Your Guide to Scotland’s Digital Dens

Scotland's tech scene is thriving, with numerous collaborative spaces, support networks, and educational groups for anyone interested in coding and creativity. Here's our guide to getting involved

Feature by Cathleen O'Grady | 31 Aug 2015
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Scotland has always punched well above its weight when it comes to technological innovation: think John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Dolly the sheep, and radar. If the thriving local tech scene is anything to judge by, the wee country continues to lead the field, and does so with panache. As tech becomes democratised, grassroots organisations spring up everywhere, meaning that opportunities to join up with other creatively-minded tech lovers have never been so plentiful.

For students heading to uni with dreams of founding the next big startup to hit the headlines, resources and meetups to connect you with your people abound. Students interested in business and computer science are the obvious tech meetup stalwarts, but if your interests are a bit more esoteric, don’t be put off - there are meetups focusing on everything from technological solutions for water insecurity to 3D-printed jewellry. Whether you’re already rushing headlong into your first startup, or just vaguely nurturing the idea that you might one day get there, there’s a group to make you feel at home.

Edinburgh is home to TechCube, the heart of the local startup scene, providing not just beanbag-filled office space and incubation support but also a variety of meetups and events for anyone who’s interested. It’s based at the Summerhall arts complex, features a public space for collaborative work that blends the best of science, arts and technology, and hosts regular events on a variety of tech- and startup-related topics. Twice-weekly Hacklab open nights provide an informal opportunity for anyone to get help and feedback on a project, use the available tools, or just take a look at other people’s work and hang out. The space also hosts Open Knowledge Scotland’s Open Data Maker Nights, which centre around anything and everything to do with open data.

Equally central to the scene is Informatics Ventures at the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Forum, which helps to build bridges between industry and academia and aims to nurture local tech talent. Along with Neo Innovation and Edinburgh startup success story Skyscanner, it co-hosts monthly TechMeetup events, which are an “excuse for developers and the tech community around Scotland to meet up and learn new stuff from each other.” Skyscanner itself is a hub of tech creativity and advice for young entrepreneurs.

CodeBase, the largest technology incubator in Scotland and another dominant player in the local scene, plays host to Creative Edinburgh meetups, another space for exchanging ideas and sparking collaborative ventures. And if these big players aren’t enough, check out the more niche circles, such as the Scottish Ruby User Group, the Edinburgh PHP User Group, or the recently-formed PyLadies Edinburgh group, which is a local chapter of an international mentorship organisation. With monthly meetups, the group’s goal is to bring more women into the Python open-source community, to improve diversity and provide a support network for women at all levels of coding ability. Cleanweb Scotland is a community dedicated to using information technology to solve problems in transportation, energy, water, and other resources. Meetups and hackathons are used to spur collaborative development of apps and other solutions, and Cleanweb’s doors are open not just to developers, but also activists, designers, entrepreneurs, and anyone who is interested in contributing.

Glasgow is home to a slightly smaller but no less active scene. The aforementioned TechMeetups hosted by Informatics Ventures, SkyScanner and Neo are held monthly at Glasgow Uni, while Glasgow PHP, the Scottish Linux User Group and UX Glasgow also hold monthly events. Code Craft, a ‘software craftsmanship’ meetup holds events focused on writing well-structured and malleable code.

Central to Glasgow’s scene is RookieOven, which is “baking a tasty startup scene in Scotland” by sharing advice, opinions and news on the blog, and by organising an opportunity for the local community to get together on a monthly basis. The ethos here is less focused on any kind of formal presentations or talks, and is more about sharing ideas, getting and giving advice, and finding a support network.

International nonprofit tech community HackerNest, home to Canada’s largest tech meetups, has recently opened a chapter in Glasgow. The group aims to bolster and nurture local tech communities through “unpretentious social events and hackathons”, bringing together designers, developers, and all others interested in tech collaboration to meet and eat. For those with more hands-on interests, The MAKlab runs workshops for hackers, artists, designers and creators of all kinds, offering the opportunity to get your hands dirty with the likes of laser cutting and 3D printing.

Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness all benefit from the Informatics Ventures/Neo/SkyScanner monthly TechMeetups, and Aberdeen’s 57North Hacklab meets regularly to build community and share projects. To keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your area, keep an eye on Open Tech Calendar and Tech Britain, as well as good ol’ Meetup.com.

Now go forth, and code!