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INTERVIEW: Harvey Wheaton, CodeClan

‘It is really, really buzzing here. There is a great sense of purpose’

Harvey Wheaton CodeClan

There is a touch of schoolboy enthusiasm about Harvey Wheaton, an endearing desire to find out how everything works, what needs doing, and to get on with it.

His father worked for IBM and by the early eighties the young Harvey recalls being enthralled by home computers which were just making their way on to the market. He read books and learned about programming.

“It was an exciting new world and once you got hooked you were hooked,” he says. His future in technology seemed assured. Well, almost.

“I went to Oxford and studied philosophy, politics and economics,” he says, shrugging his shoulders as if the gesture answered the next question.

“I still love these subjects, but I also love technology,” he says, a grin spreading across his face as he acknowledges his true vocation. “I knew that I was going to end up pursuing technology.”

In fact it has been a lifelong pursuit that has taken him around the world as a consultant, and project manager. He was working in Finland when the call came asking if he would be interested in running a new digital software academy being set up in Edinburgh.

“I just said ‘Absolutely, when do I start?’ ”

As the first chief executive of CodeClan he is heading up an experimental institution that aims to fast-track small groups of students into jobs as programmers, bridging a skills gap which has emerged partly because of Scotland’s success in creating a thriving technology sector.

“It is really, really buzzing here,” says Wheaton, who lived in Scotland through most of the 1990s when he was among the first intake of employees at JP Morgan’s technology centre in Glasgow. It now employs 1,200 mainly software engineers.

“Since I was last here I can see that things have progressed. There is a great sense of purpose and vision for the country and so much talk about technology, something I didn’t feel about Scotland previously. The country is definitely on to something.

“Everyone seems to be very supportive of each other; they are genuinely interested in what other companies are doing for the greater good.”

Praise indeed, and a hint of Wheaton’s eagerness to throw himself into his new job and become a fully paid-up member of Scotland’s growing technology club.

CodeClan, occupying a couple of rooms in the vast expanse of the Codebase centre in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, is the brainchild of trade body ScotlandIS and Skills Development Scotland. If it succeeds it will help fix a chronic skills shortage that is creating 11,000 vacancies in the sector every year.

The academy is based on the success of a new breed of intensive coding schools such as Makers, launched in London in 2013; Stackademy in Berlin, and Flatiron School in New York. There are places for anyone looking at a switch in career. Among the 15 students on the inaugural 16-week course is a graduate who worked at Tesco for eight years, a television installer and a Hungarian radio presenter and bartender.

Employers are keenly watching how this first batch turn out, and it is almost certain – given the need to fill positions – that all 15 will be offered jobs.

Wheaton believes there is every reason to be confident and that the academy is not so much of its time, but overdue.

“If I had a wish it would be to wind back the clock 20 years and ensure there was proper computer science training on the curriculum. At the time we thought it was enough to teach youngsters how to use computers, but not how they worked.”

He has high hopes for those joining the course. “I hope they get completely engaged and inspired to become software developers. We need them and this is one way that everyone can benefit.”

Harvey Wheaton head shotPERSONAL CHECKLIST

Birthplace: Manchester

Age: 49

Education: Oxford (Philosophy, Politics and Economics)

Career Highlights: mainly worked as a programmer and project manager for companies including ICI, Cap Gemini and JP Morgan; worked on games for Electronic arts, ran a start-up with a friend for a while. He is also chairman of a not-for-profit organisation promoting project management methodology.

What irritates you or makes you angry?

Apathy. I like being around people who love what they are doing.

What advice would you give a young person?

Don’t do anything because you think you ought to, do something because you love it, then good things will happen.

What is your aim for CodeClan?

We are here to supplement routes into employment. I would like it to become a no-brainer for employers that they must come to us.

Do you have a claim to fame?

Er..well, I feature among the credits on about 20 electronic games, including the Harry Potter games.

Photo: Harvey Wheaton (by Terry Murden)

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