Arnoldis Nyamande, Policy Manager at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, reports on the 2021 ScotSoft conference held in Edinburgh.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending ScotSoft, the Scottish Software conference, in Edinburgh. The day was filled with an array of talks and presentations on all things tech. Of course, that was to be expected. What came as a surprise to me, however, was the diversity of speakers, career paths and the topics they’re working on.

The day started with an opening presentation from Bonnie Dunbar, a retired astronaut and engineer teaching at a university in Texas, USA. Bonnie’s speech detailed the challenges that she and her team faced as the US sought to send a crew of astronauts into space, including the fact that some of the expertise and equipment they needed was only found on the other side of the iron curtain.

She spoke of how people on both sides of the ideological divide that defined the late 20th century had one common goal: to dive into the unknown and discover what answers space had to offer. This was enough to inspire them to look beyond what divided them and be united by their shared ambition: progress in space exploration.

When faced with naysayers, Bonnie always recalled a quote from one of her personal heroes, physicist Robert H Goddard: “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dreams of yesterday become the hopes of today and the realities of tomorrow.”

Indeed, there was a time when women could only dream of having a career outside of homemaking or jobs that were considered women’s work, much less a male-dominated industry like IT. ScotSoft gave testament to Robert H Goddard’s proclamation that the dreams of yesterday are the realities of today.

An evolving industry

The number of brilliant young women I saw speaking at ScotSoft is proof of a progressively inclusive and evolving industry. It shows that more women are successfully taking up careers in fields like AI and software engineering - and doing it flawlessly.

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There were young women with backgrounds in art and music with a limited grasp of maths and physics succeeding in IT and digital careers. Their accomplishments were encouraging to me - a numerically challenged individual - that all are welcome in IT.

My final takeaway from ScotSoft was a new realisation of just how far reaching it is. The Head of Tech for Good at BT spoke of a project they’re working on called the Forth Era, which seeks to combat the adverse impacts of climate change by supporting fresh water supply and ensuring maximum efficiency in existing systems.

As the world is plagued with excess consumption and many cities in the world are closer to ‘day 0’ (i.e., running out of fresh water supplies) it was inspiring to see how companies like BT are at the forefront of these challenges and are preparing to face them through digital technologies.

Scottish Young Software Engineer of the Year

I also attended the award celebration for the Scottish Young Software Engineer of the Year. Here, lots of young people from many Scottish universities put forward their final year projects for a chance to win the coveted prize. This year, it was won by Aberdeen student Stepan Brychta, who created Fryderyk - a virtual assistant to help with the composition of music.

Other entries included software which anonymises data or one that helps refugees find employment. Overall, it was clear that the next generation of software engineers remain hopeful that they, too, can enjoy a prosperous, safe and musical future facilitated by digital technology.

I walked away from ScotSoft feeling better for having gone, and hopeful that technology holds the key to a brighter future.

Image: BCS Trustee Sharon Moore (left) presents the BCS sponsored Young Software Engineer of the Year prize to Victor Slavov of Stirling University, with ScotlandIS Chair Alison McLaughlin (right)