Kiwi codestars

By Robert Hickson 08/04/2015

On a per capita basis New Zealand, reputedly, is a hot spot for top computer coders. That’s according to an analysis by Venture Beat of rankings from Stack Overflow – a site where programmers rank each others answers to coding questions. That comes as a surprise. Sure we have innovative IT firms like Xero, TradeMe, Sidhe, Animation Research Ltd, and of course Weta Digital. But who knew that we could, relatively speaking, rank up along side Silicon Valley and London?

It’s not obvious from the Venture Beat report or the Stack Overflow data whether those top coders actually live in New Zealand, nor whether they are professionals already working for New Zealand (or international) IT companies or just “amateurs”. Are some of them largely unknown, but highly sought after, freelance coding superstars, with a high-powered US talent agent?

I assume that if others rank you highly at StackOverflow then you probably aren’t just some coding savant, able to answer nerdy questions but not create a great application or some kick-ass programme.

Given the direction technology is going, these are great skills to have, and New Zealand would likely benefit greatly if we can produce, attract and retain more of them, and have them work for New Zealand-based firms. How do we do that? Even companies like Xero struggle to get the IT skills it needs. Its CEO, Rod Drury,  has big ideas for what NZ could do to become a global attractor for digital life.

It usually takes more that a top coder to create a viable product, and become a significant company. But if we are already producing and attracting some great IT talent, that’s a great resource to build upon.

As the Venture Beat report indicates, all digital roads don’t lead to Northern California. But we can’t be complacent that top talent will want to stay, or come, here. To recruit a top team of software engineers who didn’t want to leave Denmark Google created a new office for them in their home town.

So, as Rod Drury points out, we need to think more strategically (and creatively) about what we can offer and the types of economic, intellectual and lifestyle factors that will appeal to the people the economy will need more of.