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 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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20 Apr 2023

Digital skills gap to be tackled as new tech clubs aim to address a shortage of key skills

The growing demand for digital skills in the Scottish economy is to be addressed with support to create a new series of tech clubs across the Highlands region.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is working with the Scottish Government and Highland Council on the initiative which aims to train volunteers, provide teaching resources, and tech kit as well as trial online delivery to ensure people in rural areas don’t miss out.

The pilot programme kicks off on 27 April when the first ever hybrid tech club event for Highland secondary school pupils takes place. Participants will “code a data selfie” learning data science and coding skills to create their own unique piece of art.

Phil Ford, Head of Digital Economy and Financial Services at SDS said: “The digital skills gap in Scotland has now become critical and many tech jobs go unfilled every year.

“This is particularly true of the Highland economy where digital skills and jobs are now essential in non-tech sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, food and drink and the creative industries.”

The expansion of tech clubs across Scotland was a key recommendation of the Scottish Tech Ecosystem Review, which was followed by last month’s publication of the Digital Economy Skills Action Plan.

Beth Brown, Senior Lead Manager for Developing the Young Workforce at Highland Council added: “Tech clubs can help young people develop vital digital skills, particularly for those who may face barriers in accessing formal tech subjects in the curriculum.

“The clubs offer an enriching experience for all young people regardless of background and skill. There are some fantastic tech clubs in Scotland, and we want to see more of these in the Highlands.”

Partners involved in the initiative hope to encourage technology experts and companies, schools and colleges, the third sector and community groups like libraries and youth clubs to get involved and improve the career prospects of young people in the Highlands.

As a key partner of Digital Xtra Fund, Skills Development Scotland’s tech club resources – which can be used outwith the Highlands as well – will be hosted on the Fund’s website for anyone interested starting or volunteering at a tech club near them. For more details, please visit www.digitalxtrafund.scot/directory-of-resources.

A short video is available here explaining more about digital tech clubs and the support available.

Highland secondary school classes can sign up here for the first hybrid tech club event on 27 April.

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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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20 Jan 2023

Young digital engineers graduate from club at Fraserburgh campus

The following piece was written by Morag Kuc and originally appeared in The Scotsman on 20th January 2023


A class of young digital engineers has successfully graduated from a new after school Digital Engineering Club run by North East Scotland College’s Fraserburgh Campus.

The group attended a presentation to mark the successful completion of 10 weeks hard work and fun.

Each student received a certificate of participation from guest speaker Sam Buchan, Mechanical Engineer at Score Group plc.

The group of 14 pupils, from Fraserburgh and Mintlaw schools, was tasked with renewables and robotics projects.

Dr Leann Tait, Academic Improvement Lead said: “We have been delighted with the numbers joining the club and this first group of young engineers has been really engaged and eager to get involved.

“We wanted the club to be relevant to the North East, so incorporating the Renewable Energy Sector was an obvious choice.

“Combined with the robotics area pupils have had the chance to use equipment and technologies they don’t typically have access to.

“We have been fortunate with our funding from the Digital Xtra Fund and Science Aberdeen which have allowed us to run the club for an hour each week.”

The young engineers worked with different technologies including: AutoCAD software to design wind turbine structures as well as building models and looking at efficiencies of the different designs; Tinkercad, an online simulator to build physical circuit plus Dobot robots.

The Digital Engineering Club is based in the Fujitsu Innovation Hub at Fraserburgh Campus, a flexible and innovative digital learning space designed to promote active and collaborative learning through a dynamic and flexible layout.

NESCol is part of the Fujitsu Education Ambassador Programme which aims to enhance learning and teaching and unleash every student’s potential by putting digital technology at the heart of education.

Robin Macgregor, Vice Principal for Curriculum & Quality said: ”It is fantastic to see the Hub being used to help develop the digital skillset of local school pupils.

“Together with the fantastic equipment housed in our Future Skills Zone, funded through a generous donation by a local benefactor, Fraserburgh Campus is exceptionally well placed to help increase the digital confidence and skills of the surrounding community.”

The club is open to any student in S3 or S4 with a keen interest in engineering who is looking to learn.

The club, which is funded by Digital Xtra Fund as part of Round VII (2022/23) grant awards, will run again from Wednesday, January 25. To book your place contact [email protected] using code RCNDE-D222A

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05 Dec 2022

At what age can a child start coding?

The following piece was written by Marc Scott and originally appeared in Raspberry Pi Blogpost on 8th November 2022.


Coding, or computer programming, is a way of writing instructions so that computers can complete tasks. Those instructions can be as simple as ‘move a toy robot forwards for three seconds and then make a beep’, or more complicated instructions, such as ‘check the weather in my local area and then adjust the heating in my house accordingly’.

Why should kids learn to code?

Even if your child never writes computer programs, it is likely they already use software that coders have created, and in the future they may work with, manage, or hire people who write code. This is why it is important that everyone has an understanding of what coding is all about, and why we at the Raspberry Pi Foundation are passionate about inspiring and supporting children to learn to code for free.

When young people are given opportunities to create with code, they can do incredible things — from expressing themselves, to addressing real-world issues, to trying out the newest technologies. Learning to code also helps them develop resilience and problem-solving skills.

But at what age should you start your child on their journey to learn about coding? Can they be too young? Will they miss out on opportunities if they start too late?

No matter at what age you introduce children to coding, one key element is empowering them to create things that are relevant to them. Above all else, coding should be a fun activity for kids.

Learning programming

You might be surprised how young you can start children on their coding adventure. My own child started to learn when they were about six years old. And you can never be too old to learn to code. I didn’t start learning to program until I was in my late thirties, and I know many learners who decided to take up coding after their retirement.

Acquiring new skills and knowledge is often best accomplished when you are young. Learning a programming language is a little like learning a new spoken or written language. There are strict rules, special words to be used in specific orders and in different contexts, and even different ways of thinking depending on the languages you already know.

When people first introduced computer programming into the world, there were big barriers to entry. People had to pay thousands of dollars for a computer and program it using punch cards. It was very unlikely that any child had access to the money or the skills required to create computer programs. Today’s world is very different, with computers costing as little as $35, companies creating tools and toys aimed at coding for children, and organisations such as ours, the Raspberry Pi Foundation and our children’s coding club networks Code Club and CoderDojo, that have the mission to introduce children to the world of coding for free.

Getting hands-on with coding

By the age of about four, a child is likely to have the motor skills and understanding to begin to interact with simple toys that introduce the very basics of coding. Bee-Bot and Cubelets are both excellent examples of child-friendly toy robots that can be programmed.

Bee-Bot is a small floor robot that children program by pressing simple combinations of direction buttons so that it moves following the instructions provided. This is a great way of introducing children to the concept of sequencing. Sequencing is the way computers follow instructions one after the other, executing each command in turn.

Cubelets can be used to introduce physical computing to children. With Cubelets, children can snap together physical blocks to create their own unique robots. These robots will perform actions such as moving or lighting up, depending on their surroundings, such as the distance your hand is from the robot or the brightness of light in the room. These are a good example of teaching how inputs to a program can affect the outputs — another key concept in coding.

Visual programming

As your child gets older and becomes more used to using technology, and their eye-hand coordination improves, they might want to try out tools for visual programming. They can use free online programming platforms, such as ScratchJr on a tablet or phone or Scratch or Code Club World in a computer’s web browser. To learn more about these visual programming tools and what your child can create with them, read our blog post How do I start my child coding.

Children can begin to explore Scratch or Code Club World from about the age of six, although it is important to understand that all young people develop at different speeds. We offer many free resources to help learners get started with visual, block-based programming languages, and the easiest places to start are our Introduction to Scratch path and the home island on Code Club World. Children and adults of all ages can learn a lot from Scratch, develop their own engaging activities, and most importantly, have fun doing so.

Text-based coding

At around the ages of nine or ten, children’s typing skills are often sufficient for them to start using text-based languages. Again, it is important that they are allowed to have fun and express themselves, especially if they are moving on from Scratch. Our Introduction to Python path allows children to continue creating graphics while they program, as they are used to doing in Scratch; our Introduction to Web path will let them build their own simple websites to allow them to express their creative selves.

There is no correct age to start learning

In my time at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I have taught children as young as five and adults as old as seventy. There is no correct age at which a child can begin coding, and there are opportunities to begin at almost any age. The key to introducing coding to anyone is to make it engaging, relevant, and most of all fun!

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02 Nov 2022

Scottish tech organisations join forces to bridge the digital skills gap

The following thought piece originally appeared in ScotlandIS Blog on 2nd November 2022.


A new partnership has been formed by ScotlandIS, Tech She Can, and STEM Ambassadors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to address the Scottish technology skills gap.

The organisations are seeking to tackle a shared ambition to increase STEM education for school aged pupils, by improving collaboration between the programmes and accessibility for anyone who wants to get involved.

ScotlandIS’ ‘Digital Critical Friends’ programme, in partnership with DYW Glasgow and Skills Development Scotland, has been rolled out in several local authority areas to help meet the rapidly growing and changing skills demand within the Scottish digital sector. It connects school aged pupils with industry practitioners to support computing education, developing interest and abilities in digital technologies, with a view to increasing the digital skills talent pipeline. It also provides teachers with access to insight and support from industry, increasing knowledge and informing lessons.

Through the new partnership, STEM Ambassadors will provide PVG accreditation, making it much easier to become a Digital Critical Friend. With Tech She Can’s ‘Tech We Can’ educational resources now being provided to Digital Critical Friends, they can increase the support given to teachers to build knowledge and confidence in delivering tech related lessons, helping to inform students and inspire them to consider a career in STEM.

Karen Meechan, CEO of ScotlandIS, said: “Our aim when we started Digital Critical Friends was to ensure young people had access to practical knowledge, experience within the tech sector and exposure to the career opportunities available to them. This partnership with STEM ambassadors and Tech She Can will allow us all to work together to give young minds the opportunity to explore a future in tech.

“We’re calling for passionate individuals to get involved with the programme. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get invaluable mentoring experience by training the potential future pioneers of tech.”

The SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre) is a charity group which runs STEM Ambassadors.

SSERC CEO, Alastair MacGregor, said: “We’re delighted to be able to work alongside Tech She Can and ScotlandIS to provide such excellent opportunities for our STEM Ambassadors to help young people in Scotland consider a career in technology. STEM Ambassadors come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and by participating in the Digital Critical Friends and Tech We Can initiatives they are able to share those experiences with others.”

Dr Claire Thorne, co-CEO of Tech She Can, added: “We’re proud to be working in partnership with STEM Ambassadors and ScotlandIS to inspire more young people across Scotland to consider a future career in technology. Our Tech We Can Champions are all STEM Ambassador trained and we’re delighted that Digital Critical Friends can now also use our resources to inspire students about tech. Collaboration is key to improving diversity in technology and we’re excited about the potential of this partnership.”

The partnership is actively seeking volunteers from across Scotland to join the programmes, there are currently Digital Critical Friends programmes running in the South of Scotland, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, and East Renfrewshire still have some spaces in the Borders, East Dunbartonshire, and Glasgow.

Karen Meechan added: “In particular, we are looking to hear from tech experts across all digital professions who might be interested in helping. If you feel passionate about STEM education in our schools, get in touch.”

ScotlandIS, STEM Ambassadors and Tech She Can can be contacted for further information on how to get involved or take a look at the partnership page here.

For details on Digital Critical Friends specifically, visit: https://www.scotlandis.com/blog/help-us-help-them-critical-friends-programme/

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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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