London and the UK offer access to more digital talent than many companies realise, according to Paul Lucas, director of technology at online travel company Expedia.
Lucas explained in an interview with V3 how the firm's push to expand its presence in Europe and the UK involved bolstering its workforce with digital talent from Britain as opposed to further afield.
"We haven't necessarily had to bring people in from outside the EU. In fact, the UK is one of the lesser known areas where there's tons of tech talent," he said.
"Even just looking at the entirety of the UK and knowing how many talented people are here. And then if you also add in the EU to that equation, there's just so much tech talent here.
"I have teams in various locations [but] I far prefer to hire [locally] rather than in some of those other locations because it's really competitive in San Francisco and Seattle.
"In the UK we don't necessarily have that. I have [job] openings that don't stay open for very long, and there's loads of talent."
Interestingly, Lucas' observation comes at a time when Home Office data showed that 34,229 non-EU IT professionals entered the UK in 2014, an increase of over 4,000 on 2013.
Government figures suggest that the lack of digital skills in the UK is pushing technology companies to seek talent from beyond Europe, but Lucas said that this is not a problem Expedia has encountered.
The growth of digital startups in London's TechCity has provided a rich seam of talent if companies look beyond the US west coast, although not all realise that it is there.
"Companies may look at London as a place that they should be, but I don't know if they really realise the level of talent that's already here," he said.
Lucas did say that the situation could change as more large technology firms establish bases in the UK, especially in London.
"The level of competition [in the UK] is probably heating up, and that's probably a good thing for the talent," he said. "I'm certainly not shy about bringing headcount here to London and hiring here from London."
Big data challenge
Lucas explained that finding the skills to help with big data is slightly more challenging for Expedia when it comes to using new technologies and techniques, such as the cloud and streaming analytics.
"I think as far as the big data and analytics space goes, it is very challenging to find someone that knows data as well as the programming," he said.
Lucas added that Expedia pursues people with the talent to handle big data analysis, but that it can be an expensive process and the company is inclined to nurture talent from within.
"A more likely source of that talent for us is in-house or people who know object oriented programming [languages], and then we have to do a little more in-house coaching on the analytics part of things," he said, noting how it is difficult to find people with extensive experience of very new technologies.
Expedia is not the only well-known firm to be seemingly immune to the IT skills gap in the UK. Tesco recently dismissed the big data skills shortage, saying that it can find the talent it needs at UK universities.
In contrast, experts have said that the digital future of the NHS is at risk from a lack of IT skills, and that government's big data use is suffering for the same reason.
Such situations could prove problematic, as analytics and programming skills are needed to be successful with big data.
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