2021 in review: 12 IT Pro features you may have missed

2021 in neon lights against a brick backdrop
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As the curtain draws on a strange and highly straining year, we reflect with fondness at some of the most incisive, wittiest and entertaining features from the world of technology.

Indeed, as COVID-19 continued to ravage society, and the business world, our reporters have shed light on some of the prevailing issues in the industry, from the social and business issues arising from the emergence of AI to the changing face of cyber security.

With 2022 just over the horizon, sit back and enjoy some essential holiday reading in the form of 12 stand-out IT Pro features you may have missed, coming together to paint a comprehensive picture of the last 12 months in tech.

Game on: How playing video games could level up your career

Far from being lazy or a waste of time, gaming can build important transferable skills

A woman wearing an orange top sitting at a desktop computer with a headset on playing video games

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First appearing in Issue 12 of IT Pro 20/20, available here, this feature explored how an unfavourably seen hobby, video gaming, may actually offer a series of benefits in the form of a skills boost.

Gaming, according to research, presents challenges and force people to employ critical thinking skills to overcome obstacles. These skills can very much be deployed in real situations, with gamers also gaining essential co-operation, leadership, project creation and interpersonal skills.

Continue on to read Game on: How playing video games could level up your career

Don’t listen to Martin Scorsese, the Netflix algorithm is your friend

While we can’t dispute his stance on the ‘art of cinema’, Scorsese’s criticism of AI is muddled

A directors chair with Scorsese and Netflix written upon it

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“I am an avid user of the ‘Watch again’ column on Netflix, not because I don’t like or understand cinema, but because I bloody love it.”

Tackling the use of AI algorithms head-on, this column hits back at Scorsese’s charge that streaming services like Netflix are ruining the art of cinema with the delivery of content streamlined by algorithms.

Continue on to read Don't listen to Martin Scorcese, the Netflix algorithm is your friend

I went shopping at Amazon’s till-less supermarket so that you don’t have to

Are the Fresh automated stores another big-tech gimmick, or the future of grocery shopping?

A container of Amazon Fresh bags for life at the end of an aisle below a sign saying "Choose what you like, bag as you shop, just walk out! We'll email you a receipt"

(Image credit: Sabina Weston/Dennis Publishing)

We, or more specifically our esteemed staff writer Sabina Weston, frequented Amazon’s flagship grocery store earlier in the year to sample a taste of the future of shopping.

While, at times, feeling akin to a dystopian sci-fi reality with Amazon-branded mash and creepy motion sensors, there’s nonetheless a certain allure to this fully till-free experience.

Continue on to read I went shopping at Amazon’s till-less supermarket so that you don’t have to

The art of digitising war

How the Imperial War Museum updates, stores and protects the records of our past conflict

The front entrance of the Imperial War Museum in London with anti-aircraft guns outside

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Founded amidst the chaos of the first world war, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) plays host to invaluable historical archives that colour our past. Much of this archive footage, however, was shot on highly unstable nitrate-based celluloid film.

In this case study, CIO Ian Crawford explains why nitrate is a terrible format to use (it’s got a nasty habit of unexpectedly bursting into flames), and how the museum is importing its footage onto digital archives.

Continue on to read The art of digitising war

How Brexit fuelled Lithuania’s ambitions to become Europe’s fintech capital

More than 200 companies including Revolut and ConnectPay make up the Baltic nation’s thriving fintech scene

An aerial view of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

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Would it surprise you to learn the fourth most powerful fintech hub in the world is Lithuania? That this small country on the outskirts of the EU, with palatable weather and a complicated history, is such a dominant European fintech presence is no accident, however.

Lithuania’s business-friendly environment, advanced technical infrastructure and appetite for fostering skills is the result of a national plan developed and executed in a coordinated effort by politicians, financial institutions and the central bank.

Continue on to read How Brexit fuelled Lithuania's ambitions to become Europe's fintech capital

With AI on the rise, is it time to join a union?

Workplace challenges posed by new technology could be answered by very traditional solutions

A crowd of protesters holding union banners in London

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What better time to join a trade union than the present, as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) continue to transform the workplace in an unprecedented manner.

Much like the industrial revolution, this is a transition that will happen over a vast period of time, meaning the impact this will have on workers’ rights and livelihoods remains to be seen. The only voice workers have is through trade unions, and without them, essential input from those on the frontline of this change will be lost.

Continue on to read With AI on the rise, is it time to join a union?

Humanities versus STEM: The forced dichotomy where no one wins

Can philosophy and literature ever have a place in the tech sector?

Two halves of a brain, one coloured green on a circuit board, the other coloured light purple on an abstract painting

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Inspired by the government’s infamous public messaging campaign, asking whether Fatima’s next job could be in cyber, this feature explores why the false choice between tech skills and the humanities has no place in a modern economy.

Instead, contrary to widespread belief, so-called ‘soft skills’ like communication, critical thinking and teamwork, alongside disciplines within the arts and humanities, can be highly valuable to shaping the technologies of the future.

Continue on to read Humanities versus STEM: The forced dichotomy where no one wins

Does cyber security’s public image need a makeover?

A growing number of ethical hackers want the media to change the way it talks about the industry

A cartoon of a hacker wearing a black hoodie, with crosses on its eyes and blue flames surrounding it

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First appearing in the June edition of IT Pro 20/20, this feature outlines why a growing chorus of ethical hackers are trying to change the cyber security conversation for good.

Expert contributors rail against depictions of hackers in popular culture, in films such as WarGames, and explain why this trend is having profound negative effects on the security industry.

Continue on to read Does cyber security's public image need a makeover?

What's behind the explosion in zero-day exploits?

Projections show the industry will detect almost three times as many exploits in 2021 as were found last year

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Using data, this deep-dive examines how, and why, 2021 was such a record-breaking year for zero-day exploits. Indeed, as of 2 August, there were 37 detected exploited zero-days, which smashed the previous record of 28 within an entire year, set in 2015. To add to this mystery, the severity of exploited vulnerability has been declining.

Ultimately, however, as far as the cyber security community is concerned, could more zero-day exploits be a good thing?

Continue on to read What's behind the explosion in zero-day exploits?

Is big tech the new East India Company?

We examine whether big tech companies are following in the footsteps of colonial powers as they expand across the world

An ancient East India Company coin on a desk next to a leather-bound book

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Among the many architects of colonialism was the East India Company, with its history of trade monopolies, war and slavery scarring humanity. Many are beginning to draw parallels, though, between such entities and big tech firms.

Where goods once traded included cotton, silk or tea, today they’re minerals mined to make electrical components, and data harvested to fuel new products and services. While the East India Company is long dead, is big tech perpetuating this legacy by entrenching itself in the new power networks of technology and data?

Continue on to read Is big tech the new East India Company?

Why does Japan lag behind on startups?

The country has a reputation as a tech leader, but its startup ecosystem has yet to achieve its potential

Tokyo skyline with Mount Fuji in the background

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Japan, for all its cutting-edge technological exports and reputation as a global high-tech powerhouse, has, in fact, long wrestled with a startups problem.

Compared with other developed nations, it has few unicorns and low levels of startup funding; of more than 800 unicorns around the world as of October, for example, only six of them are Japanese. With the prime minister promising to establish a new fund, and a strategy, to foster startup growth, this could prove a significant turning point.

Continue on to read Why does Japan lag behind on startups?

Modern technology might seem heartless, but convenience and cruelty shouldn’t be confused

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When Better.com CEO Vishal Garg sacked 900 of his employees over Zoom, the internet reacted with fire. What, though, was the alternative, and is the traditional method of sending impersonal, generic HR letters any better?

Technology has made many processes more convenient, but this shouldn’t be confused with callousness or cruelty; after all, many aspects of work can be done remotely, and, like it or not, that also includes being fired.

Continue on to read Modern technology might seem heartless, but convenience and cruelty shouldn’t be confused

If you enjoyed this selection, you can check out many more features, case studies, columns, tutorials and reviews on IT Pro, Cloud Pro and Channel Pro. Also remember to subscribe to our monthly magazine IT Pro 20/20, and supplement your reading with the IT Pro Podcast.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.