Students attend a class at the Wellington ICT Graduate School (photo: supplied)
Students attend a class at the Wellington ICT Graduate School (photo: supplied)

PartnersJune 12, 2020

‘It’s always evolving’: Tech students on the lure of a resilient, forward-facing industry

Students attend a class at the Wellington ICT Graduate School (photo: supplied)
Students attend a class at the Wellington ICT Graduate School (photo: supplied)

The technology industry has been singled out for its significant growth potential in post-Covid New Zealand. Now, as the country returns to relative normalcy, we speak to students working towards careers in the sector.

When the government made the decision to move the country into level four lockdown, every aspect of our collective lives was impacted. For students of the Wellington ICT Graduate School’s Master of User Experience Design (MUXD) programme, however, the change represented a unique opportunity to apply what they’d been learning to a situation in real time. Having just started a design sprint with Google on Digital Wellbeing challenges, an initiative with a focus on developing ways to minimise distractions and better monitor (or even reduce) their screen time, the students found themselves suddenly in a position where they’d need to be even more tech-reliant and autonomous than usual. 

“I thought that the combination of learning a new design process and undertaking the design sprint – and doing so remotely – would be a nightmare,” says Bradley Millen, a student in the programme, “However, I found this to be a valuable learning process as it made us rethink how we tackle the problem… as well as how we tackle the teamwork aspect.” 

The MUXD students were faced with an interesting problem. They were being asked to tackle a work stream aimed specifically at encouraging a more conscientious approach to technology, at a time when the country’s public health measures had made the issues at its core even more pertinent. But while their challenge was a unique one, the innovation and resilience revealed by their response was common among the school’s students. 

‘Envelope’, a Google Wellbeing Experiment designed by London agency Special Projects (Image: Google)

Alexis De Meo, a student in the Master of Software Development programme, began an internship at Wellington contactless payment firm Snapper in February this year. Despite the country adopting lockdown measures just a month into her placement, the shift out of the office and into working from home was a smooth one. 

“We moved into remote work about a week before the lockdown, and then we just stayed there.” And while the tech sector has long been more versatile than most to teams collaborating on projects while physically distant, the impact on even the more interpersonal aspects of the role was minimal. “We could still have the same meetings at the same time every day; nothing really changed, we just weren’t physically next to each other.”

Like many of the students at the Wellington ICT Graduate School, De Meo was already in the workforce before she began gravitating towards tech. A commerce graduate, she began her career at a major financial services firm where she spent time as a consultant, assessing technical systems “on the other side of the line”, before realising that she’d rather be working to build those systems instead. It was while recovering from a serious accident that De Meo decided to finally make the transition into development. “I injured my spine, and I was in rehabilitation for about a year,” she says. “So that gave me a lot of time to reflect on what I wanted to do with life. And basically at the end of that, all roads pointed towards development.” 

After migrating to Wellington from Beijing in 2019, Miltos Song learned quickly that his work prospects here would be limited without a qualification in his area of specialisation. “I studied the Greek language for my bachelor’s degree, and at the time that I graduated, it was a bit difficult getting a job related to that – the economy of Greece wasn’t doing too well several years ago,” he laughs. 

With three years of experience as a business analyst for a Chinese tech company already under his belt, the Master of Professional Business Analysis course appealed to Song as a way to gain a better understanding of the subtle differences and idiosyncrasies in the way that New Zealand businesses operate, as well as increasing his appeal to local employers.

As with De Meo – and indeed all Wellington ICT Graduate School students – Song’s course of study includes a substantial industry placement. His is at the NZX, where he’s been working as part of an intern group on a thorough review of the exchange’s digital user experience. The project’s goal is to help the institution find ways to segment their retail investors, allowing them to better pinpoint potential high-value investors, earlier in their investment journey. While Song’s existing professional experience gives him a solid foundation, he says that his current course of study has been invaluable in deepening his broader understanding of the industry.

“The working market is different in New Zealand – the risk appetite [in China] is higher … so you don’t always need to have a specific qualification, as long as you have experience. But if you don’t have that holistic and systematic knowledge of the field, you can end up in some bad situations.”

The Wellington ICT Graduate School’s pilot mentor programme also connects students with industry professionals (Photo: Supplied)

While the school’s programmes  focus on technical proficiency, Song says that its use of real-world industry projects and collaborative learning has seen him improve significantly in soft-skill areas like stakeholder management and relationship building. As a self-described introvert – he jokes that he’s particularly “good at social distancing” – he says that learning how to better engage with colleagues has helped him develop a greater overall grasp of the often-varied project-based work he’s currently doing. 

While there’s undoubtedly uncertainty in all areas of the workforce at the moment, the tech industry is one that’s been hailed as a potential leading light for Aotearoa’s post-Covid economy. The sector’s flexibility in terms of working arrangements is one that dovetails well into the expected shift in where and how our professional services workforce concentrates in the crisis’s aftermath. Some have even gone so far as to say the country’s effective response and existing startup-friendly culture could see New Zealand become the Silicon Valley of the South Pacific.

Neither Song or De Meo are under any illusions about the likely long-term impact of the crisis, but both believe the qualifications they’re gaining will be a strong advantage for their future prospects. De Meo says tech’s inherently forward-facing nature makes it a more resilient career path.

“I think it’s created a lot more opportunity in the industry, to help people adjust to what we’re going through at the moment,” she says.  

“Because we always need technology to adjust with us. It’s always evolving.”

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