Today we’re joined by Martin, one of our senior developers at Word360. Off the back of Birmingham Tech Week, we had a great conversation around tech skills at work and how small businesses can succeed in their approach to software development.

Hello Martin, I understand you’re really excited about the rise of new technologies making life easier for us all, which is something central to Birmingham Tech Week, with an emphasis on helping people to improve their digital skills.

What do you think the average employee should be looking to learn? Or should everything be simple if software is planned properly?

I've been in the industry for 15 years, and seen things change at an exponential rate.
For example, when I started, cloud and virtualization were in their infancy, so every customer I worked with had physical servers either on-site, or in a rack at a data centre.

Today, the cloud dominates the industry, and physical servers are being decommissioned and shipped off to the scrap heap. The consequence is that there has been a big demand in upskilling cloud skills for employees, with AWS and Kubernetes dominating the field.

I would suggest that an employee in the tech-sector who wishes to remain valid needs to focus on Kubernetes and cloud VPS servers. Luckily, Linux still dominates the server market, so those with existing Linux skills who used to manage physical servers can now apply those skills to the cloud.

Another big change which I’ve seen, is in database management. SQL databases had previously dominated the database market, with the likes of Oracle and MySQL being the main players.

Today, the tech industry is making a big leap into flat file NoSQL database systems, such as MongoDB.

At Word360, our business-model is very much about using great technology to support a huge team of employees – most of these are interpreters of course.

This relationship is evidently going well, but where do businesses tend to fail when creating software to support their teams?

A big problem occurs when a piece of software is created which does a great job of managing data, but isn't very user friendly when used out in the field.

Our Linguists are dependent on real-time information in order to provide the best service, e.g., if a booking has been cancelled whilst in transit to that booking, delayed, or whether bookings may conflict. Therefore, close attention needs to be paid to the front-end usability in both web apps and mobile apps.

Technology can make life easier for people and increasingly it can provide a wider range of jobs than ever before, I mean there was no need for drone mechanics a few years ago!

What are the most important areas of expertise that businesses should invest in? I guess it would be good to ask what role schools can play in preparing people for the tech-sector too?

There are few jobs today that don't involve a computer, whether used by the worker, or by the worker’s line manager to coordinate tasks.
Therefore, it is important that people are prepared with the relevant skillset to work with the software and devices provided.

Part of this comes with training provided by the company, but it is also important that children are prepared for a workforce in which there is an exceedingly high probability that their job will involve working with a computer.

I am passionate about training and mentoring, so I believe it is important that companies invest in both in-house and external training, meaning that their staff are able to work with the very latest tech.

A big area for discussion during Birmingham Tech Week is business support and investment, especially for local start-ups. 

How do you see the role of smaller businesses with strong tech as compared to that of a multinational with infinite spending?

A problem with large corporations, is that they can develop a ‘too big to fail’ attitude, which means that they stagnate in areas such as IT and innovative tech.
The smaller tech company does not have the luxury of such attitudes and bottomless budgets; therefore, they have to be tech-driven, creative, and innovative to survive in an ever-growing, competitive industry. Hiring the right people, with the right skillset is essential for a small business. A term which has been flying around the IT world for a few years is the ‘rockstar developer’.

This is someone who is expert in a full workstack, can create a database, design and build applications and troubleshoot networking issues. Of course, the "rockstar developer" is a rare person. Therefore, if a small tech company cannot find one, then it's important that they invest in upskilling their existing IT team and grow their own "rockstar" developers in-house.

Smaller tech companies cannot afford to have a delegated IT team, where each person only does one job. Instead, having a multi skilled team is essential for continuing growth and stability, e.g., if each team member only knows one job, and that team member is away, the nobody else will know how to resolve an issue in their absence that only they can fix. The best model is cross training, so each person is familiar with each other's role, and at least has the bare minimum skills to cover for them in absence.

Thanks for your insights, I’m sure they’ll benefit a lot of people.

Ready to learn more?

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