What’s in a word?

Matthew Finnie - 13 June 17

You won’t be surprised to hear that as a CTO I have a degree in Engineering – Electrical & Electronic to be precise. I started life in semi-conductor design, moved onto software, the early days of the internet, VOIP and then to Interoute.

Way back then, in 1984, it wasn’t unusual to be asked what degree you were doing – “Engineering” - and then be asked – “great! Can you fix my TV, washing machine, car, boiler etc.?” You get the idea. Forget that at the US based semiconductor company I worked in straight out of University, that the title “engineer” was only conveyed upon those with a degree or chartered. In good old blighty, it seems that an engineer was/is an overall clad mechanic type - definitely not the accountant, doctor or lawyer. 

That was a long time ago I hear you say. Sadly, it maybe. But in a week in London where we are devoted to all things technology, (London Tech Week, the Connected Britain Conference and TechXLR8 at Excel to mention only a few) and a general enthusiasm for encouraging the next generation to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), I came across this at a motorway service station.

God help us. Will we really be able to sell the idea of STEM to the bright 18-year-old on his or her way to the open day this summer? Probably not. He, or still all to rarely she, is more likely to think maybe I’ll choose one those professions that people don’t get confused with.

Set aside that Computer Science has some of the highest graduate pay, not enough STEM graduates are seeing engineering as any type of pathway for them. Even when they do, my own straw poll of peers and my STEM friends’ kids, highlights too few thinking that technology is something that will be rewarding. Schools do their bit but the weight of public perception is still cautious of the “techie”. They have at least become comfortable with the “geek” caricature - “he’s brilliant but a little weird” - and then worried. Like our well-meaning motorway sanitary overseers, don’t discriminate against the experienced technician. Our recent dislike of “experts” hasn’t helped but lawyers are still lawyers, doctors’ are still doctors and accountants’ are still accountants.

The recent chaos over Brexit on top of immigration etc. further exacerbates the problem. Interoute has 24 nationalities in London alone so any restriction on our talent pool is simply not helpful. And before the Brexiteers howls about cheap labour taking our jobs – FLAT WRONG - this is about talent and where we find it.

We as a country don’t produce enough STEM grads. Partly because we still don’t value the profession and rightly or wrongly that impacts people’s decisions when they are starting out. As an industry we can do more – yes, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg & Larry Ellison - three of the richest people in the world serve as a role model, but maybe just a simpler appreciation that technology is the 21st Century change agent would help. Technology is the catalyst for change in how humans live, it exposes creativity, it evokes remarkable benefits and when successful it is a source of huge philanthropic good. As Steve jobs famously said to John Sculley, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” 

Now that’s a little more inspiring than a date at Heston Services on a rainy Tuesday afternoon…


Interoute CTO Matthew Finnie is speaking at Connected Britain

 “Creating an environment where the UK’s digital economy can continue to thrive”

14:10 Location Grange St Paul’s Hotel, London.


Interoute Director of Cloud Services Mike Rivers is speaking at TechXLR8 – Cloud and DevOps World “How Hybrid Cloud Accelerates Digital Transformation”

Wed, 14 June 1:05 - 1:24 pm        Location: Cloud & DevOps World: Track Room 6, Excel, London  


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