Report from our Conference

Reflections on the Past and Future of the British IT Industry

Seminar Proceedings – 17 February 2022
with the Computer Conservation Society and the BCS

The Archives and Social History of the Industry

Doron Swade Chairman of the Computer Conservation Society welcomed 130 attendees to the event, including a post-Covid record of 30 in-person at the BCS London HQ. Doron reflected on the role and value of oral history, with particular reference to Tech-related issues coming up in conversation that might otherwise not be surfaced.

Dr Tom Abram, Director of AIT introduces the archive. its purpose and illustrates its content, with a collection of clips on starting and building Tech enterprises.

Dr Sam Blaxland of Swansea University delves into the archive to investigate what kind of people established and built the the early IT industry in the UK.  Sam explores social themes of the 1930s to 50’s including work and home life, family values and the role of women in industry and society.  Education and the post war education system emerges as a key influence on the growth of the industry.

Panel Discussions

Introduction to the Panel
John Carrington, Chairman of AIT draws out some themes from the presentations and his experience as a leader of the communications industry to ask what we can learn from history about how to better manage and harness Tech for the future.


Education Themes
Stimulated by Dr Blaxland’s analysis of social factors post WW2 and by an evident emphasis within the industry on the importance of school and university, there was a lively discussion on approaches to education. Beverly Clarke of BCS Computing at School and Prof Tom Crick of Swansea University talked about the importance of not just computing skills but developing digital citizenship.

A range of suggestions on approaches were offered and AIT affirmed its focus on young people as a key audience to be inspired by the achievements of their forebears.


Industry Challenges and Solutions
Another strong theme in the discussion was the challenges faced by the industry and what and how AIT might best contribute to solutions through the gathered wisdom in its oral and documentary history.  Panel member, Pamela Cook, of Infoshare, illustrated the continuing challenges for women and the industry with an anecdote about her experience of seeking investment.  John Higgins, BCS President identified some of the current priorities for CIO’s and entrepreneurs and encouraged AIT to engage with tangible solutions from its archive and its alumni.   From the audience, Brian Sudlow of Aston University, suggested engaging more with incubators and business schools, and  others counselled drawing on a wider sample of experience in future oral histories; to include the workers, person in the street and the “bad guys” of the Internet.

Conclusion and Summing Up

John Carrington summarised the panel discussion with mention of plans to increase the emphasis of AIT on outputs that will encourage the academic / research community to do more with the archive, young people to aspire to emulate the successes of the industry and to distill the lessons of the last 70 years to better inform and support the future of the industry

Summing Up
Doron Swade, Chair of the CCS closed the session, remarking on it as a landmark in bridging the divide between the social and technical histories of the industry