After helping to build a small startup in Yorkshire into an award-winning internet provider, Matt Grest turned his hand to project management roles and ended up using his skills managing the NHS Digital platform. Here he explains about his role at Sky Leeds and why the tech juggernaut decided to make its home here.
How did you get into Sky?
I joined Sky almost four years ago, originally as part of the Sky Sports team, but I had a bit of a varied career before that.
I was part of the core team that started Plusnet, which was really exciting but a lot of work. We took it from just being a software development team of four people, involved to a major company and floating it on the stock market.
I’ve also had a number of project management and departmental management roles, which included working on the NHS website in the heart of the swine flu crisis. We had to scale the platform almost overnight because all the guidance was pushing people towards the NHS site so we needed a platform that could handle that much traffic.
About two years ago I was given the chance to help Sky expand into Leeds and here we are now.
Why is Sky in Leeds?
Towards the end of 2014, we decided to move Sky’s digital capabilities from London to Leeds because we were finding it increasingly difficult to get the skills we needed in West London, alongside wanting to expand in other areas.
At Sky in Leeds we wanted to be able to grow our own talent through graduate and apprentice schemes, but also be able to hire people with experience. Our research showed us that we needed both to be able to make a success of the project. We found that there was more than enough talent in and around Leeds and we can hire people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Around 20 per cent of our new hires have moved to Leeds for this job, so it just shows how attitudes are changing. I want people to work here for five, ten, even 15 years and when they move on, I want them to go to Facebook or Amazon or Google or be the next entrepreneur offering something completely new.
How is it growing and looking to recruit more talent?
Before we came to Leeds we knew it was going to be vital to get different levels of skills. Our apprentice scheme has been incredibly successful and the calibre of talent we are getting from it is exceptional. I look at myself at the age they are and there’s no way I could have done half of the things they are doing. We really wanted the opportunity to grow our own talent. Last year we took on 32 graduates and apprentices and this year we have done the same.
We don’t just look for people who are used to doing the sort of stuff Sky do. We look for the character of the person when hiring. That’s the most important thing. We can teach people about the domains and the technology but it’s crucial that they can fit into our working environment.
What are you most proud of?
I’m always wary of saying I’m proud of anything as the saying goes, pride always comes before a fall, so I think the relentless pace at which we work means you don’t have time to stand back and be proud of your work. Both at Sky and the tech sector as a whole, if you take your foot off the pedal for a second, someone else will be stealing your place. I’m satisfied with what we’ve done but I want to keep pushing. I’ll never be completely satisfied, we can always be making things better or faster.
What are the plans for Sky Leeds in the future?
We now have around 600 people and over the course of the last year or so we have acquired Sky Italia and Sky Deutchland. Earlier this year we launched a Sky Sports app for Italy, which was built by people right here in Leeds.
We’re now working on a Sports Digital platform for Germany. They both run off UK platforms, just with German or Italian newsfeeds and content relevant to their country.
We’ll be doing more and more of that as Sky grows in Leeds.
What do you think Leeds has to offer tech businesses?
For most of my adult life I’ve lived in Yorkshire. I was born in Grimsby, went to University in Sheffield and have worked in and around Leeds since then. I still live near Sheffield and the recent introduction of the smart motorway on the M1 has made the whole commute so much easier. That’s really important. It means the whole catchment area for Leeds has expanded. People don’t talk about that enough but it’s a major thing.
We looked globally at where to bring Sky’s digital capabilities from London and we chose Leeds primarily because of its talent. We looked at the people who lived within an hour-long commute from Leeds and analysed whether we could get the skills we needed to expand the team here from around 40 at the beginning of 2015 to more than 600 people today.
Access to skills is a major factor. We’ve now got some fantastic talent working for Sky in Leeds, they have a fantastic drive and energy.
People are increasingly moving to Leeds because of an opportunity with us. A few years ago it was hard to convince people to make the move here as they would have been worried that there was nowhere for them to get another job if they wanted to move on. Now people are seeing that it’s not just Sky in Leeds, there are loads of businesses around here that are doing things that are just as exciting.
Leeds is now showing itself as a city where people want to come and live. It’s affordable, comparable to other places in the UK. You can live in the city, the suburbs or even on the coast. We have people working here that live on the coast and commute in each day.
There’s been huge investment in retail and entertainment, as well as bars, restaurants and music venues, so there’s a lot going for Leeds. The biggest fault is that we don’t shout about it enough. We need to all take the time to tell people about it because it really is one of the UK’s premier cities.
What would you like to see happen in Leeds in the next five years?
We need to continue investment into infrastructure and transport. As more people move to Leeds, we need to ensure they can move about easily rather than being stuck in the car. There’s been big stuff already, like the water taxi that runs from the train station to the Docks. It’s not a massive thing but it make a huge difference. It’s little things like that. It doesn’t need to be multi-million pound construction projects, it’s about being creative and thinking about what people really need and want.
I’ve talked about what makes the city great and we should keep going with that, but ultimately I want to be able to have the rest of my career in the north of England. The more businesses that come up here, the more opportunities there will be for everyone. It comes back to the need to keep shouting about Leeds and what it has to offer. The more people talk about it as a place that you need to come and live and businesses need to move to, the better.
You just need to look at Leeds’ skyline to see how well it’s doing. There are cranes everywhere. Businesses are investing here and there’s a lot of new office space going on.
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
The Bay Horse in my village of Scholes, South Yorkshire. Warm welcome, proper beer, good food, and quiet
What tech do you use?
Apple; iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch, Apple TV
Top 3 films?
It would have to be Los Cronocrímenes (Time Crimes), Annie Hall, and Blade Runner.
What do you drive?
A car. It’s an Audi A6
Perfect Sunday brunch?
Smoked bacon and fried eggs (over hard)