Meet the software geniuses who look just like you

Potential developers need access to role models, says tech investor

Young people must be exposed to inspiring role models in order for schools to produce the next generation of software developers, one of the UK's leading entrepreneurs has said.

Serial tech investor Sherry Coutu (pictured, opposite), who is a non-executive director of schools computing charity the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said it was vital for young people to understand that the apps they used every day were created by people just like them.

Some 5.8 million people would be needed in the "app economy" by 2018, including tens of thousands in Scotland alone, Ms Coutu told the ScotSoft conference in Edinburgh last week.

The annual event is organised by ScotlandIS, the trade body for Scotland's digital industries, and aims to highlight job opportunities in the sector for young people.

Ms Coutu, who sits on the board of the London Stock Exchange and was named as one of the "25 most influential people" in the world of technology by Wired magazine, was herself motivated to found her first company by an inspirational encounter at university.

Speaking to an audience of 350 young people, she said: "What is really important is that it is people like you who create the apps we use and create the businesses that are around us. It is you who will be creating our companies of tomorrow."

Ms Coutu later told TESS: "[These young people] are using apps people their age created. We should think about the person who thought this up. Were they like my brother, my sister, my cousin? Was it because they just liked drawing birds, or was it because they had a kid they could not feed?"

Ms Coutu used the conference to launch the Scottish arm of Founders4Schools, which arranges for inspirational role models who have founded their own businesses to come into schools and talk to students.

The network also provides access to mentoring sessions. This service would be available for "any teacher, anywhere, for free", Ms Coutu told TESS.

Most Founders4Schools events involve about four speakers coming to a school, and can be set up in only a few days. Each guest speaks for a short while and sessions end with a question-and-answer section.

"Children of that [secondary school] age have a very short attention span. If you give them four 10-minute sessions, that has a much higher impact than having one person speak for longer," Ms Coutu said.

Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, told TESS that the difficulty in inspiring young people continued to be adequately communicating the opportunities available to them. "It is difficult for teachers and parents to keep up to date with what is happening", she said.

Understanding the sector beyond the large, established companies was also a challenge for teaching staff, she added.

A spokesman for the EIS teaching union said that Scottish schools already used a wide range of outside speakers and would "no doubt consider" what Founders4Schools had to offer.

However, he added that it was important that companies did not just use the opportunity to promote themselves. "There is always a need to ensure that it is the school's education agenda which is being promoted rather than the views of any external organisation," he said.

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