Scotland must nurture its blossoming data talent

By Ed Broussard

It is undoubtedly an exciting time for data science in Scotland, from the news that Scotland’s economy stands to benefit from a £20 billion productivity boost if the opportunities of data are fully realised, to the announcement that Scotland’s annual data festival, DataFest, is extending its programme for 2019.

The success of companies like Skyscanner, FanDuel and Free Agent is also evidence of Scotland seeing the benefits of investment made to address the digital skills gap, supporting the industry’s growth. These developments help position Scotland as an attractive alternative to London for software development, digital agencies and start-up companies.

We are now seeing the benefits from a similar focus in data science talent and industry investment. The data community has accelerated over the last couple of years. The Data Lab’s skills programme is being successful in bringing talent to Scotland and Scottish Enterprise R&D grant support has enabled organisations like Mudano to take the leap and invest in Scotland.

Indeed, in October we opened our artificial intelligence and software R&D centre in Edinburgh, where we are developing the world’s first artificial intelligence project management software. With our headquarters originally in London, it has so far proven a great decision to grow our data solutions development north of the border. With a committed investment of £6.9 million over the next three years, this has created 26 permanent jobs to date, increasing to at least 40 jobs over the next period.

We are reaching the point of convergence that will enable Scotland to become the leading destination in Europe for tech and data talent and companies.

We have been blown away by the talent in data science and engineering in Scotland and it’s fantastic that we are able to conduct cutting-edge research in the country, which is helping us transform how some of the biggest financial services firms from across the UK use data.

Creating this sustained industry demand is vital to ensure the talent stays in Scotland and enables sustained growth of the sector. It is why the likes of The Data Lab, and its Data Talent Scotland event, as part of DataFest, are so important. Another key element to retaining and maximising the value from this talent is the ability to collaborate with a wider eco-system on solving key problems. For example, it is important for Mudano to easily connect with world-leading researchers as well as other data scientists in the local industry and public sector organisations.  

Data science is the new internet. If you consider how fundamentally the internet has changed every aspect of our lives since the mid-nineties, we stand at the beginning of an even more fundamental shift in how technology will change the way we interact with the world. The companies that choose to invest in data science and machine learning today will drive huge value from those investments, but within a few years new operating models will emerge which normalise the use of data in every business decision. Being data literate will quickly move from being a differentiator in business, to a hygiene factor just to survive.

We are reaching the point of convergence of skills availability, industry demand and government support that will enable Scotland to become the leading destination in Europe for tech and data talent and companies. Scotland is becoming particularly attractive because of the leading academic research centres, great universities, major conferences like Turing Fest and DataFest and a relatively diminutive size that means it is easy to collaborate. As well as consistently polling as one of the best places in the world to live and work in, of course!

Ed Broussard is co-founder and chief executive of Mudano, sponsors of the 2019 Women in Data Science event, part of DataFest 19. Women in Data Science brings together women data scientists and school girls to showcase what a data career looks like, and inspire the female data leaders of the future.