Author Archives: Chris Mairs

Chris Mairs

About Chris Mairs

Chris is Chief Scientist at Metaswitch Networks and is also Chair of Code Club, a Not For Profit organization providing after school clubs in over 2,000 UK primary schools. He is a fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering and in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List was awarded a CBE for services to engineering. Being blind himself, he delivered the 2006 IET/BCS Turing Memorial lecture entitled “Lifestyle Access for the Disabled – adding positive drift to the random walk with technology”. Chris’s 35 year career has been in communications software, working with many of the largest global players in the computer and telecommunications industries, including IBM, Microsoft, AT&T and BT. He has a first class degree in Computer Science from Cambridge University and was one of the founders of Metaswitch, where he spent many years as CTO. He now spends much of his time mentoring UK start-ups around Tech City, where he is also an active early stage investor.

The Digital Sector is Dead. Long Live Digital

Much has been said, asked and prophesied about jobs in the digital sector over the next 3-5 years. This framing of the debate fundamentally understates the impact of the current transition in which every business is becoming a digital business. Although some businesses will be more digital than others, 90% of the workforce will require digital skills to do their jobs. Any consideration of impact or policy in the context of a ‘digital sector’ misses the point. Digital is an attribute of businesses in all sectors and not a sector defining characteristic. To illustrate this point, consider Hassle.com, one of the new breed of digitally enabled businesses emerging from the East London technology hothouse. Hassle is an online marketplace for residential cleaning. The business succeeds because technology enables service discovery, booking,payment and reputation management. But nonetheless, Hassle is disrupting the cleaning services sector, not the digital sector. And it is the digitally savvy micro-businesses within the cleaning services sector (i.e. self-employed cleaners) who will benefit from the disruption by using Hassle to cost effectively acquire, interact with and retain their customers.

One category of loser in this transition is traditional agencies who relied upon economies of scale through greater reach and the affordability  of marketing and other important business processes at their scale.  The other category of loser is the self-employed cleaner who does not embrace and use digital technology to acquire the competitive edge that it offers.

It is this last point which makes the learning of core digital skills so important for all children, not just for those who will become big data analysts, game developers or rocket scientists. Being digitally intuitive will be akin to being literate or numerate – a sine qua non in the modern world.

Simon Jenkins Calls For More Digital Muggles

In a polemic piece in the Guardian today Simon Jenkings argues for a shake up of the education system, and less focus on Computing or STEM.

Some of what he says about the education system being outdated has a lot of merit. But there are three huge fallacies in his assertion that we should spend less time on teaching Computing so we can focus more on the skills that employers want – i.e. communication, team working, critical thinking and problem solving.

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Oral Evidence to the House Of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills

This morning, alongside Hugh Milward, Policy Director for Microsoft UK, and Mike Warriner, Engineering Director for Google UK, I gave oral evidence to Baroness Sally Morgan’s Select Committee on Digital Skills.  The session was recorded and starts approximately 1hr 9mins through the following video clip (the first hour of the clip is an earlier evidence session with three other panelists) – http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15870.

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Preparedness (or not) of Teachers for Delivery of the new Curriculum

In our Policy Priorities document, our submission  to Maggie Philbin’s digital Task Force, and in all our informal communications, we have stressed the importance of a medium/long-term, appropriately funded programme of CPD for teachers aligned to the new curriculum. This is a critical part of any overall government strategy around increasing the digital skills of the UK workforce. We are currently undertaking our own survey of schools to ascertain how ready they are to deliver the new curriculum in September 2015, where we believe that adequate CPD will in many cases be a pre-requisite to readiness.

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