Silicon Valley careers down under

Skills shortage looming as Xero, Zeacom and Orion ramp up development

Kiwi developers may no longer need to travel to achieve a global career, as local software companies offer opportunities similar to those available in the iconic Silicon Valley.

Xero founder Rod Drury is urging developers to ditch traditional IT jobs in favour of working for software companies that offer high salaries and share options.

"There are lots of developers doing stuff, but they are building intranets and the latest government website and fee for service work," he says. "But what has happened now with Software as a Service, we're now showing real revenue. Just as with Facebook and Google we've got these monetisation machines and how do you make that faster? Well you deliver more."

Drury says it is hard to get developers interested. "We have this cultural thing we need to change. How do we tell people there are now Silicon Valley type careers, complete with shares and building significant global careers?"

He says the software industry in New Zealand has matured to such an extent that it can offer developers secure career options. "We imagine having hundreds of developers in the next two years so we have got a real shortage coming up."

"One of the perceptions we see is that a lot of people think Xero is done and nothing could be further from the truth. It's just like Facebook where now that we've got the core engine built and it's going very well there are all sorts of opportunities to do really interesting projects around the side," Drury says.

Xero has attracted $4 million of investment from Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who contributed to Facebook in its early phase. Thiel, through his New Zealand investment vehicle Valar Ventures LP has also invested in Pacific Fibre -- the company founded by Drury, Sam Morgan, Stephen Tindall and others to build a second international telecommunications cable connection New Zealand, Australia and the US.

Orion CEO Ian McCrae says his company has boosted its development team by 50 percent in the past 12 months -- and it intends to double the 150-strong team in the coming year. It outsources work to three local development houses and one in India.

In addition to its Auckland premises Orion has opened offices in Christchurch and Canberra, Australia. "We might be causing the shortage," he says.

Zeacom, a company that exports unified communications and contact centre solutions to Australia, US and the UK is currently looking for 11 staff to join its 50-strong research and development team in Auckland. CEO Miles Valentine says he expects it will take four months to fill the roles, with developers, business analysts, usability/designers and project managers needed.

He says salaries and other benefits, "very much depends on their role and demand and supply. A senior .Net developer would be paid at the top end of the developer range, which would be getting up to $130,000, $140,000 a year."

The company has shied away from offering share incentives because of tax implications.

However, it does have a long-term incentive programme based around a cash payout in the event of a sale.

Valentine says that six of the 11 jobs have been created because the company was awarded a $2.11 million grant as part of the government's new $92 million Technology Grant programme late last year.

Zeacom had intended to move to larger premises in Auckland, but when the bill for a move came to $1.2 million they decided to stay put and renovate their existing offices. Valentine says the renovation was based on what he saw at a Better by Design event in Silicon Valley, where there were "rooms full of bean bags, rooms full of foam balls and those exercise balls for chairs."

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