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Belfast's talent 'makes it a technology hotbed'

By John Mulgrew

Published 09/06/2016

Liam Broadway and Sam Stuart students from Dominican College Portstewart with Mike Robinson and Roger Busby; Deloitte Digital and Simon Hamilton MLA, Finance Minster at The Digital DNA 2016 event in St George’s Market
Liam Broadway and Sam Stuart students from Dominican College Portstewart with Mike Robinson and Roger Busby; Deloitte Digital and Simon Hamilton MLA, Finance Minster at The Digital DNA 2016 event in St George’s Market

Belfast's burgeoning tech scene is being fuelled by a hugely talented skills base and a "great ecosystem", a top speaker at this year's Digital DNA event has said.

Deloitte Digital's Mike Robinson, who is chief technology officer, said the company had grown its operation in Belfast to around 100 staff, with plans for yet more expansion.

He came back to his native city four years ago to launch the company's new office here. Deloitte Digital is a development agency which produced retail giant John Lewis' online sales platform.

"There is a whole world of talent outside of London. We looked at a number of options, such as Edinburgh and Manchester, even Portugal," Mr Robinson said.

"A big part of it was me. I wanted to move back to Belfast. We have a great relationship with Belfast, a great ecosystem, relationship with the universities, recruitment and the Press."

More than 1,000 tech experts and guests packed in to St George's Market in Belfast city centre on yet another scorching sunny day for the Digital DNA event, which is being sponsored by the Belfast Telegraph.

More than 65 speakers, 50 exhibitors and 18 workshops were packed in across five stages during yesterday's event, coming from a range of backgrounds such as fintech, data, security and marketing.

Mike Robinson said Deloitte Digital was made up of "creators, makers and fabricators".

"We build things...from understanding, to what a problem is, innovating, designing and product design through UX (user experience)."

And it was the Deloitte team in Belfast which was in part behind designing and building retail giant John Lewis' online platform.

"To build a commerce site like that is not easy...it's quite a complicated system," he said.

There are around 100 staff in Belfast working for Deloitte Digital. And that team is set to grow.

"Absolutely. We are a people business. We hire and we build great people."

Meanwhile, Armagh woman Sinead O'Sullivan, who has formerly worked for Nasa and is now with Harvard Business School, said that Northern Ireland is "becoming very important globally, and especially in Europe, because we have such talented people, and we have a great culture."

"People actively try to do business with Irish and Northern Irish people because we are so easy to work with," she said. "My message is that we need to leverage this more. We need to change our economy from being an education exporter and being able to retain them in Ireland."

Ms O'Sullivan works with innovation in the space sector, both public and private.

"In terms of strengths in Northern Ireland, it is very good at computer science and engineering and technology," she said. "We need to do more of that and try to increase the economy based around that."

Other speakers at Digital DNA included Peter Hughes, partner at Deloitte Digital Canada and Louise Phelan from PayPal.

Organiser Gareth Quinn said that he has long term hopes to grow the Digital DNA event 10-fold, with aims of attracting as many as 10,000 visitors down the line.

"We feel that we are in pole position (to make it Northern Ireland's top tech event).

"What this is about is getting international footfall here. Yes, most definitely Northern Ireland, but we genuinely believe this can be something huge."

Digital DNA is now in its fourth year.

Belfast Telegraph

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