Done properly, the “overseas experience” that so many New Zealanders seek can work wonders for your IT career.
As this column has noted many times, huge fortunes can be made in London, Dublin, New York and other centres — just ideal for paying off that student loan, MCSE course fees or other financial burden.
Pinnacle recruitment head Ross Turner seems travel’s keenest advocate, saying “school is for schooling and travel is for experience”.
Turner has worked in IT in Europe, Australia and the US, and says you are never too old to take off. “Travel broadens the individual’s approach to life. It shows there are other ways of doing things; you gain cross-cultural sensitivities and experience,” he says.
Turner says it is better for techies to go with work experience in what they are qualified for, but even without it, “travel builds character and depth and won’t hurt anybody”. People funding their own trips, as well as education, are also seen as better to employers than those who have it given on a plate. “They [who have it all paid for] do not have the same zest for life or approach or attitudes. Attitude is the key thing to have,” he says.
Turner’s advice is “just do it, don’t think it through”.
Hewlett-Packard New Zealand managing director Barry Hastings says travel is “a must for every New Zealander, from a life experience view”.
Hastings worked in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and says he would not be the same person or in the same job without the experience gained from his travels. Looking around his office, he says there are five people in their mid to late 20s who have been overseas and are better people for it.
“Some haven’t and they are different people. I encourage them to plan and take some time off and go,” he says.
Enterprise recruitment firm’s Rick Chapman says an OE is good if it is relevant to a professional’s career, but bad if people use it as a holiday and their skills become obsolete.
Chapman says one Kiwi recently gained a year’s experience here before heading to London for a few years, where he used Java extensively.
“The chap came back to New Zealand to be the boss of the people he left behind, earning substantially more than he would have dreamed of before going. Yet someone with a computing degree that goes straight to the UK and does bar work [or similar] and then comes back will be competing against fresh grads for entry-level roles,” he says.
Chapman and ANZ bank business e-commerce head Greg Dyer say travel gave them time to decide on their career.
“Educate yourself along the way and look to use the experience as an opportunity to develop yourself as a person,” says Dyer. “From an employer’s perspective, I would see it as an advantage if someone has worked in a similar environment overseas.”
Wel Technology financial controller Michael Oliver spent seven years in the UK, and says gaining work experience before travelling makes it easier to settle down in a job overseas.
“Work for very large organisations [is] very pressurised and deadline-driven. You will work all hours to get the job done, especially in temping as this is expected. Then they will know you will take a six-month holiday and go travelling, but you will work all hours as you are being paid and know it’s not happening forever.”
New Zealand employers, Oliver says, do not mind people taking time out as long as it is not too long and there is a good reason for it. “Better muck around in Greece than in London, where you should have a real job,” he says.
However, not all Kiwis want an OE. Phill Dagger, 28, marketing manager of Auckland software firm Infolink, is UK-born and toured Europe when he was much younger. Travel with his job also cures his “itchy feet”, he says in an email from the US.
Dagger has UK-based friends in e-commerce earning “obscene amounts”. They wish they were home in New Zealand, but are working another year to earn enough for a house here. “One hates the pollution, the congestion and the lack of optimism in the UK, but he travels to Europe extensively.”
Dagger says he has the best of both worlds — building up a great job here and “enjoying a fantastic time with family and friends living the New Zealand lifestyle”.
He has spent much time in the UK, and concludes: “It’s a nice place to visit but I would not want to live there. There’s too much going on to keep me here.”