News / Calgary

Young or old, Calgarians flock to tech scene in 2015

Technology business saw growth during economic downturn

Tony Grimes, organizer of Pixels and Pints, works on some pixels with his pint – noting how his annual event is growing, along with Calgary’s technology scene.

Aaron Chatha / Metro

Tony Grimes, organizer of Pixels and Pints, works on some pixels with his pint – noting how his annual event is growing, along with Calgary’s technology scene.

Calgary’s tech scene saw big growth in 2015 – Innovate Calgary, a hub of Calgary’s tech scene, said they saw a 40 per cent increase of business over the previous year.

“That’s not unusual for us, because of the last five years, business is up on a cumulative basis by 800 per cent,” said Peter Garrett, president of Innovate Calgary which is a technology and business innovation centre that helps the growth of local start ups. 

In an economic downturn, Garrett said much of the tech sector’s growth was thanks to new ideas and risks being taken by university students and recent graduates.

“2015 was a particularly good year for really exciting new companies coming out of the universities,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of bright young minds in our post secondary institutions.”

Tony Grimes, creator of Pixels and Pints, an annual meeting where developers can chat about ideas over pint of beer, said attendance has grown annually for the last few years, including a bump in 2015, thanks to new graduates.

“They come out and now they don’t know what to do,” said Grimes. “Our world is very bipolar – youth can get a 9 to 5, you can get a contract or you can do both.”

Grimes explained that the freedom of the industry, to set your own hours, potentially work from home and delve into passion projects, is what makes it so appealing.

But new graduates weren’t the only ones creating industry growth – Jeremy Shaki, chief talking officer at Lighthouse Labs, said the economic downturn meant many former engineers and oil industry workers were pivoting to new careers.

Lighthouse Labs increased the number of programming bootcamps they offered in 2015, and continue to add more going into 2016, as many professionals looking for a new career find the option of an eight-week bootcamp more appealing than a new two or four-year degree.

Shaki said perceptions around programming and coding have changed in the past few years – where once it was an intimidating field many thought they couldn’t enter without a degree, now potential programmers see it as an industry with a high need for skilled labour, and a welcoming community to newcomers.

“We have developers saying, this is doable by anybody, as long as they have the drive to do it,” he said.

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