It’s the Software, Stupid

Just the other day our Prime Minister was asked (on Stuff’s live chat) what our most important growth industries were. His reply: food, tech manufacturing, and film making.

None of those scale as well as software.

It’s fantastic that without any particular incentive we’re building great software exporting companies (Vend, Xero, Marker Metro, our incredible NZ iOS devs, just to name a few). But I can’t help but feel that there’s massive opportunity there if we embrace it with more purpose than we are doing now.

I don’t mean incubators and start-up competitions. I mean incentives to get more people to become software developers, more kids to learn to code, and more companies to export bits & bytes.

Our tech sector is second only to dairy for export dollars, and it’s only getting better (as Lance recently points out)

Which would you rather have? 90 million human-equivalent shit-machines, or another few thousand nerds coding away in trendy offices?


  1. I worry that most of the efforts currently underway to ‘help’ the technology industry are at best misguided. Focus on tech education seems to have left us with dozens of shitty ‘IT academies’, focus on startups has left us with lots of competitions and a big white elephant office in SF.

    Maybe (ha!) I’m an irredeemable cynic, but I’d prefer we had less of those things…

    1. Great comment, but if you look at some of the issues in our ver small pond.

      Vend (needs 29 developer right now), Xero, Orion Health are all hiring like crazy. Soon NZ is going to be the worst place to create a startup because all the talent has been sucked into these companies.

      Yet on the flipside of my own argument, this would mean silicon valley would suck with all these startups. It doesn’t. It atracks a huge goldmine of talent from around the world.

      @deepred commented that NZ suffers from a “we are too small complex”. I highly disagree in the comment and in my circles I can see many many people thinking on a global scale. The perception I have is that NZ companies keep very quite about their success and we suffer more from a tall poppy syndrom than anything else.

      As Koz pointed out, money is just money, it doesn’t really create creativity. The IT community really needs to inspire the next group of developers and to be honest to employe a UNI student or School leaver with their first job, because that first job will be the job they stick with. It really is that first break that will continue that next round of professionals.

  2. +1 Koz’s response.

    Education and driving additional talent into the NZ market is super important. We can achieve that partly through having great companies (note: in my book, a great company is a profitable company, not currently surviving off investment, but that’s a discussion for another day).

    If we were serious about being a technology led country we could simply start with making something akin to software development a mandatory subject in high school.

    There’s so many opportunities to create a step change in our IT sector that it’s often paralysing to consider which area to tackle first. Kudos to the likes of Pacific Fibre for tackling one part of it – but even for a project of that magnitude there are likely a hundred more needed to really make NZ a tech super star.

  3. After mulling on this further, perhaps incentive is the wrong term. My gut feel is we need to be glorifying the software developer as much (or more) as we do the dairy farmer.

    Young Coder of the Year.
    Replace the regular “Farming News” segments on radio and TV with “Software news”.
    A software “National Field Days”


  4. This is exactly like the challenge you get in SimCity when you end up with a thriving farming industry & no high tech coming into town πŸ™‚ Sometimes you have to bulldoze those farms and take some backwards steps in order to move forward.

    You can’t make this happen by force, kids have to want to get into high tech and the only way to do that starts in pre-school. Getting kids building, making & learning about science and engineering without them really knowing that is what is going on. Later on they will naturally be drawn to those things because of this.

    NZ main problem detracting kids from this (IMHO) is the male attitudes. Being a geek doesn’t fit with the beer swilling rugby head image that much of the country aspires to.

    Make tech people kids idols, get them interested in engineering and science early & things will start heading in the right direction IMHO.

  5. Hi there, Ben.

    Three years ago, my business partner and I relocated our IT company from South Africa to Chch for the very reason that software development seemed to be a developing market full of potential (and untapped skills) here in NZ.

    It has taken a while but we now have a viable business capable of supporting our goal of training a few youngsters in LAMP development. Our first trainee studied for a while at some IT college but says he has learnt heaps more simply by working with us “greybeards” πŸ™‚

    Jokes aside, we firmly believe that the youth are the key to a strong IT infrastructure for the country and just wish that there were more companies out there like us that would be prepared to take-on youngsters and train them up.

    It would be awesome if we could somehow get John Key to support software development to the same extent that he seems to support the film industry.


  6. Glorify software developers? I doubt that society cares.

    I am not one of these “lets get everybody programming”. Most are not interested and cannot see the benefit. The few that do will have a passion to sustain them. I am not against espousing the benefits of a career in software but I just think that concentrating on how well paid it is as a career is putting a nail in the coffin of passion.

    Tech manufacture is great for governments because there is a physical thing they can point at. Politicians like to have something they can point to as being associated with them. Just look at the NZI3 building at the University of Canterbury; 10M mostly going into a building instead of into researchers and chairs.

    Also, if you keep looking to government to help you get your business of the ground then you don’t really have much of a business do you? The last thing you really ever want top do is rely on someone else to help make your business a success, especially if (fickle) politicians are involved.

  7. I am very pleased to find this blog. I want to thank for your time for this wonderful read!!! Keep Sharing, I’ll surely be looking for more.

  8. Pleased I stopped to check out a few other posts on your site, Ben. This one, too, is bang on the money, thought I also agree with others (above) that it’s about our government making NZ the place where developers want to live and where software development happens. It means doing stuff like rejecting the TPPA’s IP chapters. Rather than trying to “help us”, it means the gov’t getting out of our way. Doing things like giving us a Fair Deal, and not sacrificing our future prosperity by hitching our wagon to a sinking ship like the US…

  9. It brings to mind an essay from 2003 by David Harris of Pegasus Mail fame. The problem he basically referred to is a form of cargo-cultist cringe:

    “New Zealand is in real danger of becoming a McDonalds nation – nothing more than a bland plastic replica of suburban USA – simply because we can’t seem to believe that we are as good as we are, or that our own culture and expertise have the value they do. As long as we remain focused on the trap of being “Little America”, we’re ignoring our greatest strengths: our individuality, our number-8-wire approach to finding novel solutions to problems, and an inherent humanity that believes that there might be more or better reasons for doing something than just the bucks in the bank.”

    And Germaine Greer said something similar about her native Australia the year after:

    β€œLife in Australia is neither urban nor rural but suburban. If your ambition is to live on Ramsay Street, where nobody has ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie, let alone an international event, then Australia may be the place for you.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.