Wellington start-up benefits from summer interns

Free labour for local start-up, valuable experience for IT students

For two Wellington IT students, a two week internship at a local startup has given them not only valuable work experience - but reaffirmed their desire to work in the IT industry.

Samuel Haktka and Ian Sommerville are Bachelor of IT students at the Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec). During the recent summer holidays the pair interned at Wellington-based software company, Yonix.

Since that time Somerville has been hired as a part-time developer for Yonix, working around his study hours at WelTec, and Haktka gets called in to lend a hand when the company needs him.

Haktka, who is 20 years old, says his experience at a real-world technology company has shown him what he can do with his university training.

“I’ve told everyone since working with Yonix that it proved to me that what I’m studying is the right thing career-wise,” says Haktka.

“If I get the opportunity I’ll gladly do it again.”

Jody Bullen, CEO of Yonix, says it is not just the interns who benefit from work placement programmes, but host companies also have a lot to gain from similar schemes.

Yonix develops cloud software for business analysts to create and manage requirement documents and RFPs. Its customers include the Wellington City Council, Capital and Coast District Health Board, and Scion Research which is a Crown Research Institute.

Bullen founded the company in 2008 while working as a business analyst for the Animal Health Board’s VectorNet bovine tuberculosis control project. This project earned him Computerworld’s Business Analyst of the Year award for 2009.

Bullen approached the two WelTec students through Grow Wellington, a business development group aimed at helping high growth export-oriented Wellington businesses.

He says without the help of Haktka and Sommerville, Yonix could still be lacking an important feature in its product which he says was a “game changer” for his company.

“We gave community licences to 50 business analysts to try and gain some insight into what we could do better. What we found was there was a lot of initial interest and use, but this would drop off severely,” says Bullen.

He says the feedback showed that the business analysts were hesitant to continue using Yonix because so much of their current project work was tied up in Microsoft Word documents, which Yonix did not have an import tool for.

Bullen gave Haktka and Sommerville the task of creating a prototype import tool to showcase the functionality to stakeholders and customers.

“I expected in the two weeks to get a very rough prototype. By the end of the first two days they had a working prototype going, I was impressed,” says Bullen.

By the end of their internship, Haktka and Sommerville had taken the document import feature to 70 percent completion. Last month, the feature went live into Yonix’s production environment.

“It’s not bad for what was essentially free labour,” Bullen jokes.

Sommerville’s work in particular caught Bullen’s eye, who went on to secure a grant from the Ministry of Science and Innovation to offer him an extended paid internship at the end of the initial two weeks.

Bullen says for startups like his, keeping costs down is crucial in order to attract investors and maintain a viable business. The same amount of work could have cost up to $20,000 if a senior developer had to be employed for the project, according to Bullen.

Bullen says not all interns are created equally, and that businesses should expect to have a few which do not fit their needs.

“At the same time we had one other intern working for us. It was quickly apparent that he wasn’t up to scratch for what we needed. He was well out of his comfort zone,” says Bullen.

Bullen says he had to let the intern go.

“These internships work both ways. We provide as much help and advice and mentoring as we can, but in return we need them to deliver what we set out. At the end of the day we are still a business.”

Bullen’s advice to other technology companies considering taking on interns is to give them challenging tasks, which will give them a better appreciation of the industry.

“It’s important to give them the right kind of work. Don’t dissuade them with boring data entry or testing roles, especially if they demonstrate they’re capable of so much more than that,” says Bullen.

Would Yonix hire more interns?

Bullen says it already has, mainly overseas business students - but the company plans on taking on more interns from New Zealand tertiary institutes in the near future.

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