Jill Tipping, CEO of the B.C. Technology Association, sat down with Black Press Media legislature reporter Tom Fletcher this week to talk about the rapid rise of technology and her industry’s work to help companies grow.
TF: You have lots of corporate partners, how did the association get started?
JT: We’re 25 years old this year, and mostly private sector funded. That’s a bit unusual, about 60 per cent of our funding, and about 40 per cent is from the federal government. We haven’t any provincial funding but we’re hoping to change that.
We focus on helping tech companies grow and scale, making sure that the ecosystem in B.C. can support everybody, whether you’re a small company or a growing company or a big company.
TF: One of the things that the federal government acknowledged a couple of years ago is that they had too many innovation programs. How has that evolved?
JT: I think it’s a natural progression. At first there are so many people who are enthusiastic and they see what could change and what could be better. And that encourages in our sector a really entrepreneurial attitude, so everybody creates a new organization and says, ‘let me help.’ And the federal government says ‘let’s create a new program for every problem that we have.’ But over time we get a bit more mature, and we say, if we focus and prioritize we can have a bigger impact.
You see that in the federal programs, where there has been a tightening of the focus and streamlining of the approach so that we’re focused on just a few problems, scaling problems in particular sectors where Canada is strong. And we’re starting to see the same thing in B.C., where we’re coming together to focus on fewer things that are really critically important.
There two key things for B.C. One is access to talent. It’s the number one problem every company will talk to you about. The other thing is we don’t have as many companies achieving scale success.
TF: What are the jobs to train for in technology these days?
JT: Tech jobs are technical jobs and those are always in demand. So web designers and coders and deep data scientists. Those are really in demand. What’s also interesting is user design, so experiential learning, design thinking, marketing, finance. There are so many growth areas in tech, there’s a role for everyone.
TF: One of the difficulties with media reports is you’ll see this one-line summary about machine learning and artificial intelligence, and that it’s going to revolutionize the world. What does that actually mean, today at least?
JT: Let me give you a practical example, in medical imaging. We used to put an X-ray on the screen and expert eyes would look at it and see what they could find, and they found most things. What we can now do is take multiple different shots, and examine a database that can spot the things that the human mind and human eye might not see.
So now we’re spotting many more problems and we’re able to fix them sooner in medicine. It’s a great example of how machine learning and analyzing deep data sets can help to do things.
TF: So it’s not a robot that can do your kid’s homework.
JT: Or tidy their room. The history of machines, from the very beginning, whether we think of it as farming implements or whatever, has always been to help human beings do things that human beings either don’t enjoy or aren’t particularly good at. But the human beings will stay in control.
TF: Your organization is focused on attracting skilled people. The U.S. has lowered its corporate taxes. B.C. and Canada have increased their top personal income rates, so the combined income tax for a high-level executive or entrepreneur is more than 50 per cent. What’s the effect of that?
JT: One of the interesting things for our sector is that everything in the world that’s thriving in tech and innovation is in a place that’s got a high cost of housing, high cost of living and high taxes, like California. This is an industry that’s had to thrive despite those setbacks.
And it does it because what it’s mining is human brains and human intelligence, and human beings like to live in delightful, lovely places, so they really value quality of life taken as a whole.
Some of the things where Canada and B.C. in particular has a real advantage is our health system and our education system are fantastic advantages. Tech workers tend to be fairly cosmopolitan, so they like the atmosphere in Canada.
It’s one of the reasons I’m bullish about Canada as a tech economy. In a challenging world, our brand and what we stand for and the kind of place we are to live is going to be really attractive.
Not everything is the best it can possibly be, but we’ve got some great advantages.