Engineering is key to Britain’s future, not just its past


The UK’s engineering skillsbase is lagging behind Slovenia and Romania, argues Google UK’s engineering director, Mike Warriner. How can the UK inspire a new generation of talent?

child coding a computer game
The UK is facing an urgent shortage of engineering and technical skills, which has seen the government introduce computer science to the schools curriculumPhotograph: Kevin Jarrett/flickr

Since the industrial revolution, Britain has been a cradle of invention. From railways connecting our cities to the world wide web connecting our globe, Britain can take pride in its part in the development of many of the technologies that have transformed our lives.

Even at the dawn of the technological revolution – from radio and television to the computer – Britain was playing a key role. But in recent years, the most significant technological innovations have happened elsewhere. Today, as more and more of us are learning what technology can do and how to use it, fewer people are learning how to build it.

The reality is that for all Britain’s proud heritage, we’re not as good as we were at nurturing the skills and talent that are needed to be at the leading edge of innovation. That needs to change.

Computer science as a skill is declining, and Britain is falling behind. The UK currently ranks 32nd globally in terms of the percentage of population that are computer engineers, lagging behind Slovenia and Romania. In fact, there has been a near 60% decline in the number of people taking computer science A-Level since 1998.

Technology breakthroughs can’t happen without the engineers to build them. And I’m not just talking about tech companies like Google. As an engineering company we will always need talented engineers, but technology is no longer the sole preserve of start-ups and software companies. Companies from architecture to manufacturing are using and relying on technology to run their businesses. This, in turn, creates jobs and value to the economy: digital employers hire 15% more people on average than those who are not digital. By 2015, there will be an estimated 900,000 unfilled ICT positions in the EU.

Britain today does not lack for smart people with the potential to lead the next wave of invention. At Google in London, I’m lucky enough to sit among some of the brightest technological minds in the world.

Like many of my colleagues, my own interest in computers started from a young age, long before I was thinking about career options. Since I was four, I’ve been fascinated with how things work – pulling things apart and then putting them back together again. I’ve introduced my son and daughter to coding too and they love playing with Scratch, a free programming language for creating your own games.

I want to see more children across the country excited about computer science, but to make this happen we need to start early. If we can get children interested and give them the help they need to turn these skills into a career, we’ll end up with more computer scientists. Google work with many partners from Raspberry Pi, to Young Rewired State, to Code Club and Teach First who get young people exposed to, and involved with, programming.

This week we’re also celebrating Hour of Code which aims to persuade as many students and their parents as possible to try computer coding for at least 60 minutes during that week. We know you can’t learn to code in an hour. Like most skills, it’s not that easy. But you can spark interest and excitement in an hour and there are lots of organisations ready to support children to take the next step after that.

Thanks to initiatives like these, the UK today is beginning to close the gap in tech skills. Computer science is coming on to the primary school curriculum for the first time in September, making the UK one of only two G20 countries to make this investment. This is a fantastic development but it’s also a huge challenge. More than 200,000 teachers will be affected by the curriculum changes. That gives us about six months to get them ready. We’re working with Code Club Pro to launch the first teacher-training scheme of its kind, but much more needs to be done to equip teachers with the skills they need to inspire the next generation of programmers and developers.

We want to see more ground-breaking technology invented right here in Britain. To do that, we need to continue to invest in computer science education and help students, teachers and parents understand its importance in our lives.

We need to make sure innovation is part of the UK’s future and not just our history.

• Mike Warriner is UK engineering director of Google

O2 Names IE as a key partner for their mobile wallet

Wave Crest, FIS, Intelligent Environments and Visa Europe to power mobile wallet service launching later this year

O2 today confirmed some of the leading financial services players it will work with to launch its mobile wallet service during the second half of 2011. Wave Crest, FIS™, Intelligent Environments and Visa Europe have all been appointed to deliver the payments and processing systems upon which O2’s next phase of financial services products will be based.

O2 has committed to launching a mobile wallet service during the second half of 2011 which will start the process of taking the contents of the physical wallet and putting them on a mobile phone. Capabilities planned for the wallet include m-commerce, airtime top ups, contactless / NFC payments and peer-to-peer payments. Although the service will launch solely under the O2 Money brand, O2 will be working with a number of leading technical and financial services specialists to ensure the best possible customer experience.

In the coming months O2 will also re-launch its successful prepaid Visa card product with contactless capabilities. The new O2 Money prepaid cards will also operate on the platform and systems provided by these new partners. Existing O2 Money customers will be given the opportunity to be migrated to the new platform and be issued the new contactless prepaid cards.

Global epayments provider Wave Crest will provide and operate the core banking platform upon which the new prepaid card and mobile wallet services will run. Wave Crest’s eMoney platform is a flexible and highly integrated service, ideally suited for prepaid and stored value financial services products. Wave Crest will also manage the security and online customer experience.

FIS, the world’s largest provider of banking and payments technology, will provide transaction processing and UK-based customer service for both the prepaid cards and mobile wallet.

Intelligent Environments has been appointed to develop the wallet application which will be compatible with a wide range of mobile devices. Intelligent Environments is a digital banking provider and part of the Parseq Group.

Finally, Visa Europe will be the payment network for the wallet and new prepaid products building on the successful relationship between the two companies which began with the launch of O2 Money in 2009.

“These partnerships take us another step closer to the launch of commercial mobile wallet services,” said James Le Brocq, Managing Director, Financial Services at O2. “We are working with the best partners in their respective fields to bring a high quality service to market under the O2 Money banner. We look forward to unveiling additional partners in the coming months.”


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HSBC Retail Bank & Wealth Management Digital CIO. Ex-Google Engineering Director and Google London Site Lead, Royal Society Education Committee member. All opinions are my own.