‘We don’t have enough developers’ – a homebaked remedy

There’s more than one way to bake the cake of “we don’t have enough developers”.

Universities produce some, polytechs some others. Many are self-taught.

Enspiral in Wellington through its Dev Academy has a fulltime nine week course that turns non-coders into people with digital development skills, ready for employment, open to much more learning.

Industry Connect in Auckland has taken another approach to upskilling people who don’t know much about computing, or do, but need a New Zealand context, into smart resources ripe for the digital environment.

Students in the six week programme attend a 6.30pm start for three hours, three nights a week. This is followed by a three month volunteer internship to sharpen their skills. The outcome that co-founder Andrew McPherson says is important, is that as new employees his former students are productive within the first week.

Andrew McPherson, co-founder of Industry Connect

Andrew McPherson, co-founder of Industry Connect

McPherson runs Experieco, a software development company focused on building Cloud solutions.

He’s been around IT for 25 years, and is well aware of the ongoing shortage of development talent to fuel digital projects.

Industry Connect was co-started by Ray Lu. Lu, who with English as a second language, was employed by McPherson 12 years ago after he struggled for 15 months to find an IT job. In four years Lu moved from junior to senior developer, and went on to work for Air NZ and Datacom.

Lu had personally experienced the difficulty of new immigrants in finding the first, foothold, job.

This is one source of the 15-20 Industry Connect students in each course – often coming from overseas with a software degree, looking for permanent residence, looking to get a job in New Zealand.

Other intern backgrounds include:

  • People who did some software development work at university, but don’t have the skills to be market ready
  • Those with outdated programming experience, especially from a few years ago – wanting to get back into development
  • Returning to work mums (who have been developers before)
  • Mid-life career change people

McPherson says it is rare for an intern to have no IT background, though an electrical engineer and MBA student come to mind.

It’s student fees are $6000 for the course, with a $2.5k deposit. However there is also an ability to pay off the fee at $95/week once students get a job. Some scholarships exist as well, especially for Maori and Pacific Islanders with potential.

Interns, hard at work learning new IT skills

Interns, hard at work learning new IT skills

“We’re doing this because we’re passionate about the industry,” says McPherson.

“We can’t watch the talented people we meet struggle to get a start, while at the same time New Zealand has a shortage of the skills that we can teach them.”

“It is also hugely satisfying when people get a job.”

Industry Connect has been set up and established with no government funding – fees as well as Lu and McPherson’s inputs providing growth capital – has pumped out 150 trainees over the past 2 years.

The fact Industry Connect is meeting a demand is seen in the fact they’re expanding, about to take over a dedicated Auckland city site.

“To achieve scale, we need to be able to offer this training during the day as well,” he say.

“There’s lots of talented people out there. We’re just repurposing them and adding new skills.”

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The Internet of Things (IoT): A slow burn until it can communicate with everything else

Occasionally, you come across a piece of thinking that makes you go, ‘oh, right, that’s a very interesting point’.

So it is with a recent article by Toby Ruckert, CEO and Founder of Unified Inbox, a platform to bring and display all your social media and email communications in one place.

Toby Ruckert, CEO and founder of Unified Inbox

Toby Ruckert, CEO and founder of Unified Inbox

Unified Inbox is a pretty major play in itself, and has no lack of competition. With a bunch of developers and marketers spread around the world Ruckert and his team are giving it their best shot.

However, it is a recent article in Teletimes International (see page 21) and his own website that reveals a depth of thinking beyond simply where we are now.

Ruckert, while not overly talking up his own company, contends that the IoT (the about to explode number of able-to-talk-to-the-internet smart devices) will only start to become really useful when it is able to seamlessly connect to the Internet of Communications (IoC) – Facebook, LinkedIn, email, etc..

He states that these smart devices aren’t so smart, and will remain so until there is a simple and straightforward way to reliably connect them with the rest of the communication and information grid.

Today, obviously, you’d connect through the cloud. But there is no uniform protocol for how such devices (say a smart fridge, or a device embedded in a bridge) would ‘talk’ to the wider world. Building separate Application Protocol Interfaces (APIs) for each device and communications channel would be both a nightmare, and require constant updating.

The pull-out quote is:

Securely connecting the Internet of Things (IoT) to the Internet of Communications (IoC) from an evolutionary perspective to me is one of the greatest challenges we have to face – and solve – before the next cycle of innovation around artificial intelligence (AI) comes into play.

Ruckert (well, he does suggest Unified Inbox is a solution) says that there is a platform opportunity to integrate and make easy the integration of the IoT with the IoC.

He even gives a snazzy diagram.

IoT diagram

Finally, Ruckert suggests that there is a great opportunity for the Telecom industry to play a major role in creating a provisioning platform for the IoT world.

The race is on, and Unified Inbox is putting up its hand as an answer.

Having posed the problem, Ruckert provides a possible answer.

It is a well-thought out article, well worth the read.

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“If you don’t love your idea, don’t do it”

If you don’t love your idea, don’t do it.

As well as this point, Nick Gerritsen, speaking at Supercharge, a recent startup event that attracted 150+ in Wellington, said that it is possible to smash it big from Aotearoa.

Not that it is easy to do it from here, or from anywhere – given that well over 90% of startups don’t manage to carry on as operating companies (though that’s not failure).

Gerritsen, who has founded and grown a number of ventures such as Carbonscape (charcoal and very valuable components through microwaving) and Nxtfuels (algae-derived renewable hydrocarbons).


Nick Gerritsen

Nick Gerritsen, Crisp Start

Here’s 10 key points he made, along with celebrating the fact of being a Kiwi.

1. Quality

  • Quality of your proposal
    • How does it stand out?
    • Why is it unique?
    • Massive impact?
    • What’s it going to take?

2. Disruption

  • How disruptive can you be?
    • What stage are you at and does it matter?
    • Low hanging fruit?
    • How fast can you move?
    • Global?

3. Defence

  • What is your defensible position?
    • What is the IP?
    • Any big gorillas on your side?
    • Scale to market?
    • What is there to invest in?

4. The Plan

  • Compelling plan
    • How much and for what?
    • Own the use of fund?
    • Does the ‘ask’ match the ‘potential’?
    • Capitalisation trajectory
    • Build the capability picture
    • (The way to build credibility is by having capable people in your team)

5. Capital

  • The right flavour of capital?
    • Venture (vulture)?
    • Strategic
    • Can you get there with partnerships?
    • Sample the mix
    • (There is an opportunity for NZ at the moment; multinationals are under pressure. They know they have to change…and are talking to cool early stage companies, even if they are from NZ)

6. You

  • How authentic are you?
    • Is it about the $ or real change
    • Use the Kiwi humility card
    • Earn respect
    • Under promise and over deliver

7. Pitch

  • Remember that most over-sell
    • Understand the culture
    • Target your pitch
    • Research the portfolios (of people pitching to)
    • Ensure it makes sense
    • Be nice

8. Follow up

  • Commit to following up
    • Be part of the team
    • Reach out
    • Admit to problems and ask for help
    • Be there

9. Think smart

  • Continually look for tipping points
    • Don’t get too complacent/comfortable
    • Drive results
    • Remain open to opportunities (not locked into your plan)
    • Trash the founder syndrome (to be successful, you’ll have to build a team)
    • Deliver, deliver, deliver

10. Share

  • Always leave something on the table
    • Everyone has to win
    • Bad energy will always limit progress
    • Generosity pays
    • Achieve liquidity for ALL
    • Get ready for the next one/build a following


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Hats off to the ‘inventor’ of the combined IT, hi-tech and biotech sectors

Finance Minister Bill English, speaking at the Wellington launch of the 11th TIN100 report, gave Greg Shanahan and his team what amounts to a pretty nice endorsement.

“You effectively invented this sector,” English said at the Thursday 29 October gathering at NZX’s relatively new presentation space.

Which, as we’ve all come to habitually expect each October, is a reminder that prior to Shanahan fronting up with the inspiration, perspiration and perseverance for the TIN100, that nothing of its sort existed before 2005.

Greg Shanahan, TIN100 founder and ‘inventor’


We effectively knew nothing of the ICT, Hi-Tech and Biotech companies within our midst. We could only guess at the income, employee numbers, and R&D spend of cool businesses doing interesting things.

Today, as well as those numbers and more, just as importantly, there’s trend lines that now deliver proof that there’s real economic grunt and innovation in the sector.

English made the point that the TIN100+ companies contribute 1.7% of GDP. In a sense, that’s not far behind dairy’s 5.3%, and these low carbon and energy footprint companies have lots of growth upside.

Last year the top 200 TIN companies created $9 billion in turnover, a 7.3% annual growth, and an extra 2410 (usually well-paying) jobs – a 6.9% growth.

English also commented that the TIN100 report is also extremely useful for government, and “it paints a picture of a sector that many hoped it would develop into.”

The growth in financial services companies, something banks are watching closely, is one notable aspect for English. Some of the tools being used and offered by these businesses, “and how some of these types of tool could also be applied to making government smaller,” was offered as an incentive by English.

Greg Shanahan says they’re attempted to isolate out four drivers of success for the TIN companies.

The most successful (of the TIN100+ group) spend twice as much on R&D as other companies, and look to create recurring revenues with and for their clients.

Shanahan also gave a political plug as such.

New Zealand is generally considered to be relatively safe and transparent when it comes to government processes. Some of these processes are now being exported by the likes of Data Torque and Foster Moore – IT infrastructure (and more) around the likes of the issuing of car driving licences, or the providing of registries to corporate and government clients.

As English said though, knowing about these little economic gems wasn’t possible before the TIN100 came into being.

Hats off to Shanahan!

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Psst, want to learn about IT…the Tech for Non-Tech course is a steal

Now, knowing how to code won’t necessarily be required for success in a future digital world. But knowing how the IT layers fit together is required in order to fully participate.

Which is why you’d have to say the upcoming Tech for Non-Tech intensive course is a steal.

At $499 + GST the Enspiral Dev Academy programme is, from what it promises to deliver, extremely good value for money.

It aims to create an empathetic bridge between what business owners want and how and how long are the complexities of delivering a digital product across the web or within the business.

Based on the observations that:

  • how businesses create their own digital footprints is a complex beast
  • these digital footprints are created by another sort of beast – techy-types, coders, IT
  • and different languages are spoken by the participants
  • then this is a good initiative

Put another way, there’s often a huge disconnect between what non-techy people want, and how long they think it will take to be delivered, and the actual hand-to-hand combat of putting a complex project together – which almost invariably grows as the non-tech people expand its scope.

So, plenty of room for misunderstanding, which is where the Enspiral Dev Academy is hoping to bring some clarity.

This Tech for Non-Tech is 5 x 90 minute sessions, including over a full day.

It is looking to build understanding in the first instance, of what it takes to put in place a new digital strategy – at whatever level.

By understanding both the layers of IT, and the process by which those layers come together in any project, participants can share common ground.

Among the digital learning is:

  • learn language used in tech builds (learn your forks from your servers)
  • be able to empathise with, and understand developers
  • understand technical product planning

This course, spearheaded by Kate Beecroft, Silvia Zurr, Joshua Vial and Charles Munat is part of the ongoing metamorphosis of Enspiral. Here’s a blog I did a few years ago on them. The first course starts on October 27, with more scheduled as demand grows.

In part this education initiative grew out of the Open Source Open Society conference in April

It is also part of a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) that the Enspiral Dev Academy has – to grow Wellington in the tech capital of the South Pacific.

If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big!

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Startups need to be a ‘little bit evil’

One of the big problems with startups is they’re not ‘evil’ enough.

Now there’s a statement bound to make you go ‘huh’.

“You need to be a little bit evil,” says Alistair Croll a speaker at Supercharge. Supercharge was a startup oriented third day on October 7 of a Lean Startup Conference at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre. The first two days were aimed at government and corporate sectors, allowing USA speakers such as Croll to be slightly more relaxed in how they talked to actual startupees.

Alistair Croll

“In today’s world there’s an information overload which results in a shortage of attention,” Croll says. “You have to ask yourself that when you build something, will anybody care. To get that attention, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughtly. So, stop writing press releases, start doing a bit of hacking to find some customers.”

Croll suggests that startups have to employ unconventional strategies, “be a little bit hacky.”

He gave examples of new companies being clever and gaining an advantage from “zero-day hacks’.

  • Farmville constantly inviting people to play on Facebook by posting to profiles. Facebook eventually removed this loophole
  • Someone from Tinder going to sororities (US, female college dormitories), talking on entrepreneurship, and having all these women installing the app. She then went across the road to the fraternity (male equivalent), got the guys to download the app and start swiping right
  • Twitter – enabled posting through the texting network when smartphones weren’t common, limiting messages to 140 characters

His website is www.solveforinteresting.com, and elements of his thinking (in a non-creepy way) is that startups almost have to stalk their prospects, finding out who they are. (Given that the tagline on his website is ‘otherwise life is dull’, you can see that Croll’s thinking is non-standard!). In fact, I’d highly recommend checking out that site, and check out the brilliant Bud Caddell venn diagram shows about what we should be working on.

In fact, it is so good, I’ll paste it here.

“Therefore, watch for technology changes that change the status quo. Luck is opportunism, so recognise the easy path that no one else has noticed,” he says.

Most people assume the market will care about a startups products, when in fact they don’t says Croll.

“The question you’ve got to ask yourself is whether you’re being evil enough in your go to market strategy.”

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Victoria University and National Library connect through 3D

Perhaps it could be called an intersection of printing.

So, call it collaboration; a generally increasing awareness of additive manufacturing; or both Victoria University and the National Library’s desire to be more public – but a series of talks on 3D printing is to be commended as an attempt to bring an understanding to a wider audience.

The third of six talks on ‘3D Printed Futures’ takes place tomorrow (Sept 9) at the National Library, Molesworth St.

These are mostly short talks by VUW design students, and outlines much of the development to date of being able to make stuff yourself (provided you have the right design).

Alex Buckman, Victoria University design student talks at the National Library about a lampshade he had made by 3D printing at Shapeways

Alex Buckman, Victoria University design student talks at the National Library about a lampshade he had made by 3D printing at Shapeways

The Library’s also set up a few 3D printers itself, that people are welcome to use, provided it is in .STL format, though .OBJ will also work.

The collaboration’s an interesting mix – old and new, testing boundaries, looking to a digital future…and how all of us are going to be impacted by it.

The Wednesday Sept 9 (at 12.30) talk is on 3D printing in medical research.

Check out the Nat Library’s event page here for the next three lectures.

While you’re there, also check out some of the Library’s other displays – they’re treasures that not many people know about.

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BizDojo set to take its ‘co-working space’ model overseas

Part of Wellington's BizDojo, showing the all-important kitchen and cafe area

Part of Wellington’s BizDojo, showing the all-important kitchen and cafe area

I had the pleasure of working out of Wellington’s BizDojo about four years ago on a project to collate just who were the local Wellington  companies using R&D in their businesses.

If I had to give a description then, I’d have said it was a cool co-working space, and it would be interesting to see how it evolves.

Well, heck has it grown up.

Not only has the Wellington site on Vivian St moved upstairs and now has 90 or so fulltime residents in a swish ‘boy, I wished I worked there’ space, there’s another right next-door 70 x 50m2 space that is being developed to cater for companies of 1 – 12 people.

BizDojo’s main space sees the company started by Nick Shewring and Jonah Merchant, looking like it means business and fun at the same time. This is in no small way through the joint venture/working showroom arrangement with ‘Haworth by Europlan’ furniture that populates the office. There’s height adjustable (standing) desks, moveable tables and desks, quiet (soundproofed) cubicles and private meeting spaces dotted around the light and airy space.

A desk in this space costs $300/month, including the furniture, with all the wifi you can eat.

It is little wonder that some government workers/departments who use the space for one-off projects find their own employees wanting to permanently locate there.

Wellington isn’t the only location that is seeing the BizDojo model of co-workingness gelling with entrepreneurs and others who (like me) dislike working alone.

New Zealand’s now has 280 BizDojo (ers, ees, whatever the collective noun is) spread across its Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland sites.

But this co-working space is doing more than creating interconnections between individuals’ networks, skills and ideas.

As Shewring commented, there’s plenty of other co-working spaces tried to get off the ground in New Zealand (and around the rest of the world).

Shewring makes the observation that many of those other plays have been ‘rental’ arrangements…bums on seats.

In comparison (though naturally it has to make a profit), BizDojo’s success is very much based on its members’ success. When they do well, grow, take on more people, BizDojo does well. Of course the ultimate success is when the new company leaves its BizDojo home, and so far it can claim ??? have moved on, while staying close!

But wait, there’s more.

Shewring and Merchant believe they’re got the model humming along in the right way to replicate their system in other countries.

They’re now busy, very busy, looking to set up in other countries such as Thailand.

From what they’ve seen and observed, the collaborative networking (and fun) co-working spaces they’ve refined here, will work overseas.

Indeed, it can pretty easily be argued that this type of ‘office’ will increasingly become the norm as work develops.

Whether it is replicable remains to be seen.

But, if you don’t try you’ll never know – and given that one of the objectives of the collective BizDojos is to network across sites, you wouldn’t put it past being an under-the-radar conduit for Kiwi businesses looking to enter new markets…just like BizDojo itself.

(sticK is written by Peter Kerr, who also operates Punchline – Message that matter)

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Right…a way to crunch a business model from good research ideas

Here’s an interesting innovation move, one to be applauded.

It’s Startup Weekend Science and Research, in Wellington at Creative HQ from Friday July 3 to Sunday 5.

Interesting because its the first time a non-digital (as such) Startup Weekend event’s been done in NZ (France has beaten us to the draw). Most startup weekends like this are around apps or web-based functions – something that requires developers and designers.

This 54-hour marathon though has tangible products, something physical you can touch as the start point. It is open to all research-based ideas (the criteria for this is at the end of the blog).

SWRsch is to be applauded because it is:

  1. Delving into the unknown – the organisers aren’t quite sure how many people will attend
  2. Likely to lever off some of our country’s other strengths, be they our biological, manufacturing or other service industry areas of expertise
  3. (People still have to eat, move, experience, live and play in the real, physical world. Solving problems in these areas is just as important as in the online space)

It is also a good intiative because it potentially combines the ethos of startup weekends: speed to market, pace of (software) development, minimum viable product and the like; with what will often be a protectable intellectual property position from the research.

Finally, it could be quite exciting to see teams looking to develop deep technology on the Friday night, and frantically looking for someone such as a chemist or electrical engineer or food technologist, rather than desperately trying to find a coder/programmer.

The organisers are really wanting to attact PhD students – people with ideas, people who don’t necessarily want an academic/researcher role in their next career phase – to be part of the weekend.

To state the obvious, getting them along, en mass as a way of acquiring a range of skills over and above what they’ve learned doing their doctorate, is going to be the trick.

Here’s what the weekend organisers are looking for.

What is a research-based idea?

  • To be a good fit for #SWRsch your idea should meet (or come close to) the following criteria:
  • It will be based on a defined body of research e.g. a masters/doctorate project, market research, socio-economic research, data project, etc
  • It will require a degree of research and development to be a marketable product i.e. it is not already at the product stage (you may or may not have done a portion of this R&D already)
  • It will not have been widely commercialised yet i.e. you may have explored one market but think there is more potential to be realised yet
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At last…an innovation accelerator aimed at physical products

Right, something you can get your teeth into…literally – Lightning Lab Manufacturing.

So, instead of a 12 week accelerator to figure out how to take a digital idea out to the world, the same sort of programme but aimed at a physical product.


As I’ve commented before, we risk missing out on, and leveraging off the biological resource and manufacturing ideas that we (well hopefully) have abounding in our country. Heck, it could even be making and doing something better with the proverbial Number 8 wire! Obviously we need to move beyond commodities (as Fonterra’s milk powder based payout implodes), and these sort of events will encourage just that.

LL/M is now calling for applications from people who have prototypes, or even just an idea for a physical product, and who are prepared to spend three months validating and building their business model before pitching it to investors at a special Demo Day in November.

Like the digitally-oriented LLs, there will be intensive mentoring, networking and business upskilling – but this time for hardware rather than software.

Applications are due on June 26, though as an introductory evening at Wellington’s Creative HQ indicated on Tuesday 9 June, there could be a wee bit of flexibility around that deadline. This is especially so given that another non-digital initiative, Startup Weekend Science and Research is taking place in the capital beginning on July 3 (more on that in another blog).

Of interesting note for LL/M is the move to Wellington by Austin, Texas-based Shawn O’Keefe. He’s been the producer of SXSW Interactive for 14 years, and takes on the Programme Director role. O’Keefe’s bringing his young family over as well – which is obviously not something you do on a whim.

And, as O’Keefe said in introducing himself to us on Tuesday, “let’s make – we have no excuses anymore.” He’s particularly referring to 3D printing, hardware hacking, biometric sensors and the internet of things – among many things.

One point he made is that applicants don’t necessarily have to have a team around them (yet), nor a prototype.

An idea from a individual can then have those elements built around them.

There’s only going to be eight startups selected, from anywhere around the country.

If you get in, in return for 6% equity, teams receive $15,000 in startup financing, and $5,000 research funding from Callaghan Innovation…plus the pitch to investors in November.

Hopefully LL/M is swamped with applications. The organisers are agnostic about where in New Zealand these are from – the only priviso being that teams are prepared to work out of a (probably High Street) lab in Lower Hutt.

I’ll be interested to see how it pans out from a who can actually afford to be there point of view. The digital LL is mostly made up of young, single people – who have much more ability to live off the smell of an oily rag.

I’m guessing here, but suspect that physical product ideas are more likely to be from more mature people, often with families. Taking 12 weeks out of your life on minimal pay may simply be beyond do-able for many of these potential applicants.

Let’s hope I’m wrong on that.

Application forms, which can be filled out in draft form, then returned to for updating and submitting, are at: lightninglab.co.nz/manufacturing

Go on, take a bite out of it.

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