The techs factor

The recent warning from the UK’s Royal College of Engineering, which said that the number of maths, science and engineering graduates must increase by 50 per cent to avoid the country plunging further down the innovation league tables, is the latest in a host of alarms that have been raised over our ability to produce the talent needed to fuel our post?manufacturing economy.

The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) have been in steady decline.

A Lords Select Committee report published this summer showed how the number of engineering graduates fell by three per cent between 2003 and 2010, and the number of computer scientist graduates dropped by 27 per cent.

Meanwhile more vocationally-focused and trendier courses have been rising: in the same period, the number of sports science graduates, for example, has doubled.

The idea flouted last week of an X Factor for the tech world, fronted by Simon Cowell and Will.i.am, is a scary prospect.

“Comparative genomic hybrid microarrays are so in right now and those shoes are doooope…”.

But, it does go to show that a certain type of tech is getting cool. Just think of the Apple revolution, Justin Timberlake relaunching MySpace and some social site that Marky Z runs…

The problem with trendy technology is that the best mathematicians, the leading biologists and world-class physicians are not what you’d call cool.

You won’t catch them sipping cocktails and they probably aren’t on Twitter.

You are more likely to find them buying a ready-made tikka masala at Tesco on a Friday night before heading back to the lab, than handing out business cards at networking drinks before taking a trip up Kilimanjaro.

I took the route of enterprise software to bring technology that is fundamentally different, innovative and new to the marketplace.

We were a small, nerdy team, convinced that our product could change the technology world, but we knew nothing about business.

At the time, it was a big drawback. The financial world was intimating, we didn’t know the lingo, and there was a mountain of risks and practical assessments that told us that it wouldn’t work.

Today, I can see that that naivety was critical to our success.

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