Since the advent of social media and its surge in popularity these have become an incessant annoyance in our everyday lives. But is there a deeper meaning behind the growing number of distractions emanating from our pockets? How is the technical revolution helping to shape the future of the Northern Irish economy?
While the growing number of notifications is clearly a barometer of the increasing power social media wields over our everyday lives, it is also an indicator of our growing dependence on technology on general. From Uber arriving in December 2015 to Deliveroo in February last year, more and more aspects of our daily lives are being revolutionised by technology, and the arrival of these so-called unicorn startups to Northern Ireland is a clear indicator that Belfast has been recognised as a market ripe for technical innovation.
Furthermore, as a direct result of the technology revolution, Belfast’s own industrial spirit has seen a resurgence, with Titanic Quarter in particular - the birthplace of the Titanic - hosting the Northern Ireland Science Park, the home of many visionary startups including Novosco and Intelligent Environments. These relatively new players join the ranks of established homegrown success stories such as Kainos, which - with gross profit in 2016 exceeding £35m - is one of the local tech industry’s biggest employer’s, employing over 800 people in Belfast alone. Catalyst Inc even aims to make Northern Ireland one of Europe’s most entrepreneurial economies by 2030, and with Belfast already representing the UK’s third most important tech hub, it looks like they’re well on their way to achieving that goal.
This growing local industry has received yet another boost from an unlikely source: Brexit. While many business leaders in London are fleeing towards Frankfurt, Dublin and beyond, the prospect of Special Status for a post-Brexit NI has led to an exponential rise in demand for office space, with CBRE now listing Belfast as the world’s third fastest growing office market, with year-on-year prime office rent growth of 18.2 per cent. The potential of Belfast as a post-Brexit haven has been further heightened by the prospect of a 12.5% corporate tax rate to match that in the Republic, which has proven to be an incentive for LinkedIn, Facebook and Google - all of which have established their European headquarters in the city.
Young people may wonder about how they can equip themselves with these skills to ensure they can compete for coveted careers in the dynamic, ever-changing technology industry. When it comes to these skills, it's clear it's all about one thing: transferability. For success in this highly competitive industry, we must equip ourselves with a grounding in technical skills, but also a sound knowledge of other more fundamental skills such as creativity and critical thinking, which will allow us to adapt and approach any problem with ease.
One way to develop a range of these skills is to get involved in Future Summits, an organisation I founded two years ago with the aim of getting teenagers more involved in the tech industry. Our events focus around a hackathon model, where the teenage attendees gather in teams of six to create apps and digital project around themes such as Education and Healthcare, with the most innovative projects receiving exciting prizes. Participation in these events not only help attendees gather critical experience which is useful for their CV, but also helps them further refine their creative and critical thinking skills through 'design thinking' by conceiving new and innovative solutions to commonly-faced problems.
Another opportunity for young people is to get involved in some of Connect's programmes at Catalyst Inc in the heart of Titanic Quarter. Connect's programmes such as Generation Innovation offer young people of school age an exciting and valuable opportunity to engage in design thinking workshops and access a wider network of business mentors, giving them valuable advice which may help them launch their own business and digital projects. Clearly, the developing tech industry represents an opportunity for Northern Ireland to add another facet to their economy, and compete to recognise Catalyst Inc’s goal of becoming one of Europe’s most entrepreneurial economies by 2030. The sheer volume of young tech talent - as evidenced by Computer Science recently becoming Queens’ most popular degree - is surely nothing but encouraging as we look to achieve this goal.
Adam Flanagan is a 16 year old lower sixth pupil at Methodist College, currently studying for A Levels in Maths, Further Maths, Economics and German. Outside of school, he is the founder of Future Summits.