Online exclusive: Q&A with John McGuire of Pulsion Technology

by May 01, 2012 No Comments

Why is it important that Scotland and the UK support technology as a career choice?

I believe that true ‘value add’ to a company or economy comes from innovation and advancements in technology. Major wealth creation comes from technological revolutions such as the Industrial Revolution or the internet revolution we are now going through. There are exciting technological advances to come and many of these rely on computer science and software development. Without supporting careers in these areas, I think Scotland and the UK risk becoming irrelevant in an increasing technical world. Without good technology skills, we will struggle to compete with other countries on a world stage.

How effective is current Scottish and UK policy in providing this support?

From anecdotal evidence, it would appear that university courses in technology (especially software technology) are less appealing to school leavers. There also seems to be a social issue with maths and science being ‘geeky’ and undervalued. It would appear, to the general population, that we are not doing anything to change that perception. Perhaps government is trying to help companies grow within the technology field but we have to make the sector more attractive to a generation of kids who will one day drive that sector forward.

At a policy level, what more could be done (or differently)?

We need to start with education and make technology and computing more challenging for pupils. My kids, who are 10 and 11, are bored with ICT in their school because it is too easy. They complain it only covers how to use Excel and Word (though they are moving on to HTML). We are showing children how to use computers but not how to develop. The initiatives to make computing the new Latin are a good move in this direction.

Should the school curriculum be reconfigured and/or should schools be doing things differently to encourage more relevant choices at university?

In terms of technology, I keep hearing that the school curriculum is too easy and perhaps not challenging enough. I recently talked to some 16 year olds looking for a career choice and considering computing. Some were doing more difficult computing tasks outside of school than inside and were obviously not getting stretched to the best of their ability by the school work. Perhaps schools should make the curriculum more challenging but also let children know of the opportunities for their future in these work areas.

What should the higher education sector be doing?

The higher education sector appears to be creating good graduates in our industry but just not enough. Perhaps we need to make students more entrepreneurial but other than that, I think it’s about attracting students to the technology industry. Is there more that the technology industry can do to engage with the education sector?

In Scotland we don’t have any truly large software companies so it’s easier for a Microsoft or Google to engage with education. We give students work experience, which is helpful but perhaps we, the technology sector, should be engaging earlier before university and selling the benefits of the career.

Describe your career path and how it informs your view of careers/skills development in Scotland and the UK.

I did a BSc in Computer Science & Microprocessor Systems at Strathclyde University and graduated 26 years ago. After that I was a software engineer in a small company and then a large company before starting my own company. One of the reasons for starting a company was so I could stay in Scotland but progress my career. At the time many of the better jobs were in London. Being in the industry, you realise the rate of change and how we are still scratching the surface of what is possible with technology. Recent advancements in areas like robotics, which appears to be reaching some sort of tipping point, would indicate that there are still lots of opportunities. My experience only makes me more convinced that this area is still a very good career choice.

If there was one idea/initiative that you would like to see enacted, what would it be?

Make it more attractive to make money by inventing things rather than to make money by just handling money. Our economy is too skewed towards financial services which was a darling whilst house prices and shares were rising. We need to now make it very attractive to produce things. This does seem to be changing as I notice more science on TV but 1st class honours graduates still seem to get paid more for programming spreadsheets for financial services companies than for designing cutting-edge software systems. That needs to change.

Will Peakin Will Peakin

Beginning as a reporter on weekly newspapers in the North-East of England, Will moved to Glasgow and worked as a freelance for a number of UK national newspapers. In 1990 he was appointed News Editor of Scotland on Sunday and in 1995, Scotland Editor of The Sunday Times. In 1999, he and his family moved to the south-west of France where he wrote for The Sunday Times Magazine. Returning to Scotland in 2002, he was Assistant Editor (Features) and Deputy Editor at The Scotsman before joining Holyrood Magazine in 2004. He writes for the magazine's business pages and edits its series of...

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