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  • Here We Code, Nova Scotia: Celebrating our tech boom moment

Here We Code, Nova Scotia: Celebrating our tech boom moment

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

It’s fair to say what began as recognizing the need for more tech talent in Nova Scotia has blossomed into a digital movement uniting academia, industry, non-profits and government.

From the classroom to private companies succeeding on a global stage, to industry partners working to share the story with the world, Here We Code is about celebrating and realizing the opportunities in “Canada’s hottest tech hub.”

It’s also about agreeing that Here We Code is many things.

“Here We Code is about the ecosystem,” explains Dr. Andrew Rau-Chaplin, Dean, Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University. “It's about celebrating the moment we're in. It’s about celebrating how much tech has to offer to the social and economic prosperity of the province. It's about patting ourselves on the back and saying, ‘Hey, we made it.’ It's about inviting people in and letting them know the door is open to them.”

Here We Code is the start of a new chapter for digital in Nova Scotia

So, how does the capital city in one of the smaller provinces earn the title of “Canada’s hottest tech hub”? Well, it starts with an ecosystem primed for tech talent growth and start-up success.

Tech giants such as IBM, Cognizant, and Wattpad chose Nova Scotia in part due to the depth of tech talent and excellence offered by the various academic institutions in the province. And companies that were founded in Nova Scotia — such as REDspace, a software development agency based in Bedford — have been able to grow globally thanks to all that the province has to offer.

Read more: REDspace in Nova Scotia: Looking back on two decades of business

“As a company that grew up here, we always believed in the potential of the digital sector to drive the next generation of our region's economy. We are thrilled to collaborate with other leaders from across the ecosystem who feel the same. More than ever, the time is now, and the value proposition this region offers to the world is compelling,” says Mike Johnston, President & CEO of REDspace.

Johnston says that industry partners like REDspace have several roles to play in contributing to the growing tech sector in the province.

“We are employers, offering reasons for the growing number of domestic and visiting students to stay here. We are also working to develop and attract more experienced folks to the region, who can help train and mentor those new graduates," he says.

“I would encourage all of us in industry to meaningfully support programs that introduce our sector to young students, their families, and to people from under-represented parts of our communities. Some of those amazing organizations are Here We Code partners. We're also investing in R&D and developing skills, building lasting enterprise value in the region. And lastly, we are out selling to the world, supported over the years by other Here We Code partners like NSBI. That helps to draw more people and resources to the region, to keep building the positive momentum.”

To fully realize this potential, the sector needs the continued collaboration between partners, industry and government

Chandra Pottle, Senior Investment Attraction Executive, Nova Scotia Business Inc., works to attract companies to the province and believes Nova Scotia is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada bringing this type of partnership together. “Here We Code represents so many things. It demonstrates to the world Nova Scotia is creating and sustaining the talent needed long-term to advance our economy and to help companies continue to grow and innovate. It shows how our companies use digital transformation and data analytics to export globally from Nova Scotia. It creates opportunities for students to engage with industry. It builds structured pathways to our underrepresented communities for engagement with and between industry, academia and those communities.”

The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council estimates 2,000 new digital workers are needed each year to meet demand in the region

As tech continues to grow exponentially around the world and play an ever-important role in every aspect of life and industry, the emphasis is on continued success in attracting, cultivating and supporting talent. This includes a concerted effort to involve under-represented groups in tech including female identifying and non-binary individuals, those from Indigenous or African Nova Scotian communities, and rural regions.

In 2017, the WeAreAllCS diversity initiative was launched with a goal of doubling the number of female-identifying students entering Dalhousie undergraduate programs. In 2018, Dalhousie introduced the Women in Technology Scholarship. Since then, 80+ scholarships — many funded by industry — have been awarded to female-identifying students. In 2022, the scope was broadened with the launch of two new WeAreAllCS scholarships focusing on increasing the number of students from African Nova Scotian/African Descent and Indigenous communities. Dalhousie also supports a scholarship funded through Dash Hudson for BIPOC students studying computer science and business.

“Talent is fundamentally what accelerates or limits the growth of tech. It's about talent. It's about the pipeline and us collectively celebrating our successes and communicating the opportunities to the wider community and working together to keep this virtuous cycle of producing more talent, growing more of the tech industry,” explains Rau-Chaplin.

“Five or six years ago, the Faculty of Computer Science at Dal would have had 700 students. We have 2200 students today. We looked at ourselves and we looked at the needs of the problems and really decided to lean in to producing the talent that you know the province deserves and needs to really flourish economically.”

Digital is everywhere and in unexpected places — it’s in those intersections where Here We Code comes to life

The technology sector is a space traditionally characterized by robotics, software, IT, AI, and the like. Today, tech no longer operates as a standalone field. It’s multi-sector and interdisciplinary, embedded in every major business and industry, driving advancements and innovation in health, medicine, environmental and sustainable causes, communications, and much more. Tech is the enabler allowing businesses to sell, scale, export and compete on a global stage.

“At REDspace, our people are our business. We are becoming a centre of excellence in the technologies that deliver rich media to the world. We help international media networks stand up video streaming platforms across every consumer device you can imagine. That industry shift has been accelerating. To lead, we need world-class talent who embrace tackling big problems, learning continuously, and collaborating with an increasingly global network of colleagues and clients. At the same time, the playing field has changed dramatically - every business in every industry is now looking for people with digital skills, and in many cases, those people can now choose to work for any company, anywhere. It's up to us as employers to offer compelling opportunities, and nurture careers that don't just pay well, but that also align with our people's values,” explains Johnston.

“Programs like Techsploration introduce the next generation of talent to opportunities in our sector. They help young people learn from us, but just as importantly, we also learn from them about what they want their careers to look like. That sort of dialog helps us build not just a bigger industry, but a better one.”

As the Here We Code movement continues to gain momentum, we’re reminded that it’s a community effort to tell the Nova Scotia tech ecosystem story

“Here We Code is a great initiative that Digital Nova Scotia is proud to champion,” says Caitlin Patterson, Digital Nova Scotia, Director, Marketing & Communications. “Our role as the industry association is to connect our digital community, promote its successes and lead programs that help our sector grow and thrive. The Here We Code initiative is a vocal champion for tech in our province, bringing together leaders, sharing stories, and focusing on what we do best here in Nova Scotia — collaborate.”

Dr. Rau-Chaplin echoes the sentiment. "The big story is the degree to which the rest of the world is knocking on our door. That doesn't happen by accident. It comes from having a rich ecosystem with everybody pulling largely for team Nova Scotia.”

Here We Code inspires action that cultivates the conditions for our digital economy to thrive and elevates Nova Scotia on the world stage

“The pandemic has accelerated companies looking at jurisdictions—not just for competitive costs, but for places where people want to live and where the talent is. Nova Scotia's done well to attract talent, which in return helps attract the businesses that need that talent,” says Pottle.

She says the talent pool has played a key role in attracting companies to the province.

“For a smaller province we have a lot of innovation. Nova Scotia has had tremendous success in the last couple of years. Big, noteworthy clients choose to invest in our province. Cognizant is establishing a Halifax office. IBM just made another big commitment to the province to continue to grow here. Companies like Jonas Software, who own more than 900 companies in the software space, created a shared services centre here to service all those companies. RBC has doubled down on hiring in Nova Scotia,” Pottle says.

“Companies from all over the world, from all different industries, are recognizing the value. I’m so proud a lot of different players have come to the table to make that happen.”

The momentum is here... now we must harness and amplify it

“At Digital Nova Scotia, we've seen growth as an organization over the last number of years as a direct result of the growth of our industry. As our world becomes increasingly digital, our sector impacts almost every other sector,” says Patterson.

“We have the people, the passion, and the possibilities ahead of us – from entrepreneurs and small businesses to global giants, Nova Scotia’s tech sector is one to watch.”

May is Here We Code Month, a platform to showcase the diverse digital activities and events taking place across Nova Scotia, highlighting the digital education and opportunities available to all. A collaborative idea and resulting initiative, all organizations and institutions involved in providing digital programming and opportunities in Nova Scotia are invited to get involved with Here We Code Month through hosting events and interactive sessions.