stay?
“No role being created at the moment can afford to be tech-free. Tech is no longer a discrete vertical — the shift to digital is happening in every industry,” said Modi.
“Age-old industries such as banks are having to update their approaches and need tech talent more than ever before,” agreed Bodien. Events outside of the tech space, such as climate change, are also having an impact. “SDGs and increasing focus on sustainability are encouraging investment and innovation in the climate tech and cleantech spaces. The tech industry will only become increasingly important both in London as well as globally,” said Modi.
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