‘The amount of DevOps, network and security skills in the north is through the roof’

Kane Fulton, October 6, 2020 4 min read

Cloud Gateway was founded in 2017 by telecoms experts Neil Briscoe (its CTO) and Justin Day (CEO). The company, which has scaled to 22 people, provides a platform between traditional networking infrastructure and cloud services.

Its hybrid PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) software solution securely connects public and private organisations’ existing infrastructure with cloud service providers – including the UK government’s Public Services Network (PSN) and the NHS Health and Social Care Network (HSCN).

With IT infrastructure requirements shifting under Covid-19, Cloud Gateway is doubling down on an opportunity to help its customers work faster, more affordably and securely. Headquartered in London, it has built its tech team in the North of England and Bradford-born Neil – who recently spoke at Leeds Digital Festival – is a passionate champion of the region’s tech talent. We spoke to Neil to find out more.

How are businesses using your platform during Covid-19?

Neil Briscoe: Covid-19 has been very good for us – even if it’s been horrible for most people – as it has allowed us to show off our agility. One of our customers, Q doctor, is a small healthtech provider that got clinicians back to work by providing NHS Digital approved tools for remote patient care. They built a virtual desktop infrastructure product in AWS that needed to connect to HSCN – and we did it within a week of them first coming to us to say they were live. Within 48 hours of that, 300 clinicians were able to go back to work within just two days – and it’s more than 2,000 clinicians now. We’re helping the public to get better healthcare while helping our customers at the same time.

What skills did you seek in a tech team when building the platform?

Justin and I have a background in networking and security. The big change that we faced was that traditional networking, the type you can touch and feel, is a dark art compared to the cloud. Basically, we had to learn techniques about resiliency, scalability and getting traffic where it needed to go from scratch. We got to a point where we wanted to automate all of that with logs and analytics, which is when we realised that we aren’t developers. That’s when we hired Steve Fletcher, our Head of DevOps, formerly of Barclays Retail.

Why did you hire your tech team in the north?

I am based in Huddersfield, so I wanted a team there. The amount of DevOps, network, security and UI skills in the north – and especially Leeds – is through the roof. It’s no secret – it has gambling companies including SkyBet, Betfred and William Hill, which are very cash rich and do a lot of front-end developing, so there is always going to be a massive pool of talent there. After Steve, we took in a guy from our AWS Restart programme, which takes in military personnel because their work ethic and resourcefulness is unbelievable. We also hired a UI person from York and another from Sheffield. We did have an office in Leeds but moved out a week before Covid-19 began as we wanted to be able to take resources from further afield.

“Tech workers are just as good, if not better in the north because they are more down to earth.”

– Cloud Gateway CTO Neil Briscoe

Has Covid-19 made you think differently about hiring?

We can now say that it’s not a problem for people to work remotely. There are probably some fantastic developers based further afield from Leeds in the north – let’s say in the Lake District – and before Covid-19 it would have been a pain for them to have to come into our Leeds office. We trust people, and if they are far away but want to travel, say, to have a drink with us and stay in a hotel once a month, then that’s fine. It all means we can access a bigger talent pool.

How does the quality of talent in the north compare to London?

I would like to say we are going up north to save a load of money, but that argument is long gone now. Yes, there is a bit of difference between salaries in London and the north, but not to the point where tech workers would pack their bags and go straight to the capital like they would 20 years ago. They are just as good, if not better in the north because they are more down to earth. We have a lot of fantastic people in the region, and I think it is encouraging a lot of startups and businesses like ourselves to start there.

Why did you base your HQ in London? Do you think it will move in the future?

It was a multitude of things really. Primarily to start with, because our tech was so novel, we got some big government contracts that meant we had to be based around Westminster. We were having lots of corporate meetings in the capital including ones in the head office of a big insurance provider. But it didn’t make sense to have all our tech team down there, partly because they aren’t customer facing or going to meetings. In terms of locality for our team, London is also a central hub; Justin is out in Norwich, Laura on marketing is from London and our Chief of Operations is from Derby, so it is easy for them to get to. But there is no reason why we would have to be there in the future.

Community, Yorkshire