Capture the past to inspire the future

January 2018

Computer lights and switchesPaul D Jagger FBCS explains what registered charity Archives of IT is all about and how he thinks it will inspire the next generation to launch their own careers in computing.

In 2011 Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google delivered the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Festival and it proved a lightning conductor for much of what was wrong in the UK technology sector. He spoke of the need to reignite children’s passion for science, engineering and maths. In particular, he spoke of the UK’s early leadership in photography, television and computers.

Two quotes from that lecture illustrated the way that the UK’s lead in information technology had been needlessly surrendered since the post-war era:

  • ‘It’s not widely known, but the world’s first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyons’ chain of tea shops. Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.
  • ‘Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage.’

How has computing education changed since 2011?

Much has been done since to reinvigorate teaching of computing science in schools, enabled by developments such as the Computing at School grass roots campaign, the development of the Raspberry Pi and the BBC Micro:bit, the emergence of Code Clubs, Apps for Good and many other initiatives.

Yet, in 2017, the GCE A Level results for the UK showed that only 64,159 GCSE students studied computer science against a target the profession believes should be nearer 200,000. The picture is no better for GCE A Level where 7,600 students studied the subject in 2017 against a target of 40,000.

What still needs to be done to grow the UK digital economy?

Clearly there is much work yet to be done, and the UK economy needs to inspire a new generation of scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs and business leaders to harness the opportunities afforded by the digital economy.

Figures from the Tech Partnership (2015) estimate that £91Bn is generated by the technology industry, and BCS estimates that 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people will be required to meet the needs of employers by 2022.

How will Archives of IT inspire the next generation?

Archives of IT aims to do its part to inspire a generation of future leaders in the IT industry by capturing the stories of leaders from the past, and the present.

In September 2017 Archives of IT launched its new website with the recorded interviews and reminiscences of leaders of the UK IT industry who come from backgrounds in commerce, education and government from the 1960s onward.

Each leader’s story is transcribed, abstracted and, where appropriate, linked to supplementary resources (e.g., company reports, published papers) to provide a comprehensive study of the development of the UK IT industry.

Many of the leaders who have been interviewed to date have made a significant and lasting impact on the development of the UK IT industry such as Sir Peter Bonfield, who joined International Computers Limited (ICL) in 1981, and went on to become managing director after the business was bought out by Saudi Telecom Company (STC), and Dame Stephanie Shirley who pioneered home working and employment for women in IT.

Others are more recent achievers such as Dr Sue Black, founder of TechMums, and Dr Eben Upton, inventor of the Raspberry Pi.

Archives of IT is a growing record of the growth of the UK IT industry through the eyes of those who have led its major achievements, but the archive is not a history lesson, rather it’s a resource that business leaders, policy makers, academics, students and journalists can call upon today.

Access to the archive is free, and the archive is a vital resource for inspiring the next generation of leaders, thereby capturing the pioneering spirit of the UK’s computing heritage.

Whether you are an IT practitioner, teacher, student, entrepreneur, business leader, policy maker, journalist or historian you’ll find the archive a valuable resource. Visit at archivesit.org.uk

Footnote
Archives of IT is a registered charity no. 1164198 and receives support from BCS The Chartered Institute for IT and the charity of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.
 

Image: iStock.com/halbergman