With STEM Day on 8 November, it’s time to appreciate the value those working in technology bring to us all.
There can be no denying that technology is a force for good in society and the economy. New innovations allow everyone to do more, from different places and at greater speed than even before – offering up opportunities for businesses and changing the lives of individuals. Technology lies behind everything from connecting family to helping reduce the environmental damage done to the planet. Through big data, it can even have a good go at predicting the future.
Behind all this are the people who have chosen technology as a career and ensure we all benefit from its continuous improvement. “The UK government is working towards creating a strong digital economy,” says Kelly Nicholls, CEO of TechSkills, the digital skills arm of trade association techUK. “Technology is closely interlinked in this mission as it is projected to add £41.5 billion to the UK economy by 2025.
“We can see that demand is growing exponentially, especially across roles such as data scientists, data analysts, software engineers, chief technology officer, digital marketers, business analysts, network engineers, IT consultants, AI data specialists, and many more.” Such is the demand that techUK estimates over 100,000 job vacancies are advertised monthly.
Marius Rubin is Chief Technology Officer at consultancy firm Credera. He believes people often underestimate the different skills needed to deliver technology successfully, with positions ranging from software engineers, project managers, system administrators and those who focus on the data side of things. “IT roles are varied and don’t just cover ‘hands-on’ technical work,” he stresses.
One role that is increasingly vital is that of cybersecurity professionals. “Cybersecurity issues, from insecure data and data leaks to cyber attacks, cost businesses millions in lost revenue,” says Simon Hepburn, CEO of the UK Cyber Security Council. “Those in the cybersecurity profession are there to not only resolve these issues, should the worst happen, but also to put defence mechanisms and best practice processes in place to guard against such issues, bolstering businesses in the face of ever-changing threats.”
Data engineers are another example of how technologists can influence the world around us. “From enterprise systems to your personal TV streaming account, data powers the everyday functioning of modern-day society,” says Robert Farrow, Head of Data Engineering at data consultancy Profusion. “It’s no exaggeration to say it touches every organisation and improves people’s lives.
“Take efficiency and the use of car hailing apps, for example. Data – and the work data engineers do behind the scenes – makes it possible for the app’s algorithm to work and connect users with available vehicles. Similarly, data enables prediction engines to estimate the time it will take for the car to arrive at the user’s location.”
Increasingly, technology professionals also provide the basis for how organisations operate, particularly as they transition into digital businesses. “They enable companies to use technology to benefit customers and end-users, as well as creating efficiencies and reducing costs through the capture of knowledge and knowledge transfer, the creation of new business models and the effective deployment of resources,” says Dr Mohammed Rehman, Head of the School of Computing at Arden University.
“This input is of incredible importance to businesses of varying shapes and sizes – in fact, it is deemed by many as invaluable in this digital age. IT and tech professionals can be the sense-makers for managers, providing insight into the latest innovations and how they can be used for competitive advantage or to better meet the needs of service users.”
The pivotal role of technology – and those behind it – was starkly revealed during the pandemic, notes Donnie MacColl, Director of EMEA Technical Services at software firm HelpSystems. “IT pros worked tirelessly to ensure that remote and then hybrid working was a possibility,” he says. “They secured entire infrastructures end-to-end, and it’s thanks to these experts’ ability to embrace change and adapt that employees today have the flexibility to work in whatever environment they wish to.”
In practical terms, effective use of technology leads to greater efficiencies and accessibility. “Technology professionals have a role to play in identifying and realising opportunities to increase the effectiveness and impact of people in their day-to-day work – for example by making sure that people spend less time on error-prone repetitive work and more time on unbounded creative work or work that requires nuanced judgement,” says Rubin.
“In organisations that are enabled by technology, it is the role of technology professionals to stay informed about how new products and technologies might enhance accessibility more generally in the workplace and challenge their businesses to adopt them.”
Technology itself is, of course, always evolving, and will help to shape how consumers and businesses operate in years to come. Farrow pinpoints the role of data as being particularly powerful. “In the future, it will underpin smart cities, lead to improved prediction of major events, such as weather or supply chain issues, and power smart homes and driverless cars,” he predicts. “The use cases are limitless. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that the data revolution could be as profound as the industrial revolution.”
There’s also the potential for IT to play more of a role in changing how we all operate, with new technology helping to reduce travel and control building efficiency. “Sustainable IT and the use of the cloud is an area where technologists can directly influence the resources used in powering the technologies we all use and how they impact the planet,” says Rubin.
Blockchain could also lead to greater transparency over how people’s data is used and monetised, while automation and robotics will become more influential. “This can unlock more potential for individuals in their working lives and also support ageing populations with needs around independence and quality of life,” he adds.
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