Overseas tech skillsOverseas readers wanted to know how New Zealand is filling its tech industry vacancies. Here is my story published earlier this year in London-based Computer Weekly. 

Wellington is as far as you can fly from Heathrow before you start coming back. New Zealand’s capital is almost 19,000km and at least 24 hours away. The city is small by European standards, with only 200,000 people calling it home.

And yet Wellington is a regional technology hub. It is the nation’s biggest technology user and the government is based there. Wellington is also home to Weta Workshop, established by director Peter Jackson to create computer graphics for The Lord of the Rings movies. It is where New Zealand technology entrepreneur Rod Drury began Xero, the small business accounting software-as-a-service market leader. Dozens of small tech startups inhabit buildings all over the small South Pacific city.

Read more in New Zealand calls for tech specialists at Computer Weekly

White hat hackers

Ethical hackers, a growing band of computer professionals, use their skills to work out of hours on projects benefitting society.

Don Christie, founder and director of Wellington’s largest open source service and cloud computing service provider Catalyst, is happy if developers and other IT professionals working for the firm moonlight as hackers.

Thanks to the media, hacker is a term usually associated with people who do bad things with computers. However, the word has taken on a more positive meaning in technology circles. In that world hacking is the art of taking things apart, then putting them back together in ways that are better or where they do something that was never the original designer’s intent.

Read the full story at the ANZ Bank’s Your World site: Meet the weekend ethical hackers.

Massey University Albany Auckland

Tomorrow night I’m chairing an interactive panel discussion on the skills challenge facing New Zealand technology companies. It’s part of Massey University’s ecentre cloud series.  The session starts at 5:30 at the Sir Neil Waters Building, Massey University Albany.

Innovative companies depend on talented knowledge workers. They are in short supply everywhere, New Zealand is no different from other western nations. Yet with our innovators going through a golden age, the problem is particularly acute now.

This certainly is a golden age for New Zealand innovators. A whole raft of entrepreneurial companies are taking leading edge technology products and services to the world. We’ve always had innovators, but Xero’s global success has inspired others to shoot for bigger goals. Vend, the Wynyard Group, E-Road and PowerbyProxi are some of the best known.

For every high-profile innovator that you’ve read about in the business pages there are dozens of smaller companies queueing up behind.

It’s exciting times.  For the first time in history we are creating a new wave of exactly the kind of high growth technology companies our economy needs to lift us from relying on producing commodities. Exciting times, but also worrying times because fewer students are signing up for courses in the subjects that feed these industries:  science, technology, engineering and maths. It’s not just at the university level, school students are turning their backs on these subjects.

We can shake our heads, complain and make loud noises about this problem — that’s an understandable response. But the centre cloud discussion panel is going to look for answers. The plan is for people to come away from the session with a better idea of the shape of the problem and some positive ideas about how to fix it.

Businesses in Australia and New Zealand are not getting the results they hoped for from big data projects. Less than one in eight report success with their strategies.

Among other issues, they have trouble finding people with the skills needed to make sense of the technology. They also struggle as poor communications mean company departments are unable to co-operate on the level needed to gather data for analysis.

The problems come to light in an Economist Intelligence Unit research paper sponsored by Hitachi Data Systems. The EIU reports a lack of in-house skills is the biggest barrier to adopting big data in Australia and New Zealand.

Companies also say a lack of suitable software and issues with over-complicated reports are problems.

The survey found nearly 40 percent of organisations don’t have a big data strategy because they can’t see a path around the skills and communications challenges.

Big data expectations

Despite the drawbacks, respondents think big data can improve their businesses.

The report says 92 percent of businesses rely on internal data, while 53 percent take data from third-party providers, 37 percent use social media sources for data insight.

Machine generated data is on the rise with 20 percent of companies using sensors, smart grid, RFID, network logs and telematics.

Helen Sword’s Wasteline Test is a great online writing improvement tool.

You cut and paste your writing into a box, hit the button and the software scans your words.

The Wasteline Test counts and highlights the weak verbs, abstract nouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and waste words. It then gives you a ranking from lean, through fit and trim all the way up to heart attack.

New Zealand academic Sword designed her test to help university students improve their writing skills. She has also written a book, The Writer’s Diet.

The Test works just as well for most types of writing. It’s always good practice to write as short and snappily as possible. This will help.