New Zealand isn’t just a travel destination, says Mark Pascall. If you’re a web professional after a change of scene, you should give it serious consideration
This article first appeared in issue 231 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
For a sparsely populated country in the middle of the Pacific, New Zealand has plenty going on in the web and digital space. Each year it attracts more than 230,000 UK visitors; many end up working or living there.
I grew up in Kent and in my twenties headed off in search of windy places (I was crazy about windsurfing). I ended up in Wellington, NZ (the windiest city in the Southern hemisphere) – and kept extending my stay until I realised I’d find it difficult to go home. I worked as a dev, taking the leap a few years ago and setting up my own business: 3months. We have 15 staff, specialise in the Ruby on Rails/Agile/bespoke development space and have got involved in some very cool web projects, both in NZ and in the US.
Life down under
New Zealand is not too different in size to the UK but has around 4.3million people (compared with the UK’s 62million) – mostly in the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch regions. It has a political/legal system that’s similar to the UK; the beaches, forests and mountains are some of the most beautiful in the world and for most people are very accessible. The climate is better than the UK: more sunshine even in the depths of winter.
In my opinion much of NZ’s uniqueness stems from the small population, the isolation from the rest of the world and the beautiful landscape. Generally things are less stressful: buying a house, arranging insurance, parking the car and getting a job all just seem easier. But gaining enemies or a bad reputation is likely to come back to haunt you. This is especially true in the business world, where a bad reputation can very quickly spread. I think this makes people act with a little more integrity.
I’ve always lived and worked in Wellington. Lonely Planet calls it the “coolest little capital city in the world”. It’s a harbour city surrounded by hills, meaning the central city (population similar to Southampton) is compressed into a small area. There’s an abundance of arts, sports and cultural events, it’s the sort of place you can walk down the street and bump into somebody you know – and you can get away with not having a car.
Wellington tech space
Wellington is a hub for all things web and digital. It’s home to the government, Weta Digital (which made Lord of the Rings, and has around 700 staff and a 5,000-server data centre), Xero (the accounting SaaS product), Trademe (NZ’s eBay equivalent) and Webstock (an annual conference pulling some of the world’s best known speakers).
Wellington also has many small web firms. The ease of getting places and the cafe culture encourages collaboration between companies and freelancers. The high number of startups and the fact one of the Ruby on Rails core team lives in Wellington has fostered a strong Rails community.
The global recession hasn’t affected NZ as badly as the UK and many in the web/digital space have seen little change. Generally if you’re young, have a relevant qualification and some experience then getting a work visa isn’t too hard. ‘Multimedia Designer’ and ‘Web Developer’ are on the NZ immigration department’s list of in-demand skills. You should sort out your work visa before arrival, but we have employed people who have turned up on a visitor visa and then decided to go for a job. Obviously it’s easier finding one if you are physically here; Trade Me or Seek are the places to look online.
In Wellington the word is that some high-end design and ad agencies have suffered in the recession, but more technical software companies seem fine. Finding good Ruby on Rails developers and people with great technical frontend skills is hard for us, and Trademe and Xero are always after good frontend and backend people.
Wellington combines being central to a world-class digital community with a healthy, balanced life. I bike to work, in summer hit the beach on my lunch and at weekends indulge my passions: kitesurfing, mountain biking and skiing.