We need more ‘T-shaped thinkers’ – people who are highly skilled in one area but also have knowledge or expertise in many areas.
As executive GM of partner products at Xero, a lot of my thinking is around how we can build and support the best team to continue to do innovative work.
A large part of that is down to how we get young people excited about digital technologies so that New Zealand has a large, capable workforce in the future, and breaking the mould in terms of the types of people employed in tech.
Why young people should pursue a career in tech
There are a number of reasons why a career in tech can be incredibly rewarding, and first and foremost that’s around the work we, as tech people, do. Since the birth and growth of Silicon Valley, technology companies have been started by people who want to do things differently, so wanting to change the way we work and pushing boundaries is in our DNA.
There’s nothing more satisfying than producing products, apps, programs and systems that improve people’s lives. How cool is it to be able to be at the cutting edge of innovation and have a chance to shape the future and make a positive difference to people’s lives at the same time.
As well as creating innovative products, tech companies are also at the forefront of thinking about what makes a great workplace. A big part of what can make a great workplace is flexibility to allow your job to fit in with your life – whether you do volunteering, run a start-up on the side, need to finish work at 3pm to pick up the kids from school, want to work from home occasionally, or prefer to start work late and finish late.
Tech companies support, or even encourage, different styles of working and a flexibility that our grandparents’ generation never had.
Getting young people excited about digital technologies
The recent introduction of a digital technologies curriculum in schools has been an important first step in preparing students for a future career in tech, but New Zealand still has a lot of work to do.
Currently, high school students can gain achievement standards in creative digital technology (making stuff, not just using productivity applications) as part of NCEA, but digital technologies is not mandatory and whether it’s even offered is dependant on each individual school. A lot of teachers also don’t feel confident enough in this area to actually teach it – although there are lots of schools across the country where very capable, very driven people do amazing things.
Frances Valintine, along with the Mind Lab’s most recent initiative, the Digital Passport, continues the work of Tim Bell and others in making a big difference to getting students involved and excited about digital technologies, by empowering teachers to teach the digital curriculum with confidence. This is a huge step towards getting digital technologies into every school and for every student to get involved, from primary school right through to high school.
There are so many ways for school leavers to get a foot into the tech industry.
Companies like Xero offer a full range of opportunities – and it’s not uncommon for some of our senior people to have started in entry-level roles. If a school leaver is a bright person who understands people, who has plenty of empathy, who enjoys solving problems and is reasonably tech-savvy, there are opportunities for them in tech.
If a school leaver is a bright person who understands people, who has plenty of empathy, who enjoys solving problems and is reasonably tech-savvy, there are opportunities for them in tech.
Breaking the mould
It’s important to move away from the misconception that tech companies only seek young men who are highly skilled coders. We don’t want a team full of introverts who are ultra competitive – that’s actually pretty difficult to manage.
Modern software development is a highly collaborative process, so we really value people with all levels of social skills, interests and personality types.
We need more ‘T-shaped thinkers’ – people who are highly skilled in one area but also have knowledge or expertise in many areas. It is when a team hits that diversity sweet spot that the magic happens, and to do that, we need to be hiring outside of that stereotype.
It’s no secret that women are really underrepresented in the technology industry. Any time we are missing out on hiring a whole group of people, we are doing ourselves a massive disservice. But it’s not just women who are often put off working in software teams, it is also young men who don’t think they fit the mould.
Everyone who breaks the mould brings something different to a team, which can be a really positive thing. If we can bring anyone in who is not just thinking about how to be a better coder but is also thinking about how to communicate, how to collaborate, how to motivate, that’s when software teams really thrive.
At Xero, we’re working hard to attract the very best people, regardless of, or even because, they are ‘different’. It’s this ‘difference’ that creates diversity of thought and that benefits businesses the most as it is more reflective of our customer base.
Gareth Cronin is executive GM of partner products at Xero
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