Jiva Technology

An afternoon with The Tutors Association

There’s a been a fair amount of comment in the press recently, both positive and negative, regarding The Tutors Association (TTA), an initiative of the Centre for Market Reform (CMRE). Having attended a consultation session regarding TTA a couple of weeks back, I’ve been meaning to post initial thoughts on the whole thing.

I have to admit that to begin with, I was sceptical. I couldn’t decide if this felt like unnecessary regulation or some sort of back door political move. The CMRE folks assured me that they didn’t have a political agenda, although they did admit that they were pro-market and that whilst they’d received a hearing from the Conservatives, David Blunkett (opposition Education Minister) refused to meet. To be fair, I think the people involved are serious minded individuals who are looking at new ways to do things and on that count alone, I think they deserve a hearing.

It was a knowledgeable group of people that attended the consultation session that I attended: representatives from a tutoring agency, a former teacher and researcher turned tutor, a union representative and a representative of a similar initiative in Australia. A fairly wide span of topics were covered: from child safeguarding issues, the efficacy of tutoring, lessons that could be drawn from the Australian experience,  the likely reaction of tutors union representation for tutors, through to a proposal for a Royal College of Teachers.

There were a fair few positives to be drawn from the meeting. I think education in this country needs at look at new ideas and whilst it would be easy to dismiss, I think The Tutors Association needs to be given the time to develop some ideas. It needs feedback and comment from the industry. To my mind, there are areas where the Association can add value, possibly by starting with some research into how effective tutoring is and what makes it effective. The other big surprise for me was the input from Voice, the Union ( http://www.voicetheunion.org.uk ). By it’s very nature, tutoring tends to be a solitary profession and I was really struck by the low key, but professional tone of the union and the useful services they had on offer.

I left with a better impression than I arrived: if they can get it right, the Tutors Association could represent a positive contribution to the tutoring industry and education in general.

On Any Given Sunday

Without giving the game away as to what we’re doing, there’s a major (maybe even major squared) new product release on the way from the House of Jiva. We’re all very excited at what will be a big step forward for us. The only trouble is, we’ve had to go through agonising levels of detail in the marketing plans to back up the new release. I know, as Al Pacino famously reminded his team in “On Any Given Sunday”, it’s all about inches – the small gains, but I have to say that the product plan is vastly more interesting than the marketing plan. Perhaps that’s why so many technology companies spend much more time on their product than on marketing, despite all the evidence to suggest that marketing is as important as product. Note to self: grin and bear it.

Female coders

One of the most surprising aspects of the technology industry is the relative gender bias within the software development community. Software engineers are overwhelmingly male and it seems to be accepted as a pretty natural thing. Why? It seems crazy when companies like Google and Facebook make threatening noises about the need for immigration to cover the skills gap whilst almost no one points out that software developers are recruited from only one half of the community. I’ve heard many excuses as to why this is the case, but for every argument, there is almost always a counter argument. Boys like computers more than girls? Do they? They haven’t met my daughter then. How about the fact that girls like languages more than boys. How does that fit in the picture? The sad fact is that I’ve heard too many stories of female coders being given a hard time by overwhelmingly male development teams. This has to stop. You can’t have an industry that draws talent from only half of the population; it’s wrong and it’s bad for business. We don’t have a sign hanging outside the office, but if it did, we would add “female coders welcome here”.

 

 

Hubris in the Valley

Is the tech industry getting too big for it’s boots? I’ve always been proud of the fact that I was part of an industry that was, on the whole, a force for good in society and whose members were pretty good corporate citizens. Most of the techies I know are pretty down to earth and the dominant worldview seems to be a neat blend of anti-estblishment, pro-education with a vaguely hippy twist.

It is possible, however, that my views are out of date. You can’t avoid the fact that there’s been a stream of news from the Google, Apple, Amazon mega-plexes, that border on the arrogant and anti civil society. Since when did we feel the need to hire an army of lobbyists to avoid paying sales tax? Since when did we feel the need to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to set up complex structures to avoid paying corporation tax? And since when did we feel it our place to lecture elected Government officials on what taxes we were prepared to pay or what immigration policy should look like?

In February 2000, I gave a speech at the Reform Club outlining how I though the industry had lost it’s way because stock option plans had become more important than great engineering. A month latter, we got our come-uppance. I can’t help but feel that 13 years later, we have again forgotten what the industry is all about: great ideas, skilful engineering and a commitment to product excellence.

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