a weekend in Shoreditch

I've spent the last weekend on the Escape the City Tech MBA course in Shoreditch, learning the basics of coding and web development from the rather fab Devin Hunt . It was a whistlestop tour but at least now I understand between html, CSS and Javascript, front and back-end development and much much more. I even built (from scratch!) a tidy little home page (www.spryenterprises.co.uk) for myself.

Over the past few years I've watched from arm's length the emergence and growth of the UK's tech scene, and the inflation of what seems certain to be the next tech bubble. Crazy company valuations, investors throwing money at tech companies with little or no idea how their product or service could ever become commercially viable, coding itself becoming the next "must have" skill set.

In part that's what drove me to the course. I wanted to see for myself what was under the bonnet of the websites and tools we all use, and get a better appreciation of what can be achieved. 

From that perspective the course was fantastic. Devin was a great teacher, and I have a new-found admiration for the complexity of the websites and applications we take for granted. For the first time I can appreciate how hard it is to make these thing simple to use. I'm also now confident I could have a crack at some of the tech projects on my to-do list. 

That said I still have a hard time reconciling the fascination with the current crop of tech companies with what I see in the 'real' world. I'd be the first to say that I believe technology can and will be a material part of solving the problems of our society, economy and environment. But it will not, nor ever should be, seen as a panacea, a holy grail that can fix all ills. 

What matters is more than any technology is what people do with it. How they behave. How they choose to use their time and the tools and resources at our disposal. 

And there lies the problem for me. 

All this technological capability. All these incredibly bright, energetic and creative people devoting their time to building fancy web applications and products in the hope of attracting funding from the many investors circling the tech scene, with little or no purpose beyond cashing in or creating a 'cool' application their peers approve of.

The publicity the scene attracts creates it's own value system, with size of investment and the name of the VC backers often counting for more than the impact or utility of what is being created.

We need a healthy, vibrant and diverse start-up scene, working on a variety of aims and sectors - technology-driven and otherwise. 

My weekend in Shoreditch has left me wondering what the current group of talented people in the tech sector could achieve if more of them applied their skills and expertise to solving bigger issues. 

Maybe what's needed are some 'crossover' tech companies that prove that social good doesn't have to mean commercially unviable. Maybe we're waiting for impact investment to take off, and for investors to take a more responsible view of where they put their money. Or maybe the right business models haven't been designed yet to allow this to happen. 

Whatever the reason, the evolution of the sector needs to happen sooner than later, preferably before the investment bubble bursts and we lose the opportunity to fund those projects that will make the biggest difference. 

Time to crack on.