Migrating to New Zealand’s high-tech capital.
When Elise Wei decided she wanted to try living outside the US, she discovered New Zealand was looking for workers to fuel its fast-growing tech scene.
Elise was working as a software engineer in Philadelphia when she signed up for job notifications on the New Zealand government’s immigration website.
She was sent a notification about a global campaign to recruit tech talent in Wellington, which describes itself as the tech and innovation capital of the South Pacific.
Out of more than 48,000 applications from around the world for the LookSee campaign, 94 tech workers were flown to Wellington for free to have job interviews and explore the city.
Elise was one of the chosen 94. She’d never even met a Kiwi before, but shortly after that trip she and her husband found themselves packing up their possessions in preparation for moving to Wellington.
Elise arrived in New Zealand in August 2017 to work for Xero, which develops cloud-based accounting software.
“I fell in love with the people from Xero right away. Xero has that scrappy, startup mindset, but is also well-established and stable. I thought it would be a great place to work,” says Elise.
“Philadelphia’s tech scene is more mature than Wellington's, so for me, it was exciting to come in at this phase. Getting into the community when it’s in a relatively early stage is an opportunity to really make a difference.
“I’ve noticed that many New Zealand tech companies tend to have a focus on international markets from the very beginning, which from a technologist’s perspective means being very forward-thinking about internationalising the product.”
Another advantage of working in such a fast-growing sector is that Wellington already has a network of tech workers from around the world, says Elise.
“Because there are so many migrants, everyone tends to be welcoming and generous with their expertise.”
New Zealand’s reputation as one of the safest places in the world to raise children was another important factor for Elise and her husband, Peter Marinari, who also works in the tech industry. The couple has a four-year-old daughter.
“We also liked the fact that New Zealand was socially and politically progressive, with universal healthcare and same-sex marriage,” says Elise.
“I’m also very interested in the way that New Zealand seems to embrace its indigenous culture, particularly the language.”
Elise has already signed up for a 10-week subsidised Māori language class that Xero is running for its workers.
In the US, Elise was a co-leader of Girl Develop It, which provides opportunities for women to learn web and software development. She hopes to get into mentorship and volunteering in New Zealand, but till then is enjoying a rare opportunity to explore other interests.
More family time
Elise appreciates the strong boundaries between work and home life in New Zealand, which have enabled her to spend more time with her daughter.
She has worked for start-ups in the US that offer unlimited time off but says that in reality workers tend to take less vacation time than if they were given mandated holiday time.
“In New Zealand, everyone gets at least four weeks’ paid annual leave. Work/life balance really does mean something here – it’s accepted that people will take time off to be with their friends and family.”
“Wellington is fantastic. Moving to a new country has been an adjustment, but we really like it here and are planning to stay for the foreseeable future.”
It’s early days, but New Zealand is already starting to feel like home to Elise.