Q&A WITH SIGNAL’S DIRECTOR, STUART CHARTERS

CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT SIGNAL?
SIGNAL is a collaboration of University of Canterbury, Lincoln University, Ara Institute of Canterbury, University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic. We are all about growing and developing tech professionals for New Zealand. We offer a range of courses to encourage people into the profession and to develop those who are in the profession already.
We got government funding at the end of 2016 and worked over the summer to get the physical premise up and running. We opened our doors in Feb 2017 and have just started with our Christchurch cohort Shift students here in Christchurch, following on from our first cohort in Dunedin.
WHY DID YOU GET INTO THE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY?
Part of me has always been a bit of a gadget boy, but I think as I’ve carried on, what I enjoy is the problem-solving side of things. That creative side which exists both in programming and in the physical computing side of things like playing with Raspberry Pi and Arduinol.
DO YOU THINK ATTITUDES TOWARDS TECHNOLOGY HAVE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
I think if we go way back, we had mainframes and things and they were these big expensive machines and people were relatively cheap. Now it’s around the other way, the technology is accessible but people are expensive. That’s been a big shift in the industry.
You see that as well with the way people are building software. Moving from plan driven approaches like waterfall with the bigger move to more agile approaches, and having the customer as part of the conversation.
FOR THE CANTERBURY TECH SECTOR, WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT SEEING?
There’s a huge diversity of things going on, you’ve got big firms like Jade, Tait and Vodafone. You’ve also got the small firms who are doing some niche and innovative stuff. I think there is a good tech community in Christchurch; the Tech Cluster and Summit really show that. You talk to people from Auckland and people don’t travel across the city to go to events because it is just too difficult. Wellington has the big government sector which distorts things. Christchurch is a nice community that is big enough, without being too big.
WHAT SKILL AREAS ARE LACKING IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?
I think there is a range of things happening. One is that there is, in many cases, a shortage of people across a range of different skills. One of the disadvantages of having many small companies is that there isn’t the willingness to take on junior people to develop them. Whilst there will be technical skills that people struggle to recruit in, it’s our responsibility to feed the pipeline. We might not find the person that we need but we need to grow people to be able to fill those roles.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY?
One of the big things is that the industry needs and values diversity. You may not have a strong set of tech skills but you need to be aware of the skills package that you do bring. Not everybody’s role in tech is programming or development. The same roles exist as in every organisation; sales, marketing, HR. They are also important in growing tech companies.
THE THEME OF THE CANTERBURY TECH SUMMIT IS ‘GROW’, WHAT SORT OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR INDIVIDUALS WANTING TO GROW IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?
It’s about where your passion is; what gets you out of bed in the morning. You need to consider how to hold onto that passion and identify what growth looks like for you. It may be developing a set of technical skills or having the ability to share those skills with other people. It may be a move towards people leadership. We need strong and capable people in all those different roles.
WHY DO YOU SUPPORT THE CANTERBURY TECH SUMMIT?
We see the Christchurch tech sector as a fantastic place for technology and the Tech Cluster is a great environment to meet people. The Summit has great speakers coming and while you don’t get everybody in the sector together in the one place, you get as near as you can. It’s great to meet up with old friends and to meet new people as well.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST AT THIS YEAR’S SUMMIT?
Getting a chance to get the word out about what SIGNAL is and what we are doing. We started on this journey three years ago and now that we are up and launched, we are really excited to share that with people.

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