Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: Tech workers of the world, unite in Wellington

Webstock 2017. Photo / Juha Saarinen
Webstock 2017. Photo / Juha Saarinen

Like it or not, IT is in every part of society. We might not be coders or network gurus but most of us use technology in one way or another, for work, for entertainment, social interaction, education or for health.

Over the years, it's been interesting to observe how even niche tech conferences have evolved to cater for that reality.

This year, I finally attended Webstock in Wellington, which is in its twelfth year. On the face of it, a conference around web-related stuff sounds like Nerdvana, but that would be underselling Webstock because it offers heaps more than that.

In short, even if you and your organisation isn't that techie, if you can go to Webstock (or a similar conference), go. You will get an idea of how society will shape up over the next few years by talking to the people who will change parts of it, like how we work and interact.

I say "we" because many of the talks at Webstock touched on humans and how they can benefit from technology, and not the two in opposition to each other.

Which is great, and we need much more of that because technology makes an increasing number of us superfluous to requirements - unless you work in or with tech of course.

Until artificial intelligence learns enough to take over day to day tech tasks, workers will be needed to feed the digital transformation process which is unstoppable - and there's not enough techies around to fill all the jobs going at local tech companies.

In that vein, Wellington's Regional Economic Development Agency is trying to attract more seasoned tech workers to the capital. Immigration NZ are in on the LookSee programme with WREDA, which is casting its net offshore to bring in some 100 candidates for interviews in May this year, with flights and accommodation paid for.

Given how many billions slosh around in tech, LookSee is surprisingly small with a budget of just $300,000 WREDA's general manager of business growth and innovation, David Jones told me.

That however means that the programme will break even if it manages to lure just six people to Wellington, who in turn will contribute to the economy. If LookSee hits its target of 80 people being employed, Jones believes it'll add $4.5 million to the local economy.

Not bad if it comes off - and there are a number of sensible caveats including a finder's fee for employers, and a requirement to train locals too.

Wellington's banking on its moderate cost of living and great lifestyle to attract workers to the area. So no massive commutes like in Silicon Valley, because house prices and rents are insane and you'll spend your free time on the freeway instead of having fun.

That's a terrible irony: unless you're one of the elite who earn masses, life can really suck in the horrendously inequal cynosure of technology, to the point that quaky and windy Wellington can now use it to lure people away from Silicon Valley.

Trump's helping too of course, with his deranged policies that make people feel insecure about their future in their own country. Webstock organiser Mike Brown opened the conference by saying that some US speakers and attendees had cancelled this year, because of uncertainty around if their travel, which is remarkable to say the least.

The lesson then is that we can be competitive and attract top tech talent to the country, provided we don't do a Silicon Valley and remember that ultimately, people have lives to live and that goes beyond careers and earning money. We should probably work really hard on safeguarding and developing a New Zealand that can offer just that.

- NZ Herald

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