From that starting position the digital industry has undergone phenomenal growth: in revenue terms, as I've already mentioned, but also in terms of the range of disciplines that it contains.
Over the years the early foundations of digital have become the basis for huge diversification: we now have mobile apps, microsites, HTML5, pre-roll advertising, CPA, click attribution, real-time-bidding, cloud computing, augmented reality, social networks - the list goes on.
This diversity means that we now operate in a talent marketplace where skill sets can seem endless in their variability.
We see, for example, search marketing spliced with content management and editorial responsibilities. We see community engagement meeting PR; web design skills are required of the same person who handles PHP development.
To put it simply: there are now many more types of digital jobs, and of digital professionals, than there were 10 years ago.
A diversifying market like this creates unique talent challenges.
"Pioneer" areas - where new technologies or services are emerging - are starved of experienced talent by default. As an example, think about mobile app developers: when Apple first launched the App Store, very few individuals had any hands-on experience developing mobile apps. Yet somehow app development has turned into a large and profitable enterprise - where did the talent come from to drive this growth?
The answer is simple enough: in the early stages of pioneer talent markets, talent is located from external talent pools, companies, sectors and industries. Hiring decisions are based on broad criteria: commercial aptitude rather than industry-specific skills. The rationale is straightforward - get smart people on board and they will move your business forward, learning specific skills as they go.
In slower-moving, more well-established areas, this approach to recruitment is much less common. Talent pools adapt, adopting new skills. As this happens, employers respond to the new availability of talent with relevant skills by tightening their criteria for hire and focusing less on broad aptitudes: the floodgates begin to close.
When this change in attitude on the employer's part is coupled with the characteristics of the digital workforce in general - hunger for change, and to be involved at the cutting edge - and you begin to appreciate the crux of the talent challenge for the digital industry.
Continued innovation and diversification at the edges of the sector draws out talent from the better-established parts of the industry: jobs in pioneer businesses appeal to the cutting-edge perceptions of digital talent. A perfect illustration right now is social media - applications for jobs in social media outnumber those for more "traditional" digital roles by about 10 to 1.
At the same time those better-established parts of the industry have become less inclined to flexibility when it comes to hiring replacements. Only a small talent pool possesses the relevant experience to make career moves within the industry - meanwhile fresh talent finds it difficult to break in. A massive problem when major growth creates huge demand for talent.
Why should we care?
Struggling to find talent costs your business time and money. If line managers are spending their time looking for talent then their other duties will not be getting as much attention. Likewise, if your team is stretched thin trying to cover 6 people's work with 4 staff then you're losing efficiency.
A problem for digital is a problem for all of us in the industry - we all have a vested interest in the ongoing success of the industry, so it's important we all step up to meet potential challenges.
There are ample benefits to bringing in new talent from outside the industry - talent with different perspectives, skills and experience. Talent that could really help your business.
Seeking talent in new areas, and supporting talent development, is crucial to the digital sector. Be open to fresh perspectives and embrace the benefits they can bring to your teams. Invest in the long term future of the industry by bringing aboard graduates and providing ongoing professional development opportunities to all staff.
Propel London has operated in the digital sector for more than 10 years. We're passionate about the talent, and the companies, in digital and take great pride in offering recruitment services that go beyond the norm. If you'd like to speak to us about how we can help your business to meet its unique digital talent challenges then come and see us at Digital London, or give us a call - 0207 004 0550.
Phil Haslehurst, Marketing Manager –