According to Tech Nation, jobs in the city’s digital sector are up 7% and salaries are up 29% – but that’s not the only reason why digital professionals flock to Leeds.
Leeds’ digital scene is booming, with more and more businesses choosing to set up shop here, be it start-ups or international brands. But Leeds isn’t just a hub for businesses – it also has a thriving digital community that makes working here all the more interesting.
There are over 3,500 digital and tech businesses in Leeds, with 70,000 people working in the industry – so it’ll come as no surprise that there’s a strong sense of community here. In fact, Leeds’ digital scene is thriving, both in and out of the office, with an incredibly diverse array of events and meet-ups giving everyone from coders to marketers a place to make friends, share ideas and collaborate.
“There is an incredible amount of diversity in the events out there. There’s a meet-up group or event for every sector, industry and even programming language, so you can find events which are going to be really specific to your role and what you’re interested in. These are great if you have a niche or are trying to become an expert at something but I find the best events are when the different groups come together and you have people with completely different skills and experiences interacting and exchanging with each other,” Tim Brazier, founder of Digital Drinks told us.
Digital Drinks is engineered around that very idea – it’s basically a Friday night drinking session, open to all and sundry. You meet people from every walk of life and every corner of the digital sector – some people talk shop, others just talk, but that’s kind of the point, because building a community means building relationships.
“There are lots of events and meet-ups for specific groups and niches, but if you’re new to Leeds, or even to your industry, they might seem a little intimidating and difficult to know which is best for you,” Tim explained. “With Leeds Digital Drinks, we want to be the least intimidating, most welcoming and open event, so anybody that’s even loosely involved in anything tech, creative or start-ups can come along and begin to join in with Leeds’ tech and digital culture, find out what else is on, meet some new faces and hopefully have a good time whilst doing so.”
It’s a formula that’s proved to be extremely effective, and they’ve gone from strength to strength. You can now expect to see between 10 and 20 people at their gatherings, with people joining the group throughout the night – they post updates on their social media, so even if you can’t make it at the start, you can keep track of where they are and join them later.
Digital Drinks is a very sociable experience, but they’ve also had a host of opportunities and collaborations come off the back of their events, so if you’ve got an idea and you want to bounce it around with someone, this could be just what you need.
That free-flowing exchange of knowledge is essential to the digital sector – and it’s something that Josh Nesbitt, director of We Are Stac. and founder of Hey!, feels really passionate about.
“We all learn from each other, and to do that you have to build a community based on trust and create an environment where people feel willing to share and contribute,” he told us. “If you don’t foster that, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity. Particularly in the field I work in (software engineer building large, scalable applications), we’re always learning from people, whether it’s a blog post or an answer on Stack Overflow. All we’re doing is creating an environment where that can happen in person, that’s when you get people to share their stories, awesome things happen and we build better software as a result of that.”
Hey! does just that. It’s designed to give people a platform to share knowledge and ideas, so it takes the format of a series of talks and lectures from industry experts. They’re 25 events in now, so they’ve got both experience and a hoard of regulars, with up to 150 people attending each event – and because they hold it at Belgrave Music Hall, it doesn’t feel formal. You can get a drink, you can ask questions, you can socialise – but you can also learn a thing or two.
It’s not just Hey! either. There’s also a Leeds chapter of Glug, as the now national concept has spread out from the Capital to digital hubs across the country. Like Hey!, Glug revolves around a series of talks, with a focus on showcasing Northern talent and disproving preconceptions – but at its heart, is a desire to create a sense of community, bringing together the creative side of the digital and tech sector for a night of drinks, talks and conversations.
“It’s a really informal format with the emphasis on inspiring attendees rather than pitching or selling to them, we always have a really great buzz and people often stay for a couple of hours after the talks chatting,” Hannah-Natalie O’Sullivan, founder of the Leeds chapter of Glug, told us. “The Glug team and our gluggers are very interactive and there is huge digital following via our social channels, leading up to events and after attendees are making connections and arranging to meet people at the event for a beer or later in the week for coffee, it’s something really cool to be part of and definitely embracing the sense of community we set out to achieve.”
That community is helping to drive Leeds forward, establishing the city as a digital hub, where great things happen. Now, more than ever, people in the industry look to Leeds with respect – we’re attracting more and more people here, and that can only be a good thing, because at last count, there were over 700 digital and tech vacancies in the city.
It’s not lost on Natalie, “Glug couldn’t have come to Leeds at a better time. Over the last two years the creative sector in Leeds has really grown in size and confidence, I see a lot more independent businesses setting up and coming forward to shout about their values and success, it’s a really vibrant scene, a polar opposite from the old adage of ‘it’s grim up north’. I’ve seen a lot of Northern talent returning to their roots here in Yorkshire, illustrating a change in the national appeal to live and work up North with all the excitement of big name brands.”
Those big names include the likes of Sky Betting and Gaming, Callcredit, Lhasa and NHS Digital, to name but a few – and they’re accompanied by some really exciting start-ups, including Cocoon, the brains behind an innovative new security system that could change the way we protect our homes.
Leeds is a really exciting place for digital and tech professionals to be right now, and not only is it getting us attention, it’s also driving innovation. “We have such a strong digital scene in Leeds now compared to just a few years ago. This is partly due to the growth of large companies such as Sky, Sky Bet and Callcredit, and the jobs and publicity they bring to the city, but also because of the increasing number of start-ups and smaller companies, who are innovating across the sector. This growth in jobs means that we have employment stability, which leads people to find out more about other people and companies, and this collaboration often leads to new ventures,” Stuart Clarke, founder of Leeds Digital Festival, explained.
But he hasn’t said, perhaps because he’s being modest, is that the jobs, the start-ups and big names aren’t the only reason why digital professionals are turning their eyes to Leeds – because events like Leeds Digital Festival and Leeds Digital Jobs Fair are helping to spread the word of the great things we’re doing here as well. Both launched this year, and both proved to be a roaring success.
Although Leeds Digital Festival was great for local talent, getting the word out was certainly part of the plan, as Stuart explained, “In the summer of 2015, a bunch of us across the city were having similar conversations about how the many talented individuals and innovative organisations weren’t getting the airtime within Leeds or nationally that they deserved. The conversations usually ended up with the same question: why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? Eventually a dozen of us met and decided to actually do something, in the form of the Digital Festival. We had two main aims: to celebrate the digital talent we have and also to enable people and companies to collaborate.”
They did that by bringing together digital businesses, groups and events to create a diverse calendar of events, including both Hey! and Glug, that spanned the entire breadth of the digital and tech community. In total, there were 56 events at 28 venues with 175 speakers – and 6,000 people attended. It was a big deal for the city’s digital and tech scene, helping not just to bring people together, but also to spread the word – and they’re already planning another for 2017.
Leeds Digital Job Fair is also set to return. Their first event took place last February, bringing people into Leeds from all over the country to meet the city’s digital and tech innovators. They had 35 businesses at their first event and 1,300 attended – but the second took those numbers up to 50 and 2,000. Now it’s returning for a third time, on Friday 28th April 2017.
Like the other events that have been taking place across the city, this is a chance to meet new people, network and learn, with talks from the likes of Google throughout the day, but it also offers a unique opportunity to find your next move. You’ll be able to find out about the culture of digital businesses in Leeds, to ask questions and to find out what jobs they have going, which might well help you move up the career ladder.
There’s an event for everyone and everything in Leeds. You can socialise with like-minded people, but you also broaden your horizons, pick up new skills and bounce ideas – and that, in turn, is helping to inspire new collaborations and drive innovation. The digital community, like the sector itself, is constantly growing and evolving – and we can’t wait to see where it goes next.