Gray Hockley is living her dream working as a software developer for Palmerston North technology company Levno.
Hockley, 27, describes herself as "a bit of a tech geek". A gamer from a young age, she's always enjoyed staying up with the latest developments in technology, whether it's new virtual reality headsets or robots.
Despite her keen interest in all things technological, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do when she left school. Originally from Feilding, Hockley spent her early 20s bouncing around the country working in retail and fast-food jobs. She dabbled in university papers too but was uninspired.
Then one day in 2018, she was out on a one-day job trial with a weed spraying company and she had a realisation that would change the course of her life.
"We were basically just traipsing around the forest all day trying to spot a weed so that it could be sprayed. I was thinking to myself, this would be so much easier if we had a drone with a camera on it. We could just fly over all the bush to spot the weed, then we'd know exactly where to go."
In that moment, she realised she could put her passion for tech to good use and make labour-intensive jobs like that one more efficient. When she got home that afternoon she applied to study software engineering at Massey University.
By the end of 2021, Hockley was well on her way to completing her studies and had two more papers lined up for 2022, then she could graduate. With the summer break approaching, she needed to find a job, but she wasn't keen on working in retail as she had in previous years.
It was during this time she attended a tech meetup in the city. The monthly networking event was open to people working in or interested in the technology sector.
Hockley had worked on a software project with Jonathan Giles, a principal Java architect from Microsoft, at university and he convinced her to check it out. While there, she took the opportunity to give her curriculum vitae to Manawa Tech executive officer Steve Pavarno. He passed it on to Levno and days later the company offered Hockley a paid 12-week summer internship.
"It was crazy," she says. "Within the span of a week I went from thinking 'oh no I have to get back on the job hunt and work in some crappy retail job over Christmas', to suddenly, 'oh my god! I'm gonna get paid to work fulltime in the job that I've been wanting to work in all this time'."
At the end of her internship, Levno offered her a fulltime position as a software developer. The company was a great fit for her, so she jumped at it.
Levno develops on-farm systems that monitor milk, fuel, effluent, water and feed. The data is then fed through to the Levno team, who process it into readable data. Hockley says they can alert farmers to issues such as water leaks and malfunctioning equipment via text message.
Her role involves maintaining Levno's mobile app. She uses her knowledge of software coding to add new features and fix bugs, to optimise the customer's experience.
For Hockley, the joy comes from working within the boundaries of coding and creating something new.
"I'm sat here watching my lines of code, and then you hit 'go' and the world can see it on the app store. It's like, 'there it is. I made that! Look, it's all shiny'."
Learning to code has been a steep learning curve but as "the baby of the team" she draws on the experience of her colleagues.
"I have to ask lots of questions, but everyone is happy to explain and coach me on how things work and how to do things in the future."
Six months into her role, she's still just as excited about working in the technology sector as she was when she signed up for her degree. She loves her job and is earning decent money.
She will complete her degree this year and the future is looking bright.
So, what's it like being a tech person living and working in Palmerston North?
"I'm having a blast. So far everyone I've met in the industry has just been so friendly and eager to help me."
She encourages anyone with an interest in working in tech to follow their passion.