We have all seen those quotes about finding something you love doing and making that your job or career - ‘you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ they say. But everyone has different motivations when pursuing a career - it might be to get out of a bad situation, it might be to get into an industry you absolutely love, it might be to support your whānau.
No matter what advice you’ve heard about careers or what your motivations are, there is no doubt that finding or following a career is not something that comes with a clear cut hand book. Which makes things SO confusing and frustrating when we think about study choices, entry level roles or career changes, right? Yeah we get that… So we decided to trawl through the Storyo treasure chest of beautiful interviews for some advice.
Over the past couple of years we have spoken to creatives, public servants, educators, advocates, scientist, techies, artists; list goes on and on and on. These are the stories of people who pursued something, changed their mind, and did that again - things that you might be pondering about! A little window into their life that could help you learn and navigate your own. We compiled snippets from their interviews but feel free to click and read the whole thang too!
Click a face or scroll down to dive right in!
Sexual Violence Researcher & Counsellor
What I do: I am involved in counselling, reclaiming yoga and advocating for South Asian women survivors of sexual violence and Fiji-Indian youth. Maharani Movement was inspired by the choice to heal from the violence that has been imposed on the divine feminine through colonialism and patriarchal values. Today, it is a way for me to heal my relationship to the divine lunar energy and honour it in my work. I hope that through Maharani Movement we are able to reclaim the indigenous wisdom of yoga, shift towards a balanced lunar & solar energy, while tapping into movement as a powerful vehicle of healing.
How I got into it: Following my own experience of the legal process, I realised I needed an evidence base to support what I knew to be true of our community and our needs. This inspired my research on the journey to wellbeing for South Asian women survivors of sexual violence.
“I wanted to be a paediatrician when I was younger, but once I started university that changed to psychology and music. I wanted to study something that brought me joy! Throughout this, I’ve always either taught dance or music. Today, I use the creative arts in all of my work, whether it’s counselling or advocating”.
“The thing I love most about my work is bringing my authentic self into the space through yoga. Having grown up with this lifestyle, I now get to incorporate yoga into my work with tamariki, rangatahi and survivors. The most challenging thing is having to find ways to bring indigenous healing into Western systems that often overlook our collective wisdom.”
Registered Nurse Turned Trauma Informed Breathworker
What I do: Kaity quit her nursing job to go full time with Empower The Powerful, supporting people in releasing emotions & stress from the body & subconscious mind, including work around sexual adversity and PTSD.
How I got into it: Whilst experiencing sexual trauma as a seven year old girl, a fire of passion was ignited within me to make a difference in those who had also experienced sexual adversity, I remember that I wanted to work in the field of serving others since that age. However, due to not having the cognitive capacity to understand what I was experiencing at the time that I found safety in silence. Thus, in September 2018 I left my job as a nurse and took on running Empower the Powerful full time, offering breathwork workshops and sharing an empowerment programme I created - Survivor to Thriver.
“Starting my own business has taken a lot of sacrifices, giving up my home and car to go all in financially could be looked at as a challenge, but I believe it has just been a part of the process to open new doors and opportunities so myself and Empower the Powerful can thrive in a new way, in turn, establishing a new life and way of living.”
“I have found learning different self-care tools to be a key pillar to my healing journey. I wouldn’t be able to apply the amount of passion, motivation and energy into this space and work if I didn’t put the same energy back into myself. The very first time I ever sat down with a therapist she asked me how I look after myself... There was a silence as I came to the realisation that this was something I had never done before.”
Women's Health Social Practitioner
What I do: Sam is an artist, poet, health worker who created Āhuru.space, a place that is embedded in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) to help work through sexual trauma.
How I got into it: I had heard of the concept āhurutanga (comfort) through uni, which is weird in itself that I was learning our culture while paying a hefty student loan, but I thought that is what's missing, these spaces don't feel warm, comfortable or culturally safe. So I printed off pictures that matched my vision and stuck it on a board. Did quite a bit of research and let it sit for like 3 years - at the time I was studying so I didn't put much energy into it. It wasn't till I got into my last uni placement, that I was hearing certain things / learning things and all I thought was: nah, this kaupapa needs to happen. I wasn't 100% sure what it was, it’s just evolved in its own way and took off pretty quickly.
“I've been learning as I've been going. It feels natural, its just in who you are. I've had a lot of decolonising in the process, a lot since I started studying. Figuring out a balance of our mātauranga (knowledge) that heals us but also within that space having kōrero (conversation) on colonisation and the continual violence we experience.What's really beautiful about getting a rōpu (group) of us together as well is where someone might fall short, another person might stand in.”
Sexuality Coach and Pole Dancer
What I do: I’m a Sex & Relationships Coach, who’s guided thousands of diverse clients from around the world to liberate their sexuality & co-create thriving relationships. I started by just taking all of this deep, trauma healing, somatic experience based work into my movement-based workshops and then started with pro-bono clients. It was a long time of just doing one-on-one sessions with just women for the first year and then I started to study more on conscious relating, couples work, slowly expanding and then over the years I've added group programs, programs for couples.
How I got into it: Really, it started for me with pole dancing. It offered me so much - and then I noticed that I wasn't really getting to the root of what I deeply wanted to change and that the way I was experiencing sex, the way I was experiencing orgasm, the disassociation that was happening to my body and noticed how many people were coming into pole dancing looking for that same liberation and needing something deeper. So I just decided to start writing about what I was researching and through that I was exposed to more and more of what was out there. I just randomly, one day, decided to sign up for a year-long training around sexuality and it was one of those things that really wasn't at all this mind-based process. I wasn't sitting down and thinking you know how this would unfold. It was just this magnetic force towards this thing that made no sense to anyone else that I was explaining this to. All of this was happening whilst I was doing my corporate career and was just giving myself permission to experiment with what I thought I could best offer.
“At this time I was incredibly reserved and the idea of pole dancing, especially when I had that level of taboo was a really huge thing. It was something I knew my boyfriend at the time would really “disapprove of”. I knew my family would be shocked about it. I still remember making the call to the studio from my car and feeling one of the most intimidating yet powerful acts of liberation. The reason I came to do it is because I was just really so afraid of my own body, so afraid of my sexuality, so afraid of taking up space, was super afraid of being seen, afraid of the idea of being on stage.”
Careers Counsellor & Podcaster
What I do: I did my big career shift in 2006-7, from working in corporate admin to becoming a careers counsellor. This career path which has spanned 12+ years, I will describe as being a very humanistic, personalised vocation where I help people to develop and thrive. It's very much around working one on one with people to help them think about their career goals and needs, thinking about developing talent, thinking about how you can find work and discover more about yourself.
How I got into it: On the surface, I kind of always knew that I wanted to do something to help others. But at the same time, there was also pressure to do something better than what mum and dad did. I was the first in my family to go university and my dad would say “go and be an anaesthetist or become a doctor”. And I was like: “Dad, I hate blood. I hate science.” [laughs]
So they suggested I study business and back then, I kind of wanted to please my family so I went to study business and accounting. When I actually started accounting at uni, of course, what happened? I hated it. And then from there, I realised that no, I need to trust my gut. I've worked hard. I ended up pursuing psychology and management and absolutely loved it. I naturally gravitated towards people from different ethnic backgrounds and other minorities. And I subconsciously made a beeline for those who I felt were probably feeling a bit more marginalised.
“If I talk from the perspective of the Pacific, the older mentality was: if you get to university, that's actually the goal, you've made it. But now, a lot more kids are going to university, but the stakes are getting higher. All of a sudden, people expect them to be an entrepreneur or a business person and really blitz it.”
CX, Service and Jewellery Designer
What I do: I think the best way to explain what I do - CX, UX, and UI - is with a good old analogy of a house. The CX (customer experience) is the overall perception of the house, the sum of all things ‘house’: the people in it, even the weather, the furniture, curtains, garden, driveway, smell, feel, etc. It’s the entire experience of that house. And on the side, I started a company called Human Interface Jewellery that combines user experience design and 3D printing to produce wonderful jewellery as a way of self-expression for people in tech space.
“I’m inspired by interfaces - they’re like magic. We tend to not notice when they work but they infuriate us when they don’t! It’s quite a privilege to be a human machine translator, especially with the incredible things technology and machines can do these days. I’m also inspired by making technology accessible; able to be enjoyed and utilised by everyone.”
“Keeping up with social media has been a challenge. I only want to post meaningful content - which takes time, thought and energy. And after a tough day at my day job I’m often lacking that kind of energy. I thought that I would grow a lot faster than I have. And I think sometimes we see these overnight success stories that have actually taken 5 or more years…”
Graphic Designer & Creative
What I do: Miss B Creates has developed from merely an idea to create logos, random thoughts around how to do a variety of creative things. To a point, now, where I focus on my WHY. I am a storyteller, I bring visions to life, I guide my clients to a place where they can tell their story, whether it's through an illustration or a video series. This drives my WHAT and HOW.
How I got into it: For years I had been longing to find something that would allow me to be my full self, no hidden parts. A place where I could create beautiful things, make an impact and share my art with anyone who cared for it. A negative work experience lit that fire under me and I thought “now is the time Bel! You’ve got the skills, the ones you don’t have... You’ll learn.” So off I went. When I was 10 years old I dreamt of being three things: a psychologist, a wildlife ranger & an artist. I’m currently living the dream of being an artist and it's pretty great. I am still looking at the other two and have plans to connect to those dreams somehow as I move through life.
“My partner helped to push me past the difficult times along with my goals/inspiration board that my business mentor encouraged me to create. On there I have: health, kick ass at derby, more tattoos and another motorbike to name a few! A healthy mix of material and non-material things. Having this as my computer wallpaper is helpful in having it visible, as it reminds me to keep pushing forward, to keep working towards my goals.”
Photographer and Artist
What I do: Synthia is a Burundian photographer, painter and just a kick-ass artist living in Auckland Aotearoa.
How I got into it: I had always been drawing and colouring in school and I didn't really think of it as a profession. A few things happened and I was going to drop out of uni and didn’t know what I was doing when I got suggested Elam School of Arts. I realised that I can go to school and do what I've been doing anyway! In second year, halfway through I started taking more pictures and it wasn't until third year when it really stuck. People kept asking: ‘what are you gonna do when you finish? that's not a real degree, you're not gonna make any money.’ I think I'd rather go through something that might be stressful and love it at the same time than hate what I'm doing and be stressed.
“People always want to box you and say ‘oh you're a fashion photographer or a portrait photographer’. But I also like documenting moments so if I'm doing all these different things then what does that make me? At the moment I'm enjoying taking photos of people in my community: the Africans in Auckland because I feel as though people don't know how many Africans actually live here. If I'm that one person in someone's feed who's posting consistently some black faces, people will realise these people are here and see them. I want people to just see us and I also just want to celebrate and to acknowledge them.”
Pole Teacher, Performer & Actor
What I do: Helen Main is a pole dancer, teacher and performer. We’ve interviewed Helen as part of the Autism Series, where she’s shared her journey into acting, performing and being a personal trainer.
“I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to take the path that I did, because obviously having a lot of support from my parents and having had financial support from them for quite a bit of that time allowed me to make choices that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to make. It wasn't like, 'oh, I need to take this job because I need to pay the rent.' I was able to kind of pick and choose a little bit more and that probably - like, it definitely made my path a lot easier.”
“I like the controlled chaos of being on set. It really appeals to the ADHD side of my brain, but I also enjoy the idea that you go into this place and you're being a character for a day. It feels like quite a safe environment for me somehow. I'm quite comfortable doing that. Maybe because I spent so many years as a teenager trying to be like a normal person and play this normal character, and so for me it's quite comfortable. So why not get paid for it, right?
Artistic Director & Circus Performer
How I got into it: I studied acting at Unitec 2000-2002 and there I met a lady who had been one of the founding company members of renowned physical theatre company “Legs on the Wall” in Australia. She taught us some basic balance acrobatics and I was super inspired by the storytelling possibilities that kind of extreme physicality had to offer. From there I sorted out any circus training I could and got more and more imputed by the superhuman capabilities of circus performance and how they might engage an audience to make them feel a story in a raw and guttural way.
“To be honest I struggle to have time to teach nowadays! The biggest challenges for me have been in learning how to run a business, simply how much effort and time and money a business takes to run and how much it needs to be prioritised in my daily life. We all have to fight constantly to have our work valued and we need the strength in numbers to keep us all safe.”
Drag Queen & Performer
How I got into it: Look, I've always been a little queer boy [laughs]. I’ve always worn my sister's heels or my stepmom’s heals so drag always kind of been there. But you don't find drag, you don't like look for it - drag finds you. My first proper full on makeup-heels-hair-outfit show was in New Zealand and it found me. There was a person who came down from Auckland when I was living in Te Anau, two hours away from Invercargill. This person had come up from Auckland to try help organise a fundraiser for, can you believe it, a new medical centre?
Dare I say, the people who are confident in their sexuality can see other people like them, right? I guess that's how they approached me.
“I can't claim to be an outright activist when I haven't done much. But I guess what's really happening is the fact that I am so painfully visible, that in itself is an act of revolution. And the best thing that I can do is keep providing that visibility.”
“You just keep going, you just keep going. I've made a career out of being the last girl standing. Literally, that's been my entire career, where like, if a girl hasn't been available, I've stepped in. Or sometimes there needs to be seven girls not available before I step in.”
Hiker and Filmmaker
What I do: Elina Osborne is an incredible filmmaker documenting her thru-hiking journeys like Pacific Crest Trail and Te Araroa. She’s been to many film festivals and had a whopping half a million views on her Youtube Channel.
How I got into it: After university I knew I wanted to travel. But I also realised I had no money and a student loan to pay back. I saw an ad within weeks of my graduation for a company looking for someone to edit their videos - so I walked into the interview and was asked to start right then and there for the emerging start-up, Crimson Education. Breaking onto the edu-tech scene, the company was looking to create more video content that was US-based so I put myself and the idea forward that I could move over there on a J-1 visa for a year and work remotely. They said I’d have to move to New York City. I happily obliged.
I experienced an unrivaled sense of freedom and autonomy from walking on the Pacific Crest Trail, completely disconnected from societal expectations that had once governed my life. Now that I’ve had a taste of that, it’s difficult to imagine going back to the regular 9-5. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and it’s such a difficult thing to explain in limited paragraphs hence the decision to make a film about it. I’ve come to understand the value of an audience when you’re trying to create art, so for now I’m dedicating time to building my YouTube channel. Having created video content for other companies since graduating University, I figured it was my turn. I just want to be able to connect with, and hopefully inspire others to get out in nature and experience what we’re very very lucky to have. If I can’t tell my own story, how am I going to be able to tell the stories of others?
“As I got to University, I realised it wasn’t for me at all. I was ready to become my own person and build my identity outside the idea that I had to fit into this box and fill the prescribed life that lay ahead for me. So I made that short doc and started going out and doing things I never thought I’d have the courage to do.”
Writer and Filmmaker
What I do: Ghazaleh Golbakhsh is an Iranian-New Zealand writer and filmmaker. She has made various short films including the recent documentary This is Us which centred on Muslim New Zealanders for RNZ and NZ on Air. Currently she works as a director at Shortland Street and recently wrote one of my personal favourite books - The Girl From Revolution Road.
How I got into it: I had grandiose dreams of becoming an actor and I always loved to write because I watched so many films from a young age. When other students dreaded writing short stories in class, I would write epic novellas that even my teachers could not be bothered reading. In my 20s I got frustrated at the lack of roles being written for women, particularly women of colour and so I thought that if I wanted to see this change, I would write them myself.
I want to make the change that I want to see in this industry where people who were marginalised before are now given a voice; an authentic voice that is theirs and not made up by someone else. One of my favourite actors Riz Ahmed once said that representation is about being included in the national story. If we are absent from that story, then we feel that we do not matter. We all know the importance of stories and film, TV, media are powerful mediums that can tell them to wide audiences across multiple platforms.
“I don’t know if I believe in callings to be honest. Unless you’re a priest. It is a good question though as growing up I was adamant I knew what I would do with my life. I was career focused and knew exactly what I wanted. It’s all rubbish. I dropped out of Uni twice; worked random jobs all through my 20s and early 30s; lived in various parts of the world never settling and even now, on the verge of finishing a PhD, wonder if academia is for me. I think it is important to have dreams and goals but also know that they can change and that is OK.”
Engineer Turned Illustrator and Poet
What I do: Owner, illustrator and poet at Rose Northey Art and Poetry. At the moment, I charge $50 per hour for private illustration work with each piece taking between 4 - 10 hours. I’ve adapted this cost according to demand. This rate used to seem like a lot until I realised that I am also the marketing manager, communications manager, strategist and janitor of my own company (all of which are unpaid roles). Overall I work longer hours than I ever did in engineering but usually only manage about 4 or so hours of billable work per day - the rest is admin or professional development. You will not believe it until you do, but the more you value your own work, the more others will value your work too.
How I got into it: I was first attracted to engineering after I discovered that I loved solving math and physics problems. When I was at university I would sometimes dream in algebra (but I’m not Ada Lovelace so it never went very well). I assumed that I would be well suited to product development since it can be quite creative and I’ve always been attracted to art. But to be honest, I found it a little frustrating. The answer to an engineering problem is never clean like y=2x.
After trying my best to not write and doodle all day in my engineering role, finding motivation for creative work was like being told to breathe. Unlike engineering, if you can imagine it, you can draw it or write about it. It was freeing and addictive. When I first bought myself Procreate (an illustration program) I barely slept for 3 days. I actually had to learn how to stop working!
“I have to acknowledge here that I come from a position of privilege. Establishing any business takes time and money. A creative business is no exception to this. I had no one to support but myself so I was able to put money aside with ease once I was employed. After my quarter life crisis, it took half a year to figure out how to earn enough to live so I ate and slept on the money I had saved in engineering. I’m not sure I would have made the creative leap if I was in debt which kind of pisses me off. How many people are being deprived of a more fulfilling life because of their student loans? People keep telling me how brave I’ve been to make the change but in my case, it took more luck than guts.”
Government Lobbyist & Founder
What do I : Lobbyist who started her own business - Awhi to change what it means to be in and participate in lobbying in Aotearoa. She is an advocate for transparent and accessible government.
How I got into it: I think the reason I did it was because I had an inherent dislike for things I perceived as “unfair”. I wasn’t thoroughly engaged at law school though: I didn’t particularly like the school culture, and spent more time at the Rec Centre than I did The Dave* (*the University of Auckland Law School library is called the Davis). The start of my business is quite simple: it was toward the end of 2017, I was sitting in my Dad’s office telling him about some pro-bono work I was doing, helping people better understand how Government works (I had come from four years working in the Beehive). He said to me that I should turn this work into a business, and I replied “that’s weird”. He responded “it’s weird you think that’s weird,” and my business was born just like that!
“I remember in my first few months of business feeling absolutely miserable: no clients, no revenue, and a very dim outlook on my role as a business owner and entrepreneur. I really wasn’t sure if business was for me. However, I was not unique in this experience that it all changed once I got my first client, and first invoice paid. It is best described as the flicking of a switch: what was a challenge has become a success.”
“No business owner has had an easy ride - business is just an ongoing cycle of challenges and successes. However I believe the true difference comes in the form of one's ability to persevere. In my view, this is one of the most crucial traits for success in business and continues to be something I build in myself to this day - because I am human, and I still have moments where self-doubt creeps back in.”
Doctor and Ex-Dancer
What I do: Doctor and ex-dancer who set up Arogya Mantra, a charitable trust board to govern Aaja Nachle. Aaja Nachle is a community dance school that also offers up free medical screenings during classes and community events.
How I got into it Medicine: As a kid I started saying I wanted to be a police officer or a judge. My parents are curious creatures, while they are fairly progressive, they are pretty brown and talked me out of those options. I remember being told my life may be in danger if I were to pursue being a cop or involved with the law and criminals. After a while I started saying I wanted to be a doctor instead and they leapt onto that and were like YESSS. I don’t think you really understand what any of these jobs entail when you’re a kid, I especially had no context given none of my family members were involved in medicine, law or anything outside of business (I grew up in a dairy!).
Dance: I grew up doing ballet, rhythmic gymnastics, jazz, bharatanatyam, contemporary and Bollywood dancing. I would enter competitions every month, perform every weekend and do about 15 hours of classes every week. It was my escape from reality and taught me how to persevere and work hard.
“I always wanted to pursue a career where I gave back in some way. I used to get quite upset when we travelled back to India as a child because I hated seeing poverty. I mean who enjoys seeing poverty? I remember feeling such overwhelming emotions when I met a child my own age begging for food and tapping on my car window every day at the same spot when we would go into town.”
“A lot of people say they knew from the outset and they were destined for medicine, which is great but it certainly was not the case for me - I think I just fell into it, but am so grateful for that!”
Intersex Community Advocate & Researcher
What I do: In my ‘day job’, I am now doing research work on Intersex, Māori intellectual property rights and Māori data rights, identity, categorisation and wellbeing. I have also had some contracts teaching on social policy. As part of my advocacy and research interest, I work with government departments to ensure intersex people’s rights and interests are provided for.
How I got into it: Originally I was intending to practice law. The discovering of myself led me to do my Masters in Law (LLM) and then my PhD to look into the human rights issues of intersex people and what identity means in international human rights law. I understood this was important for advocacy work on intersex and other human rights work.
“I am aware of the difficulties in our social environment. Since graduating my PhD as the first open intersex person to achieve such an achievement, I have been struggling to get a job. I know intersex and other minorities face many obstacles, but it brings me joy to know with education and awareness, many people are willing to listen, learn and accept.”
“I now have a PhD, completed my law degrees and have written academic publications and book chapters, people may assume that my life has been successful. However, as an imposter (or so it feels) in society I am still inadequate and not up to the standard of others and always have self-doubt in existence and this flows into my work. It does not help that I haven't been able to land a full-time job since graduating my PhD despite the literal hundreds of applications. To overcome the feeling of being an imposter, I have chosen to stand up and speak out when I have the chance. As part of that I advocate on behalf of intersex people through ITANZ to improve their lives and well-being.”
Union Organiser & Researcher
What I do: Union Organiser with a research background in postcolonial theories in racism.
How I got into it: While I was at the University, studying and working, I had a wonderful friend called Nicole Wallace. She, and also my colleague Jossane, are both unionists. They kind of nudged me to join the Union. At first I thought I couldn’t afford it. It's about $500 a year. But as soon as I got a small $500 pay rise and a permanent contract, I joined the Union. They made me a union delegate as soon as I joined, who would have thought I would love it so much? It's a direct contrast to the media and art industries. I was a delegate for three years. After that, I figured I’d like to actually work for the Union. I did about 16 interviews over two years, during the pandemic, to get into the trade union movement. I am now working for First Union. I was an administrator first, and after a secondment to do some organising work, and I was recently offered a permanent role as a full time organiser, after many years of attempts. So yeah, I'm in my happy spot at the moment.
“I was at university for 10 years. There was a four years gap between high school and university, while I was getting my residency. I was just doing all sorts of jobs, like cleaning toilets, waitressing, making coffee, retail... I've done a lot of minimum wage jobs on casual contracts - zero hour casual contracts were a thing back then. It's illegal now. Because I was longing to study during the four years, when I could study, I just went for it. I studied until my student loan ran out [laughs].”
“I was working at the University for about five years doing many different roles. Apparently, that's an ADHD thing - that you change your jobs really often. I thought it was because I was in poverty that I’d done about 40 to 50 different jobs over the past 20 years. I recently learned that it is a trait of ADHD.”
Secondary School Teacher & Activist
How I got into it: I never realised my cultural positionality was so rare in education, and I’m so excited to be a leader in a classroom full of students exploring their cultural identity. I’ve loved every minute of it - although it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
[On teaching] “The New Zealand curriculum doesn’t focus enough on Matauranga Māori, and I think it’s a little too vague. There’s currently work being done to re-jig the curriculum though, so I’ll be interested to see how much decolonisation will be done in the process.”
[On being an activist] “I actually have never worked behind the scenes to organise a protest, but I’ve watched my sister intently as she’s worked through the lengthy process. Speaking at the rally earlier this year was such a great opportunity to kōrero with other people who have a similar mindset to me. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I’m aware of the consequences that come with being so vocal about something so sensitive.”
Politician - Member of Parliament
What I do: I guess it changes completely week to week. Usually on Mondays the Parliament won't be sitting and I'll have meetings in the community and that could be anybody because I also have a role outside of government: in MSD and the rainbow portfolio, Seniors, ACC and workplace relations and Te Tiriti O Waitangi. So I may be meeting with constituent groups in any of those areas and thinking about whether that's trying to pass on concerns raised from the community to the Ministers involved to see if we can make change or so that they know about problems and can intervene. Or whether it's about preparing for a piece of legislation that we might have in the house. So you know, it could be all sorts of different things.
How I got into it: A lot of that for me was connected to a sense of being unable to control or find a way to deal with massive levels of injustices, connected to lots of friends’ and my own experiences of sexual violence. As well as I think having grown up in the 80s where there was massive cultural change, when things were shifting so much economically.
And actually the thing that shifted me from feeling overwhelmed and powerless was my first job out of university, I was working for a women's refuge. I think often in the public people talk about refuge workers as people who are doing good in the world for others but actually my experience of it was that it was a huge privilege to be alongside women at a time where they were taking really big risks emotionally as well as for their own lives and their kids lives and that sense of bravery against a system that was working against them. It was really inspiring!
“When I was in primary school I spent a huge amount of time reading. As well as, you know, being a tomboy, being out climbing trees and building huts. I think because of that my idea of what I wanted to do in the world was different every single day and probably dependent on the book I was reading. When I was in high school, I started having quite a bad eating disorder so my sense of what I wanted to do with my life was just a bit dampened and cloudy... [...] I think I had this idea of being a lawyer but didn't really like the way of thinking that's required in law. I guess kind of fitting rules and following precedent that didn't really seem to be so deeply connected to the idea of justice that I thought I had.”
Tech Outreach & Engage Coordinator
What I do: My current role, Tech Outreach and Engage Coordinator at Xero is more of a self-explanatory title! I moved into the role in early 2017, this also prompted me to define what it was that I needed to do in this role so I came up with a purpose statement: “Increase a diverse pipeline of talent into tech, as well as to support and encourage a thriving tech and entrepreneurial community in Xero’s priority countries.”
How I got into it: Like most 18-year-olds, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, I made a rather uninformed decision to study Graphic Design and Illustration. After four years of just studying one thing, I got bored. I finished my studies and never touched a sketchbook again! For most of my 20’s I suffered from mental health issues, but was very much in denial about it. My poor mental health had a serious knock-on effect with my lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. This also led me to work in jobs I didn’t enjoy, namely hospitality and the financial sector. Working in tech outreach was the first time I felt my work had any genuine purpose.
I landed my first decent-size contract with a temp agency working as a receptionist for an IT consultancy called Fronde. This is where my love for technology started. Up until that point I'd been a consumer of tech - now I was working alongside people who MADE tech!
“For me, technology is just a tool. What the industry needs is a diverse range of talented people with different backgrounds and experiences to help solve real-world problems.”
Software Developer & Disability Advocate
What I do: I enjoy being able to use technology to solve so many issues in our world; using logic to create more efficient processes. But what I think we really need to address is the lack of diversity in the industry. I believe this is where a lot of the ways that tech is being misused comes from. We need different voices and minds in the industry so that people from underrepresented communities can be part of the solution to problems.
How I got into it: I love the tech industry. I love being a developer and finding solutions to problems. I love creating more efficient processes in my everyday life. I think this is because I have to be quite organised as I lack the ability to see [due to my disability] certain things so I have to be organised in knowing where they are. For example, I need to leave my cane in a certain place in my apartment, otherwise I wouldn't be able to find it if I needed to leave the house very quickly.
“It took me so long to figure out what I wanted to do. My identity didn’t really align with what a stereotypical IT person is. It is also hard to be in an environment that is so dominated by men, who do things like gaming and coding in their spare time. It’s quite exhausting having to constantly ask for things as my needs are different, having to advocate for myself everyday - to all people, from strangers to my family. Even more exhausting when I don’t advocate for myself and have to struggle through things.”
What I do: I worked in the dairy industry in one form or another for over 10 years. Along the way I got my Masters of Dairy Science & Technology, while working in factories and laboratories. I then focused on helping make moving and selling dairy products more efficient while also getting my Masters of Business Administration.
I left Fonterra to help grow innovation communities before founding my own startup - Evolution Meadows. Creating a genuine plant-based milk alternative with the same protein, fat and carbs as regular milk. An allergy-free milk for the whole family.
How I got into it: In high school, I had a difficult relationship with my parents so I needed to be able to support myself as soon as possible. The careers counsellor told me that engineers had a 98% hiring rate straight out of university. I quite liked maths, so being a pragmatic sort, I enrolled in engineering, got a few part-time jobs, bought a caravan, started living under a plum tree at my dad’s place then went to the university up the road. And funnily enough, after university, I started working at the dairy factory just down the road from my old rural primary school.
“We all feel different and not enough at times. It’s tough. And that never changes, no matter how much you do to prove that you’re enough, how much money you have, how supportive your family is, how many degrees you have got, or your level of experience or seniority. I’m learning to manage the fear and the occasional bouts of doubt and to trust in myself enough to speak up anyway. Doing the work and connecting with other ‘doers’ is the most important thing.”
“Something else that I’ve been thinking about, is how important it is “not to chase someone else’s dream”. I can’t remember where I heard this saying, but it is damn good advice.”
Astrophysicist Researcher & Lecturer
What I do: I don’t observe the stars in the sky through telescopes. I make computer models of stars and galaxies, something like making a “synthetic Universe”. The reason behind it is so we can put all our knowledge of physics into the computer and observe this model to see if it matches the real one.
How I got into it: I really got into science because I read and watched (too much?) sci-fi when I was young. I used to watch old Doctor Who’s on the TV on Sunday mornings and Star Trek: The Next Generation after walking home from school before dinner. It made me wonder: why can’t I do that? But also, I wanted to understand the science that was often discussed. I also really enjoyed maths and science at school. But I didn’t know the pathway to being a scientist until a school careers advisor told me about degrees and PhDs. In some ways I would prefer to be doing research without having to teach so much. But teaching itself is fun and does allow me to express my creativity in a different way to help students learn as much as they can.
“On being non-binary trans in science: I think that there are similar obstacles to all underrepresented groups in science. In terms of the unconscious and conscious biases people will have when interacting with them. The solution to remove barriers is the same: realise that everyone is individual and everyone shouldn’t have to look the same to be accepted.”
“Don’t be in a rush to figure everything out and don’t be afraid to change your mind. I did my undergraduate degree in Cambridge and there you get to do several subjects in the first year before deciding and that was really useful. I nearly did geology. But in the second year while I knew what I wanted to do, several of my friends did chemistry and after a few weeks switched back to physics, despite being advised not to. They succeeded. So I guess try things and don’t worry if things go wrong?”
Climate Change Consultant
How I got into it: My parents are very Asian. They actually forced me to do accounting at the University of Auckland. They said, “We're going to send you overseas and you're going to do an accounting degree, because we're scared for your future and if you keep doing theatre and literature, we don't know where you're going to go.” So I did an accounting degree. And it was actually so interesting. Before I did my degree, I spent two years in the Army due to conscription. I just remember being so lost, thinking, “this degree is actually going to kill me”. I picked up an accounting book, looking at assets, liabilities, and I just thought it was absolutely going to drain my soul, I could already feel it. So I tried reading up on different aspects of accounting. What actually is accounting? Why do we have it? Then I looked into the most varied topics within accounting. I looked at Islamic finance, which follows certain cultural norms or religious perspectives to form a more ethical kind of financing. Then I looked at ethics in finance, and that brought me to sustainability accounting/sustainability reporting. And then eventually, that brought me sustainability, which is very much tied to climate change. That was my whole roundabout journey towards sustainability and climate change.
“I actually didn't meet the mark in many areas. I'm not a typical Singaporean kid. I was doing literature and theatre studies in high school. That gave my parents what I call an “Asian heart attack”, because I was crumbling all of their Asian expectations in front of them. But actually, the fact that I had exposure to those subjects gave me the ability to be intellectually curious, which I bring over now to New Zealand.”
Sound Engineer & Podcaster
What I do: I have a podcast series called "I'm Just Older Darling" - people over the age of 50 from gay, black, indigenous communities talking about their lives. Michelle is also currently a sound engineer for Planet FM, community radio station based in Auckland.
How I got into it: I was literally sitting in the student union office, going through directories. My sister worked in the film industry and she took me to a few premieres. I was like 'ah there are people who look like me in this industry!". And one of the screenings was made by a company called Black Audio Collective and it was about roller skating. I was into street skating so I called them and they invited me for an interview, they were looking for a runner. So that was my in! Then I attended a few trainings and they basically enabled me to have the rest of my career. There was another opportunity that happened around post-production and I was like "yeah, this is really me! there are gadgets and certain amount of freedom!"
What I do: I grew up in the church and when I told my family at the church that I was a developer evangelist, developer went out the door and evangelist set the place on fire! Before my love for technology I was heavily involved in the science area so I was that titration queen.
“I am so hopeful for more Māori and Pasifika in the technology industry. We all have very unique ways of solving problems. Because especially in our community if we can go and setup a wedding for a cousin, last minute, we can definitely solve problems! Yes! Definitely solve problems! You know how hard it is to do a wedding last minute?!? Get it sister!”
How I got into it: There were two reasons that I couldn’t become an astronaut. One was because I got terribly motion sick and that's not going to work. The other reason of course was because I was a woman but somehow because computers happened in the 80’s, and nobody had got their heads around computers enough to say that women can’t do this. So I sort of snuck in.
“I believe in the grassroots movement as well, and thats why the Women and non-binary in tech group is very important because we can tell these stories in a grassroots way ,and thats actually where social change will happen”
“And with the tech industry it’s extra, extra loaded because technology is, primarily, going back to the 80s and the 70s, the domain of cleverness is very male. And so I feel the power dynamics and I feel the cleverness and the guarding of information, all of that is infused by this deep human bifurcation of these stories that are driven by this notion of gender which I believe is fluid. And we go to university and we study software engineering for years and we don't go to university and study and understand human relationships.”
Tech Customer Support
What I do: I really wanted to ICT as a career but at the time there was a lot of bias around girls in tech so a lot of people were mocking the situation and telling me that it's not for you, you don't belong so I dropped ICT which is a shame because at the time I didn't have the self esteem to see it through. That I need to just do what I love
What I knew for myself is because I like playing Counter-Strike and games and because I type quite fast, that was the reason I thought I could do IT.
“When they talk about something you are used to asking, “What are you guys talking about?” And there will be times when they’ll go, “It’s a guy thing you don't need to know about it” And that just happened to me, I can’t even count how many times”