Over the last 10 years we've seen a large number of industries shifting online. We don't buy CDs anymore, we buy digital files from iTunes or subscribe to Spotify. We buy less physical books, instead we buy eBooks for our Kindles and iPads and when we still buy physical books, we buy them from online stores like Amazon. Newspaper and magazine sales have been declining for a decade as people go online to read their news. A similar story is playing out with TV. And of course the retail industry we operate in at Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck is seeing a big shift online as well. All of these new digital industries require lots of great software engineers to build the products and tools that consumers and businesses in these industries use.
The next 10 years is going to see this move towards digital accelerate. 3D printing is going to do to a large number of industries what mp3s have done to music and eBooks have done to the book industry. Rather than buying physical products we'll buy digital designs online and print them ourselves, or just scan existing products and print copies. If you haven't read up on 3D printing you have to watch this video:
The production of everything from tools, toys, household appliances, electronics and even human organs are going to be completely disrupted by this technology. And if Australia is to be at the forefront of game changing industries like this we need lots of great software engineers to build these technologies.
As a country, we're investing a huge amount of money in the National Broadband Network. The speed of the network is going to allow lots of cool new technologies to be developed but not without lots of great software engineers. Without software engineers to build the software to run on the network we're not going to be able to use it to it's full advantage.
5 of the top 10 world's largest companies by market capitalisation are technology companies. Apple (1), Microsoft (5), Google (7), China Mobile (8) and IBM (9). 10 years ago there were only 2, Microsoft and Intel. The future will belong to technology companies and the question for us as a country is whether we will be a significant part of this. I love the ideas put forward by Paul Graham in his article, 'Can you buy a Silicon Valley? Maybe.' In the article Paul describes how for an investment of around $1b, a city could bring in 1000 good quality tech startups potentially kickstarting a Silicon Valley type industry in the city. I think Paul's approach is highly plausible here in Australia except for one issue - there wouldn't be enough software engineers to work at the influx of startups. At Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck we already struggle to hire enough top quality software engineering talent, there just wouldn't be enough software engineers for another 1,000 tech startups!
So how do we get more people studying software engineering? Our co-founder and CTO Mike Knapp was inspired to study software engineering by his IT high school teacher Peter Whitehouse at St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace in Brisbane. He loved his IT classes so when he finished school with the marks to get into Computer Science at University this was an obvious choice for him. We need more Australian students to have experiences like this. We need inspiring and talented IT teachers in high schools.
I was speaking about this issue with Finn Age Hänsel, the Managing Director of The Iconic and he was explaining that a decade ago the German government was concerned that not enough people were studying engineering. Great engineers help form the backbone of the German economy so the German government launched a program where engineers from companies like Porsche and Mercedes took their products into high schools and showed the students the great engineering work that goes into these products. The program saw a near immediate uplift of 300% in the number of students applying for engineering places at University! 10 years later and the German economy is one of the few economic success stories in Europe. We need something similar to encourage more people to apply to study computer science here in Australia.
Once students have developed a passion for software engineering we need more computer science places at University and we need to improve the quality of the education there. Mitchell Harper, co-founder of BigCommerce does a great job in this SMH opinion piece of describing how the computer science curriculum at our Universities needs a major update to keep up with modern software engineering techniques and programming languages.
The issue of more people studying computer science was a prominent one at the recent Prime Minister's Forum on the Digital Economy with everyone from industry leaders like Google to startups singing the same tune that we need more people studying computer science in Australia, and the Prime Minister took the issue away from the day as one of her 3 key points. As a follow up Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research is chairing a discussion on these issues in Canberra today. It's great that the issue is getting the attention it deserves from Government and I would urge the Minister to ensure that changes are made to computer science education in Australia so that rather than being left behind, Australia is at the forefront of the exciting new industries that are going to develop in the coming decades.