Diversity in Tech, Pets at Home, datacentre sustainability – Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast

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In this episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss the Diversity in Tech 2020 event, data analytics at Pets at Home, and datacentre sustainability

In this episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna discuss the Diversity in Tech 2020 event that Computer Weekly puts on in partnership with Spinks, data analytics at Pets at Home, and datacentre sustainability.

First, they discuss the recent data fiasco in which England’s Test and Trace programme lost 15,841 positive Covid-19 test results in transit, thanks, it would seem, to a spreadsheet error. According to broadcast and other news outlets, it appears Public Health England was using an old version of Excel, using not the .xlsx but the .xls file format, which can only accommodate up to 65,000 rows of data.

The team discuss the ubiquity of Excel, its pluses and its limitations. The incident forms the subject of this blog by Cliff Saran, CW’s management editor (technology).

The more general topic of how the government is presenting the Covid-19 coronavirus is covered in this Computer Weekly feature by SA Mathieson, “UK government coronavirus data flawed and misleading”.

Clare opens the main part of the episode, leading off on the Diversity in Tech 2020 event that Computer Weekly stages with Spinks. She co-chaired the discussion at the half-day conference, along with Dania Lyons from Spinks.

Clare’s articles surrounding the event, including an in-depth interview with Anne-Marie Imafidon, acclaimed at the event as this year’s Most Influential Woman in UK Tech, are gathered together in an issue of the Computer Weekly ezine, and can also be accessed on the Computer Weekly site:

Anne-Marie Imafidon’s acceptance speech, in which she states, and as Clare reports, “we should all be aware of and embrace our differences rather than try to change who we are to fit the mould of what a person in tech is typically thought to be like” is available to view here.

In the podcast, the team reflect on the event, and its attached workshops. Clare says she felt there were a lot of practical takeaways from the event and not just talk.

The winner, Anne-Marie Imafidon, is the CEO of Stemettes, and Clare talks about her work in the episode in getting young women and non-binary people interested and engaged in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects, exposing them to role models to get them over the hump of a common drop-off at A-level and university degree level. Clare also pulls out Anne-Marie’s comment about “people in the tech industry building a future, and that we are all the building blocks for a possible inclusive, diverse, and equitable tech sector”.

The overall topic for the event was “Promoting advocacy – supporting under-represented groups in tech”. Clare mentions in the podcast that a governing concept for the event was “allyship” – conveying the idea that you have to do things to help under-represented people, and not just talk: “Even just adding your own pronouns to your email signature gets people thinking.”

Clare also emphasises the importance of self-education for those who occupy privileged positions and should not, therefore, put the onus on under-represented people.

Caroline notes that the consistency and depth of Computer Weekly’s reporting on these matters is distinctive in our market, while other publications might cover them sporadically.

Another theme for this podcast is the place of dogs and cats in our hearts and in our working lives. We have spoken about welfare pups at IT conferences – which are very stressful environments for many – and bringing pets into the office.

Brian moves on to give an account of the data analytics work that Pets at Home chief data officer Robert Kent has led over the past couple of years.

The company has been analysing the customer data it gets from its VIP (Very Important Pets) loyalty programme. Kent has built a data team of about 50 people over the past 18 months or so to analyse that, and has put together a technology stack that includes Google Cloud Platform, Tableau, Salesforce, and in-house-developed machine learning algorithms.

He also confirmed in his interview with Brian that pet ownership has increased during the pandemic crisis period, and that in April the organisation conducted research that found that 90% of customers would reduce spending on other family items before cutting spending on their pets.

Kent says Pets at Home’s aim is “to offer a wealth of products and services over the pet ecosystem, such as our vet group subscription, online advice, grooming, and so on”. 

Moving from the “ecosystem” of pet care to the ecosystem of the planet, Caroline talks about datacentre sustainability trends, as discussed at a Schneider Electric virtual conference, its 2020 Digital Innovation Summit.

She reports that the global colocation community expects sustainability to become an important source of competitive differentiation between operators in the next three years, according to data from analyst house 451 Research.

On the podcast, she muses on why climate change has assumed such importance as a topic now in the datacentre world. The industry has clearly benefited from the pandemic period, with its characteristic speeding-up effect on digital transformation programmes.

Schneider Electric, Caroline explains, provides software and systems to ensure datacentres run efficiently, using only as much energy as is necessary.

Caroline says on the podcast that the firm’s chairman and CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, made this climate change call to arms: “The main challenge of our generation is probably climate change, but there is some good news. We are the generation that came to know about it. We are the generation, and probably the only generation, that can change the trajectory of carbon emissions.”

Caroline notes that many players in the datacentre industry, including Microsoft, Amazon and Google, have been announcing sustainability initiatives – but have they been doing that pre-emptively to evade closer scrutiny, apropos how well they have grown during the working-from-home pandemic?

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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