Building the network in IT

In this research journal entry I would like to cover a technology related event I attended whilst in Wellington last week, the event was very motivating for me and I believe there are several lessons that can be learnt from it.

During the term break I headed up to Wellington to work for a week and on the Saturday I was up there I attended Code Camp Wellington. I assumed this to be a coding workshop full of students and new grads learning about and experimenting with the latest technologies from technology educators.

What I found was quite different, a very interesting and sociable technology conference; full of developers from all levels of the development hierarchy: senior, intermediate, junior devs as well as mature students trying to get into the IT profession. The suprising thing was there were very few IT students attending even though the event was free, and on a weekend during the middle of the term break.

The conference was held in the offices of TradeMe and Xero which are neighbors in Market Lane in Wellington.

The conference started with a superb keynote speech by Marie-Clare Andrews a Wellington IT startup entrepreneur who founded ShowGizmo the most successful events app in Australasia. In her speech she argued that Wellington was the best place to be for tech in the world at the moment. Why is this? Well Wellington has a diverse culture resulting from wide-scale immigration bringing in people of different cultures and as we all know the more diverse a development team (in terms of gender, race, culture, and socioeconomic background) the better the product tends to be because the team has a better understanding and empathy for all users.

The second reason she argued for Wellington was that it has a small CBD, being crammed in between the hills and the sea, making it easier for people to meetup, collaborate and swap ideas as opposed to Auckland which is far more spread out.

The key take away message from her speech was that this event we were all attending was a networking opportunity. Time and again I heard from many people throughout the day that networking is vitally important to your tech career. 80% of IT jobs are not advertised but are filled through referrals from existing staff, so the more tech people you know the better your chances to get a job through them.

The more you can build your network the greater chance of success you have of getting a great IT job. Where and when can you network? Well by attending events like this, joining meetup groups (https://www.meetup.com/), attending events like Startup Weekend Wellington, hackfests, and so on. In a city such as Wellington there are many opportunities for technologists of all skill sets and ages to meet with other developers learn from them and gain knowledge and employment.

Personally I was initially nervous in walking up to complete strangers who could be very senior developers without being introduced, and making small talk, being of a shy disposition and only just starting in this industry. However what I found is it really isn’t all that hard, all you do is walk up to them, smile, introduce yourself, and ask them about themselves. After hearing them describe themselves you get a pretty good idea what they are interested in, or any commonalities between the two of you and the conversation is easy from there.

Not only is it good from a career point of view but you can learn a huge amount from these networking events for example after this very inspirational talk from Marie-Clare I choose 6 other presentations to attend out of a potential 24. I would like to cover what I learnt in two of my favorite presentations:

Machine learning – Brad Stillwell, a senior developer at Xero, gave a fascinating talk about machine learning in general and specifically what supervisor machine learning is. Supervisor machine learning is effectively where you give a machine learning algorithm an associated set of inputs and their outputs as test data and the algorithm builds an association between the inputs and outputs so if you give it another input it can predict the output. In much the same way as our brain creates a network between neurons when we learn the equivalent of an English word in another language. We must build a connection to associate between our native language and that of the new language.

Another example is supplying a supervisor machine learning algorithm with a collection of input data for example fruit descriptions and output data fruit names:

Apple – Crunchy and green

Carrot – Crunchy and orange

Tomato – Red and round

You can train it to predict what fruit name is associated with a particular description. For example if I hand the machine learning algorithm the input of crunchy it will predict the fruit associated with that description is a apple. Notice that crunchy is associated with both apple and carrot and so why did it predict apple rather than carrot well this can be due to the frequency of ‘crunchy’ being associated with apples rather than carrots. So if our test data contains 5 apple instances and only 2 carrot instances then the machine learning algorithm has ‘learnt’ that crunchy is more likely to be associated with apples than carrots.

Career surgery – This was a sit down discussion rather than a formal presentation. Members of the audience asked a IT recruiter questions about how to gain employment in the tech industry in Wellington. It was particularly interesting hearing from people moving into the tech industry from other fields and how they had found trouble with trying to find employment.

There were people that were moving from marine biology into software development and data analysis and they were asking how could their skills from a scientific background be marketed in a CV to gain employment in tech. The recruiter gave the advice to market how they had analytical skills, attention to detail, and problem solving skills from their scientific background.

So in essence this talk taught me that whatever your background there are always skills you can take and use to market yourself  for a tech role.

So all in all the message I took away from attending this event is it is vital to network, attend events such as this and put yourself out of your comfort zone, to this end I have decided to attend Startup Weekend Wellington (http://communities.techstars.com/new-zealand/wellington/startup-weekend/10344) a 54 hour event to propose an idea, get into teams, found a startup company, build a product, and present the idea to tech leaders. A intense, competitive, and collaborative weekend getting hands on experience at starting a tech startup.