December 22, 2015

Guilty. Trying to do better.

Via Nat Torkington's Four Short Links column, today I read Contempt Culture.

I'm ashamed to say that too much of it rang true. Less so on the language side - there's some PHP-bashing in the Liverpool tech community, but personally at least, I'm language-agnostic enough that my general take is to use whichever language best suits your needs. I think people should generally be heading away from PHP for new developments, but beyond that any of Ruby/Python/Node JS work for most applications. Each have their niches to which they're better suited, but availability of developers and your existing knowledge of the language are equally important factors in that choice.

I think my unthinking contempt comes across in my lament of there not being enough "proper tech firms" in the area. The problem isn't with the agencies or firms using software/the 'Net to enable them to build better businesses, it's just tricky to pin down exactly what I mean and a disdain for agencies, etc. is a lazy shorthand because I can't express things properly.

I want there to be more people in the community doing interesting work in tech, pushing the boundaries of what's possible, or at least keeping up with where the boundaries are. I want more people in strategy meetings with the council and the LEP to be proposing projects that show they understand the real possibilities of digital.

What I want is to raise the level of ambition in Liverpool's tech and digital community. That will make it harder for some of the companies to put out a perfectly-passable app and laud it as ground-breaking innovation. It's not about making their lives harder, it's about recognising that the really exciting work is harder than that and building a community that rewards technical talent rather than marketing talent. Successful businesses do need marketing and sales, but to compete in a global marketplace that needs to be built on a foundation of solid tech.

We aren't going to attract the best technologists to the city if we're showcasing run-of-the-mill companies. We need to find ways to help the existing companies get better, help us good technologists (he says snobbishly assuming he's one of them) find each other, and educate the support organisations (including the council, LEP, etc.) to recognise good tech over good bullshit (to pick extremes).

And I'm going to try to be less down on agencies and to continue to strive for better ways to explain what I really mean.

Posted by Adrian at December 22, 2015 12:15 PM | TrackBack

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Apologies for my rant about Rails at breakfast - for the record, I'm pretty negative about Django as well.

Nevertheless, I've used them both for projects I'm very proud of! (WhatDoTheyKnow and ScraperWiki Classic, respectively)

It's true that contempt is bad. It's also true that to build a good technical community, you need to have serious and robust conversations about which technology is best and for what.

Often the culture is the important thing. The best thing about Ruby *isn't* software engineering skills. It *is* that the Ruby community loves business, loves paying for software, and loves small (non VC funded!) startups making such software.

Love the idea of thinking what culture we each personally have contempt for, and changing our language and approach.

As for agencies - firstly, they genuinely vary a lot, both between each other, and within one agency between different projects. Secondly, the business environment naturally forces and selects for that kind of model (contracts for big corporations + EU grants).

As you say, the answer is to help up the game by paying it forward - which is exactly what things like the language groups at DoES do.

Will think about what tone and attitude and activity will gradually grow all this.

Posted by: Francis Irving at December 22, 2015 11:44 PM

Hi Adrian,

There are lot of reasons. Liverpool is nowhere near as good as it needs to be, unlike other places such as Shorditch, Oxford/Cambridge, North East etc. It falls behind in so many ways. It needs a "talk force" to get it sorted, one that is not linked to any political party and one that does not last the length of a election cycle.

Here are just some of the issues I think needs to be sorted:

1. Political will, Council has no money and therefore is focusing its efforts on other things (Tourism, Welfare etc), in some ways its doing its best, but that best is a rather low standard compared to other local government areas. The people voted for a socialist government so expect socialist policies and priorities and helping business people get richer won't be one of them, creating much needed jobs on the back of it is though, how they sell that to the voters is up to them.

2. We need a joined up private and public effort with proper leadership. No such body exists. A few self-elected unaccountable quangos may, but the real output of these on a pound for pound basis is a very poor return on investment. These should be disbanded and a real fit for purpose body made up of people that really represent the commercial and public sector, funding, business advisor's and doers, to get things done, with political power and money to get things off the ground.

3. Skills Shortage, I personally have 3 open jobs for people with the right skills. Now I'm forced to employ these in another city closer to their home in order for the business to survive. These people should be employed here, paying taxes, contributing to the local economy. There is a huge brain drain here and a lot of good talent gets sucked out of the area due to job prospects and higher wages.

3. Access to funding. There are loads of great creative & inspirational people here that could make this city great again, like we used to when we got rich at the start of the19th Century We could do this again for the 21st if the capital is there for us to grow. For example I went to MSIF to ask for £300k loan, not grant!, so I could create 16 jobs here and had huge customer demand for my services, only to be told, come back in 3 years! :) says it all.

4. Connectivity - We need our own internet exchange, and better and cheaper connectivity. Jobs won't exactly flood here, but its one less barrier. Instead the government just want to give BT shareholders even more cash who pick and choose the juicy rich suburbs for "fibre access" which even then is poor value for money and not fit for business.

I could go on but I'm in danger of doing what the quangos paid lots of public money to large consultancy firms to do, who still just don't "get it".

Either get your hands dirty and join the long fight or choose another city, Liverpool is a cool place, but sadly it's not yet ready to do business and compete with other cites.

Matt Wilson CEng, CITP, FIET

Posted by: Matt Wilson at December 23, 2015 12:03 PM
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