The changing face of London's tech scene
Some of the most common reasons I’ve heard for hating London include ‘too busy’, ‘too expensive’ and, my personal favourite, ‘too many types of sandwiches’.
Despite all this the city has been killing it when it comes to tech, and is home to more fast-growing digital companies than you can shake a stick at.
But with Brexit on the horizon and costs becoming prohibitively high for some start-ups, the question on everyone’s lips is what’s going to happen to the future of tech in our fair capital?
In Manchester when you bring up London most people will say ‘It’s OK - but only for a short visit’. I decided to follow their advice and spent a day in London on Tuesday to meet some of the city’s finest tech companies.
I went straight to Old Street station, also known as Silicon Roundabout because of the tech clusters that have sprung up there.
It’s become a victim of its own success and many companies are moving further out but there’s still an amazing number of tech companies there doing some great things.
If it’s anything to go by the London scene is alive and well, as it was filled to the brim with companies. Love the Sales’s co-founder Stuart McClure reckons that this is actually pretty representative of the scene as a whole.
"Being based in Tech City's WeWork is a great place to see the London tech scene,” he told me.
“It's absolutely thriving right now. Just grabbing a coffee usually ends up in a conversation about the latest piece of tech somebody is developing!
“The ecosystem is really vibrant and there are lots of resources for new and young companies to take advantage of.
“There's also a trend of larger, non-start-up organisations basing themselves in the area, which can be really useful for start-ups looking for additional services, support and so on."
Round the corner is Beamery, which uses machine learning to help companies become more proactive with their recruitment and helps likes of Facebook find top talent.
The company’s VP of growth Ben Slater thinks there are still huge opportunities to be had in the area and the fast-growing team is looking for larger offices nearby as we speak.
“Working for a company with offices in the Bay Area, Austin and London gives me the luxury of comparing and contrasting three of the world's most prominent technology hubs,” he said.
“In London, the diversity of new companies is incredibly exciting. Traditional industries like fashion and finance are being attacked by a wave of new companies that promise consumers a better option than the incumbent.
“What remains to be seen though is whether companies can scale in the UK without opening offices on the West Coast and seeking venture from San Francisco.”
WeWork co-working space in Old Street
When it comes to investment figures it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some seem to suggest Brexit isn’t having much impact and others seem to say that things are wobbling. London also has to look out for other cities with cheaper costs of living poaching talent.
There is some good news though. Data from London & Partners, the Mayor of London’s promotional agency, suggests that record levels of VC investment at the start of the year is keeping London in Europe’s top spot for global tech investment.
Spotify is also growing a new tech hub in the city and Google, Amazon and Facebook are all looking to massively expand their London teams.
These companies are built on the backs of the smaller ones though and a report by Tech London Advocates says a third of tech firms based in London have had potential new hires fall through thanks to Brexit.
Luckily there are some solutions coming up through the city too.
In this year’s Tech Nation report a lack of skilled workers was named the biggest problem, which is why I was so excited to talk to Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls.
The organisation helps get women and girls into tech while also training companies. It has everyone from career switchers to doctors who want to better understand tech on its programmes.
It’s already taught over 5,500 girls to code and has just launched a campaign to teach 20,000 girls to code by 2020.
“We realised we needed to do something significant,” says de Alwis.
“We were thinking how big a number do we need? I looked at UCAS data and in 2016 27,000 people enrolled on computer science degrees. Only 3,774 of those were women.
“Companies are spending millions on trying to increase diversity and bring new people in and trying to do that from this micro-slice of people.
“So we want to do something that makes a difference and 20,000 women starts to make a difference.”
It’s clear that especially with Brexit on the horizon London will have to fight to keep its status as a global player in tech – but from what I’ve seen this week there’s some great talent around and great potential on the way.