14 Feb 2024

Early and integrated approach key to tech skills puzzle – Karen Meechan

The following thought leadership piece was written by Karen Meechan, CEO at ScotlandIS and Trustee for Digital Xtra. It originally appeared in The Herald on 13th February 2024


Is there anything more frustrating than a jigsaw with a missing piece? You can see what the full picture should look like but, no matter how hard you try, you still don’t have a complete puzzle.

Despite the best efforts of many, the Scottish tech industry could find itself facing a similar frustration should a crucial part of its own puzzle remain missing.

In lots of ways the sector is currently flourishing. There are some fantastic companies pushing the boundaries of what is possible, emerging industries such as space and AI are all finding bases in Scotland and there’s a strong support network of academic institutions and innovation centres.

All of that may feel like it builds a pretty picture, and it does, but there is one significant gap: skills. Scotland is neither producing nor attracting the requisite talent for the sector to grow and achieve its full potential.

There are many reasons for this. The education system has struggled to keep up with the sheer pace of change. The scale of the sector’s demand for skilled workers would be challenging for even the most prepared industry to keep up with. And businesses all over the world are competing for the same fundamentally limited talent pool.

And that’s not to say that we aren’t producing some fantastic and very skilled people, we absolutely are; but demand is far outstripping supply. And failure to do something about the shortage of specialist skills will mean the growth of Scotland’s tech sector is stifled.

The problem is, there are no quick fixes. There’s no single silver bullet that will solve the problem and open the talent tap for the industry. This is a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution.

We must do what we can to attract the top-end tech talent to Scotland but, when you’re competing on an international stage, that isn’t always easy – something exacerbated by the recent changes to the tax regime north of the Border.

It’s more important than ever that industry and education are closely aligned from an early stage. This might mean offering more STEM opportunities during the early school years. But it also means making sure young people are aware of the employment opportunities available when they’re making key decisions about what routes to take.

Closer links to academia can also help. Ensuring the skills being taught at our colleges and universities are those most in demand at industry level should facilitate a smoother transition into entry-level positions.

It is only with joined-up thinking and collaborative action that we will do anything more than just apply a temporary sticking plaster to the problem. The reality is, when we talk about a “solution” to the skills crisis, it’s this kind of approach that we need to be looking at if the sector is to achieve its full potential. Anything less is going to leave the puzzle frustratingly incomplete.

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17 Oct 2023

Corstorphine Primary School’s coders of the future inspired by CGI and Digital Xtra Fund

The city of Edinburgh is known globally as a booming tech hub, with huge demand for job hunters looking for careers in coding, software development, and cybersecurity. As these opportunities continue to grow, it’s never been more important for those in education in the city itself to make sure its children are engaged in the world of STEM, technology and computing – in particular pupils of primary school age.

At Corstorphine Primary School, teacher Neil Stannett recognised the need to boost interest among pupils in coding and STEM in a creative way. As a result, he launched the Technicoders and Coding Club, made up of 10 boys and 10 girls from P6 and P7. The club began meeting every week to provide engaging ways to learn how to code.

Funding was gained thanks to a £3,000 grant from Digital Xtra Fund, a charity whose backers include global IT company CGI. Digital Xtra Fund’s mission is to provide all young people in Scotland with the chance to learn meaningful digital skills such as coding or robotics through extracurricular activities, especially those who otherwise would not get the opportunity to do so.

The school was able to purchase a classroom set of Sphero BOLTs with the grant from Digital Xtra FundThis allowed Corstorphine Primary to buy new Sphero BOLT coding robots and equipment which made the learning environment of the club come to life. Together with iPads for pupils provided by CGI through City of Edinburgh Council’s Edinburgh Learns for Life, the club members’ love of all things coding has been transformed, with huge levels of interest and engagement.

Mr Stannett said: “I was excited at the prospect of being able to support our new pupil group to learn about coding, and experiment creatively with robotics. Thanks to the grant from Digital Xtra Fund, we were able to purchase a set of 15 Sphero BOLTs in a travel charging case, along with a variety of accessories to go with our school sets of micro:bits.

“The BOLTs were ideal for our pupil group to learn with as they can be coded using different programming languages. They are also just great fun. The club itself was formed just before we purchased the robots. We were incredibly lucky to have a number of pupils who were keen to support the school with its digital journey.”

Staff from CGI tell members of Corstorphine PS's Technicoders Club about their career journeys in techMr Stannett said the support of Digital Xtra Fund has been transformative, as has Edinburgh Learns for Life’s iPads. The pupils can use the iPads not only in their everyday work, but also for coding the Sphero BOLTs. They were also given insights into future potential careers from those already working in STEM among Digital Xtra Fund’s backers. These included senior managers from CGI, a global IT firm with local roots that supports communities across Scotland.

Lyndsey Teaz, Vice President, Glasgow Metro, and Andrew Fournet, Commercial Manager and Co-Chair of Environmental Task Force Space Scotland, visited to give a special talk on how their company uses space technology to provide technological solutions for clients and also saw first-hand the amazing projects that the club had been involved with.

Mr Stannett carried on: “Sharing our work with and hearing about the career paths of Lyndsay and Andrew, and the work they are involved with, opened their eyes to the almost limitless possibilities a keen interest in technology can take you.

“Also, the Edinburgh Learns for Life iPads have provided a real benefit to learning. It meant that we didn’t have to worry about booking out a set of school iPads each week and the members of the Technicoders Club could jump right in each lunchtime with their own devices.

“It also meant they could save their projects to their own account and not have to worry about finding the same iPad each week, which also increased a sense of ownership.”

Learners from Corstorphine Primary School show what they've learned with their new Sphero BOLTs and Apple iPadsWith a club split 50/50 between boys and girls, Mr Stannett noticed different ways in which they engaged with the BOLTs and iPads. He said: “The group was mixed in terms of interests, as some preferred to explore the story-telling capabilities of the robots, while others were more interested in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how each coding programme worked.

“Overall through, the Technicoders Club boosted interest in coding and computing not only among pupils, but staff in the school too. I often had teachers asking me how some of the programmes worked and I ran a Micro:bit training session for interested staff members.”

The pupils were also keen to pass on what they had learned to other younger years, also ‘lighting the fuse’ of interest among them.

He continued: “We decided to set up a P5 Code Club. One of the stand out moments from the group for me has to be when, during our initial sessions with the P5s, a small group started creating a spooky story using the text-speech function on the iPads and had the Sphero BOLT move across a haunted house drawn on paper on the floor.

“This instigated the next few weeks of learning, as all the groups began creating stories and using their robots to move through a setting or act as the main character. I was so impressed at the creativity and innovation on show.”

It was also heartening that, in a sector where men outnumber women in careers, the club’s girls enjoyed coding as much as the boys.

Mr Stannett concluded: “I think it is fantastic that a lot of old-fashioned stereotypes around technology are dying out and anyone can head into any career they want to.

“I have no doubt our Technicoders could step into any career path linked to technology. They all demonstrated a fantastic drive and sense of ‘what can I do to make this work?’ These positive attitudes will take them much further than just knowing a set of coding skills.”

 

 

 

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03 Oct 2023

Digital Xtra Fund delivers 26 grant awards totalling £110k to local tech and coding clubs for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund will be awarding 26 grants totalling £110,000 to local tech and coding clubs across Scotland this year. The grants span 18 local authorities, with an outreach of approximately 3,000 children and young people.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We received 143 applications this year, compared to 94 last year and around 60 per year before Covid. This clearly shows an increasing determination to positively engage young people with tech both in and out of the classroom. We also saw a higher percentage of applications for local, community-based tech and coding clubs as opposed to larger events. These clubs usually run for 6-8 weeks multiple times a year, allowing educators to create a more enriching and impactful experience for learners. This year’s initiatives are also, once again, planning to engage a higher percentage of girls than boys. This is incredible and shows the value of extracurricular activities like these.”

This year’s grants include the ‘NextGen Coding Club’ by the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers in Aberdeen, ‘Roving Robots’ by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the Western Isles, an all-girls’ ‘DigiSTEM Club’ in East Renfrewshire, the ‘Hillhead Digi Den and Technology Playground’ by Hillhead Primary School in Glasgow, ‘Tech Sheds’ at three libraries in Midlothian, and the ‘St Andrews RC Primary Coding and Robotics Club’ in Dundee.

This marks the eighth cohort of tech initiatives since Digital Xtra Fund was launched in 2016. The charity supports extracurricular activities at the primary and secondary school stage to drive digital skills and has secured nearly £1 million for tech clubs and initiatives around the country since its inception.

The Benzies Foundation and Outplay Entertainment are two new backers for 2023/24, joining a list that includes Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, and J.P. Morgan as well as Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner. The Scottish Government will once again contribute £100,000 to the Fund in 2023/24, including matching industry support.

A spokesperson for Outplay Entertainment said: “The Outplay Academy is thrilled to partner with Digital Xtra Fund in supporting local tech and coding clubs for young people across Scotland. Our commitment to fostering creativity, innovation, and inclusion aligns perfectly with the values of the Outplay Academy and the mission of Digital Xtra Fund. Together, we look forward to empowering the next generation of digital leaders and inspiring them to reach new heights in the world of technology.”

Digital Xtra Fund will also soon launch Code Like Kids, a new learning and development opportunity aimed at industry and corporate executives. “We see companies become more connected to supported projects after active participation”, Kraig Brown explains, “however, we also received feedback that while they were keen to engage with young people, staff were anxious doing so being unfamiliar with tools such as block coding or the kit found in many clubs, so we created Code Like Kids. Then we realised it was also a fantastic team building and learning opportunity for all companies.” Participants will get hands-on with popular devices such as micro:bits, Sphero indis, LEGO SPIKE Prime, or Marty the Robot while also building skills such as teamwork, creativity, and problem solving.

Brown added: “Companies will be able to book a Code Like Kids session with a donation to the Fund meaning not only will they be giving their staff a fun and unique experience, but they will also be enabling more tech activities for young people across Scotland. It’s a win-win.”

(Headline image from recent Insp-Hire event by SmartSTEMs and Nine Twenty. Photographer: Malcolm Cochrane)

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24 Aug 2023

Digital Xtra Fund is looking for a Community & Grants Officer

Girls STEM Club at Southmuir Primary SchoolAn exciting and unique opportunity is available for a motivated individual to join Digital Xtra Fund as a Community & Grants Officer. The Officer will support grant recipients in achieving their targets, outcomes, and objectives and will explore new opportunities to engage and excite young people in tech. The preferred candidate will have a passion for technology as well as previous experience working with schools or educational organisations or working for a grants provider focussed on young people.

Role Title: Community & Grants Officer

Salary: £27,500 PA (one year initial FTC with potential to renew dependent on funding)

Hours: Monday – Friday, 09.00 – 17.00 (happy to discuss flexible working options)

Location: Opportunity for Remote or Office-based working (Linlithgow)

Reports to: Partnerships & Development Manager

Application closing: 23:59 on Thursday, 28 September 2023

Digital Xtra Fund is happy to discuss flexible working including working from home, compressed hours, reduced hours, or flexitime.

The Officer’s main focusses will be to:

  1. support grant recipients enabling them to deliver high-quality, extracurricular activities which teach digital skills (i.e., coding, robotics, and games development) and meta-skills (i.e., adaptability, resilience, and creativity) as well as concepts such as ethics of technology and tech for good;
  2. help build a community among grant recipients, the Fund’s partners, and other key stakeholders by promoting collaboration and sharing best practice as well as facilitating and managing industry engagement opportunities (both in-person and remote);
  3. help deliver ‘Code Like Kids’, a new learning and development opportunity from Digital Xtra Fund which engages industry professionals in fun, play-based coding activities. Participants will get hands on with some of the most popular coding devices used by young people while exploring how these platforms relate to the ‘real world’.

The role’s responsibilities will include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Help grant recipients achieve their targets, outcomes, and objectives by encouraging partnerships, sharing resources, and highlighting best practice as well as organising one-to-one catch-ups during the delivery period (25%);
  • Increase collaboration with the Fund’s industry partners by facilitating industry engagement opportunities and supporting the delivery of various ‘Code Like Kids’ modules (25%);
  • Support the Partnerships & Development Manager with optimising the end-to-end delivery of the annual grants cycle including planning, promotion, delivery, evaluations, and reporting (25%);
  • Assist with the Fund’s marketing and communications channels including social media, direct emails, and newsletters (15%);
  • Assist with organising events or similar opportunities with supported initiatives/partners/key stakeholders to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing (5%);
  • Explore other opportunities or collaborations which support digital skills for young people (5%)

 

Required Skills

  • Experience working for an educational organisation that actively supports young people; or working/volunteering with schools, especially as a teacher/educator; or working for a grants provider focussed on young people. This experience would ideally relate to the areas of science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM), but it is not essential. Key is the ability to demonstrate a passion for helping young people
  • Clear and concise communication skills with the ability to relate to a variety of organisations from grassroots community groups, charities, and schools to larger businesses, industry partners or government departments
  • Effective administrative and organisational skills including the ability to demonstrate previous experience managing multiple projects
  • The ability to work both in a team and independently and capability to proactively take the initiative when required
  • Confidence using basic office software such as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace
  • Occasional attendance at events which may occur outwith normal working hours
  • Some travel within Scotland will be required

 

Other Desirable Skills

It would be beneficial if you also possess some or all the following skills, but they are not essential to apply for this role:

  • Confidence using digital technologies (especially any coding, robotics, and/or games design platforms aimed at young people)
  • Understanding concepts related to digital tech such as meta-skills, ethics, or tech for good
  • Knowledge of or experience in the Scottish digital tech sector and/or an awareness of skills policies from the Scottish Government or Skills Development Scotland related to digital tech
  • Familiarity of WordPress (or similar web content management system), Mailchimp (or similar email marketing platform), and/or Capsule (or similar CRM system)
  • Full UK Driving Licence

 

Personal Qualities

  • Enthusiastic about the importance of STEM education for young people
  • Methodical and strategic thinking in approach to work
  • Positive and innovative self-starter
  • Projects a professional image of the Charity at all times

 

Benefits

  • £27,500 per annum (initial one-year full time contract with potential to renew dependent on funding)
  • Flexible working options available including working from home, working outwith normal working hours or reduced hours/days (salary would be prorated accordingly)
  • Matched employee pension contributions to a maximum 5% following probationary period
  • Onsite parking and gym at main office in Linlithgow
  • Holiday entitlement of twenty-five (25) days per year in addition to eight (8) Scottish public holidays

 

Coding with Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolAbout Digital Xtra Fund

Digital Xtra Fund is the leading Scottish charity supporting extracurricular digital tech activities for young people. We finance and support initiatives which engage and excite young people aged 16 and under with skills such as coding, robotics, games development, cyber, or data science. We believe every young person should have access to fun, innovative, and meaningful tech activities regardless of their gender, background, or where they live as well as an understanding of the range of opportunities these skills provide. The aims of Digital Xtra Fund are to:

  • inspire young people to understand and create with technology, not simply use it
  • enable exciting extracurricular digital tech activities across Scotland
  • engage industry experts with young people to help contextualise digital skills

 

A full job description can be downloaded here. Please contact the Fund at [email protected] if you have any questions about the role. Please note, applicants must have the right to live and work in the UK (and be able to provide evidence).

To apply, applicants should submit a Cover Letter summarising why they are interested and qualified for the role as well as their CV to [email protected]. Applications will close at 23:59 on Thursday, 28 September, 2023. Successful applicants will be contacted w/c 9th October to schedule an interview.

 

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24 May 2023

Incremental continues to help inspire the next generation into tech

The following was published by Incremental Group on 22nd May 2023 in the lead up to the 2023/24 Round VIII grants cycle.


Incremental Group continues its support of Digital Xtra Fund and grassroots STEM initiatives for children as a Megabyte Partner for fifth consecutive year.

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, equipping young minds with the necessary skills and knowledge is crucial to ensuring a prosperous future. Recognising this imperative, various initiatives across the UK have emerged to engage and empower children in the field of technology.  Digital Xtra Fund (DXF) is a Scottish-based charity that provides grant awards to organisations delivering extracurricular computing and digital tech activities to young people across Scotland.

Since launching in 2016, DXF has placed a strong emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion within the technology sector, helping to close the digital skills gap in Scotland. By actively engaging children from underrepresented backgrounds and creating a supportive environment, the Fund’s mission is to ensure opportunities are accessible to all. With a focus on areas of high deprivation and female participation, DXF aims to break down barriers to tech at a grassroots level. This inclusive approach not only enriches the learning experiences for those involved, but also contributes to building a more diverse and vibrant tech industry.

The impact of DXF has been far-reaching, having distributed £875,000 in support of digital skills initiatives across Scotland to date. In its latest round of grant funding (2022/23), which Incremental also supported, DXF awarded 35 extracurricular tech initiatives grants of up to £5,000 each. With a projected engagement of 7,488 children and young people – including 3,929 girls and young women – the 35 grants cover 24 local authorities, including:

  • 23 primary schools
  • 3 secondary schools
  • 3 colleges/universities
  • 2 libraries
  • 4 additional educational bodies.

Incremental is proud to be extending its support of Digital Xtra Fund for a fifth consecutive year, further helping to support  and inspire children across Scotland. As well as being a Megabyte partner of the charity, Incremental once again proudly hosted the Fund’s Evaluation Meetup on the 18th May in its Glasgow office. The meetup brings together over 50 of DXF’s panelists from the technology industry to assess and award grants to fund applicants. .

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, commented, “One of the Fund’s first partners, Incremental, believes in Digital Xtra Fund’s vision of industry, government, and the third sector working together to give every young person in Scotland an opportunity to learn key digital skills and understand how these skills relate to an increasingly digital world. On behalf of Digital Xtra Fund and the many tech initiatives we have supported, I would like to thank Incremental Group for its continued support. We look forward to working with you for another year.”

In a time of rapid technological advancement, supporting digital skills initiatives for children is crucial. To find out more about Incremental’s wider commitment to STEM initiatives, discover our article: STEM Ambassadors in Scotland.

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06 Feb 2023

Digital Xtra Fund invites applications for initiatives to drive digital skills for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund has opened applications for its eighth cohort of tech initiatives since being launched in 2016. The charity supports extracurricular activities at the school stage which help drive digital skills. To date, the Fund has secured almost £1 million to deliver coding and tech clubs and initiatives nationwide.

Industry backers include Chroma Ventures, Baillie Gifford, J.P. Morgan, Cirrus Logic, Accenture, ScotlandIS, Skyscanner, and Incremental Group which was acquired by Telefonica Tech last year. The Scottish Government will once again match industry support in 2023/24.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We have some amazing support from the corporate and public sectors, in particular the Scottish Government, who realise what a pressing issue this is for young people, employers, and the economy overall. Based on the success of previous grant awards, they have once again committed to working with us and our partners by match funding industry support for tech activities in 2023/24. With the ongoing cost of living crisis, there has never been a more crucial time to work together and this funding underlines this.”

Coding with Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolDigital Xtra Fund is currently in negotiations with several companies to increase the level of funding awarded before successful applications are finalised in May, but the economic downturn has put a strain on all charities. Kraig Brown added: “We are looking for more partners, primarily from the corporate sector, so we’d love to speak to as many people as we can in the coming months. The match funding from the Scottish Government means all support will make a big difference.”

Rebecca Court, Incremental Group’s Head of Marketing and a former Digital Xtra Fund panellist, who help the Fund select which applications are successful, said: “Digital Xtra Fund undertakes such important work across Scotland. The team’s commitment to addressing the alarming digital skills gap while also focusing on increasing diversity and inclusivity in the tech sector, a sector that continues to be underrepresented by women, is key to everyone’s future success. It is vital the corporate sector and government recognise that when we support grassroots initiatives, especially for young people, it is win-win for communities, industry, and Scotland as a whole.”

Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, said: “Following last year’s investment from the Scottish Government, we will be continuing to support the Digital Xtra Fund with another £100,000 this year to enable young people to learn digital technology and coding skills through extracurricular activities.  The work of  Digital Xtra Fund and partners provides young people a path into exciting careers in tech and entrepreneurship, and we are delighted to be supporting the work of this organisation.”

Sphero Bolts at Kirkliston Primary SchoolDigital Xtra Fund is supporting 35 initiatives during the current 2022/23 academic year covering 24 local authorities. These initiatives are on target to engage over 7,400 young people, of which approximately 50 per cent will be girls and young women.

Kraig Brown continued: “Yes, our aim is to inspire young people to learn digital skills and yes, we hope they choose to pursue a career in tech, but that’s not the main reason we do this. We do this because we need to support young people and even more so when times get tough, particularly the most vulnerable or disadvantaged. While there are many ways to do this, Digital Xtra Fund believes providing essential skills for their future in safe and fun environments is key.”

 Schools or organisations interested in applying to the Round VIII grant awards for activities delivered during the 2023/24 academic year can apply on Digital Xtra Fund’s website. Applications close on 06 April 2023. Additional support, including guidelines for applying, case studies, and links to upcoming webinars can also be found on the Fund’s website.

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31 Oct 2022

Top skills you need for your tech recruits

The following piece was written by CodeClan and originally appeared in FutureScot on 17th October 2022.


Most software developers need specific ‘hard skills’, otherwise known as technical skills. They include things like programming languages and software testing. But developers also need ‘soft’ or essential skills – the ones probably already acquired through past work experience.

Take a look at the top three soft and hard skills young people need to become an effective software programmer. This list is not exhaustive, but it makes an excellent starting point.

Soft skills for software development

1. Problem-solving or analytic skills

As a software developer, they will frequently face technical problems to resolve. They will often encounter bugs in code. They might also need to develop new software solutions.

People with strong problem-solving or analytic skills are well-suited to this line of work. Good developers can analyse and summarise a problem before considering several angles and finding a solution.

Analytical skills are not unique to people who work in STEM. Most professional roles require critical thinking and gauging the best way to respond to an obstacle.

2. Time management 

Software developers often need to meet tight deadlines. They also need to keep abreast of the latest technical developments in their area of expertise.

Balancing deliverables with self-teaching requires strong time management skills. Organising and prioritising tasks are important though often overlooked aspects of a developer’s role.

Time management is an essential skill. How often do your recruits need to exercise time management skills in their role?

3. Communication skills

Developers rarely work in isolation. Rather, they are part of a wider team tasked with delivering a set project. That team will usually need to collaborate with other groups.

This makes strong communication skills highly desirable in a software developer.

Knowing how to ask the right questions, bring up challenges, propose solutions and get along with teammates are integral to the development process.

If they have ever had to give a presentation, contribute to a meeting or participate in teamwork, then this is a way to see how they have exercised their communication skills. The question is, How strong is their communication and does it fit into your organisation?

Hard skills for software development

1. Programming languages

There are literally hundreds of programming languages, which can make learning how to code seem a little daunting.

The five most popular programming languages for developers are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, and TypeScript.

But that does not mean your new recruit needs to know all there is to know about these languages to become a software developer. In reality, most developers know a handful of programming languages, and they are constantly updating their knowledge of how to use them.

The best way to start? Learn the basics of one programming language. This is how CodeClan supports our career changers and upskills our partner network. We have a whole range of courses to help you.

2. Software testing and debugging

It is one thing to write code; it is another thing entirely to make it work.

Testing software is another key part of a developer’s role. There are specialists whose role is to design test procedures – often, developers must learn how to apply them.

Testing often reveals bugs in software. Developers need to identify what is causing the bug – they can then begin to find a solution – often by asking other teammates or turning to online forums.

3. Data structure

Data structures are methods of organising data to make performing operations more efficient.

Just like programming languages, there are different types of data structures, including arrays, stacks and queues.  Getting to know different data structures and learning which to choose is a key technical skill for software developers.

Final thoughts

Just like any other profession, software development requires a range of soft and hard skills.

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17 Oct 2022

Digital Xtra Fund awards 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has awarded 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across the country.  The 35 grants cover 24 different local authorities, including 23 primary schools, 3 secondary schools, 3 colleges and universities, 2 libraries, and 4 educational bodies, totalling £150,000.  The grants, which will help deliver digital skills initiatives throughout the current academic year, are up from 22 last year when total funding was £100,000.

Kraig Brown and Maha Abhishek of Digital Xtra FundKraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “We’re extremely pleased to be able to support many more initiatives this year, as well as a wider range of activities. This year’s applications show a renewed appetite for digital skills initiatives after a challenging couple years. We know we need to positively engage more of Scotland’s young people with digital tech to help them reach their potential in the future economy and an increasingly digital world, and extracurricular activities are the perfect medium to do this.”

Supported initiatives include a coding club at Hillside Primary School in Aberdeenshire, an all-girls after school robotics club at Kirkliston Primary School in Edinburgh in partnership with Scottish startup Robotical, a LEGO Leaders Code Club at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Dundee, a coding club at Stromness Academy in Orkney using Otto robots, and a joint coding club with Cadder and St Mary’s Primary Schools in Glasgow.

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £875,000 of funding, helping schools and organisations engage over 40,000 young people.

From the corporate sector, major funders include Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, and Scotland Women in Technology as well as Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner.

Southmuir Primary School All Girls’ STEM Club and Digital Xtra FundSam Pattman, Philanthropy Manager, Baillie Gifford said: “Baillie Gifford is very pleased to continue its support of Digital Xtra Fund. Through our business, we know the importance of digital skills and ensuring young people are prepared for what’s ahead of them. Extracurricular activities can reach and engage a wider range of young people, as demonstrated by the variety of grant recipients this year. We have always been impressed by the charity’s ambition and its reach across Scotland, and look forward to hearing more from the supported initiatives as the year moves forward.”

Last year, Digital Xtra Fund also secured funding from the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland to match fund industry’s support, on the back of 2020’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by Mark Logan which recommended that school stage extracurricular tech activities be strategically supported.

Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review called for action to encourage more young people and girls into Computing Science.  The Scottish Government’s £100,000 funding will support these 35 projects to drive digital skills development.  We hope this will inspire a new generation of tech entrepreneurs by boosting digital skills for young people across Scotland.”

The full list of grants awarded by Digital Xtra Fund this year can be found here.

 

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30 Sep 2022

Developing Scotland’s Tech Skills – Karen Meechan

The following thought leadership piece was written by Karen Meechan, CEO at ScotlandIS and Trustee for Digital Xtra Fund. It originally appeared in The Scotsman on 30 September 2022.


This has been a year of change for Scotland’s tech sector. Costs are rising and a recession is forecast; businesses are trying to balance what works best on the spectrum of office to home-based working; talent is not as available as it might have been previously yet the desire to adopt new technologies and digitise the economy is stronger than ever.

Last week saw our first gathering of the Scottish tech sector at our annual event, ScotSoft, where we considered these challenges, and the opportunity that they could represent. ScotSoft brings together academics, researchers, students, visionaries, technologists, business leaders and managers working in digital companies and end user businesses in Scotland, the UK and further afield.

As part of the event, we recognise some of the best minds coming from our universities that demonstrate the strength and breadth of tech talent being developed within Scotland in our Young Software Engineer Awards.

An Abertay University student, Daniel Gearie, took first place at our annual Young Software Engineer of the Year Awards for creating software that can physically locate the position of a drone operator, as he and three other students were recognised for creating ideas which show an impressive combination of innovation, creativity and scalability.

From the discussion that happened throughout the day, it was widely agreed that the future business environment remains very challenging, and whilst the sector is set to continue to make significant contributions to Scotland’s economy, it is not immune to macro influences.

Indeed, the Scottish tech sector has already been subject to a long-endured skills gap, but the attractiveness of Scottish talent to London and Silicon Valley, and labour shortages elsewhere, are adding further complexities to the labour situation in our sector.

Just before ScotSoft, we conducted a pulse survey of the Scottish tech leaders amongst our membership. The results emphasised this challenge, while showing that the sector is working to address it. Three quarters of Scotland’s tech companies have increased benefits for their workers in the past twelve months, with nearly every single one (95%) doing so to make them a more competitive employer. For half, it was to help them retain existing employees too.

This challenge is just one reason why we cannot sit still. The good news is that there are a range of ways we can collectively contribute to the digital sector’s success.

Our digital technologies companies have always depended on Scotland’s excellent academic institutions to supply a steady stream of talent; on Government support and funding for innovation; on collaboration within the sector to solve common challenges; and on us as a trade body to create solutions for the issues that are most pressing.

That is why with Skills Development Scotland we created CodeClan and the Digital Xtra Fund, and why we are currently working on the roll-out of our Digital Critical Friends programme, which has been developed to help inspire and educate school aged pupils on STEM subjects.

With over a thousand of Scotland’s tech community under one roof last week, it was made clear that the appetite to work together to support and invest in our sector remains strong.

We must now harness that appetite to provide the sector with the talent, investment, and space for innovation that it needs to continue to thrive.

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15 Mar 2022

Digital Xtra Fund calls on industry to support digital skills with match funding from Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund is calling on industry to step up and support digital skills for young people. The Scottish charity – which funds meaningful extracurricular tech activities for young people through an annual grants programme – has secured £100,000 from the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to match fund industry’s support for the next cohort of activities. The funding has been made available on the back of 2020’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by Mark Logan, which recommended that school stage extracurricular tech activities be strategically supported.

Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “The Scottish Government has granted £70,000 to Digital Xtra Fund to inspire young people across Scotland to boost their digital tech and coding skills and to discover future tech career opportunities. I echo the Fund’s call for industry to step up and support these extra-curricular clubs, which are helping to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

The Fund now has until June, when the next round of funding recipients will be confirmed, to match fund the support. Current industry partners who have already committed to supporting the Fund’s next cohort include Chroma Ventures, Baillie Gifford, CGI, J.P. Morgan, Scotland Women in Technology, Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, and ScotlandIS.

Southmuir Primary School STEM ClubChris van der Kuyl, Principal, Chroma Ventures, said: “Our investment in human talent must begin at an early age through primary and secondary, en route to colleges, universities, or apprenticeships. Extracurricular activities like those funded by Digital Xtra Fund play such an important role for young people on that pathway, especially for those who may not have computing opportunities in the classroom.”

Paddy Burns, Principal at Chroma Ventures and a Trustee with the Fund, agrees: “This is an amazing opportunity for the Fund’s partners to effectively double their contribution and inspire even more young people. We need more businesses to step up to the plate and help enable more exciting activities that also show young people the breadth of opportunities in tech.”

For the 2021/22 academic year, Digital Xtra Fund and its partners identified, financed, and aided 22 initiatives – ranging from coding clubs at four schools in Angus, a ‘Games for Good’ programme at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre in Edinburgh, to a COP26-related collaboration around climate tech with SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs. If successful in match funding Government’s contribution, the Fund will be able to fund 35 to 40 new activities in 2022/23.

Kraig Brown and Maha AbhishekKraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnership and Development Manager said: “We are very excited to be able to offer this match funding with support from the Scottish Government and SDS. Scotland has the potential, the resources, and the will to punch well above its weight in tech innovation. However, the first step is inspiring young people to learn the digital skills they will need. The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review highlighted the importance of extracurricular activities to inspire young people to create with tech and not simply consume it. Our hope is this funding is a first step to bring industry and government together to give every young person in Scotland an opportunity to positively engage with technology.”

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 in funding to digital skills initiatives, helping schools and organisations engage nearly 45,000 young people. In January, Digital Xtra Fund invited applications for its seventh cohort of initiatives which will drive digital skills for young people across Scotland in 2022/23. Applications close on Tuesday 5th April.

For more information: https://www.digitalxtrafund.scot/apply

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