From horse paddocks to high-rise apartments, there are many ways to plug into coding. Meet the 7 people taking wildly different paths to a career in computer science, ending up in unexpected places.
TAKE THE QUIZ
#1 Dominick Ng, Senior Software Engineer at Google
Home town: Scone, NSW
I never did programming at school, having grown up in a small town in country NSW. After finishing school in 2006, moving to the city was a big adjustment.
I decided to do a computer science degree at the University of Sydney. The first few years were challenging, but I put in the effort to learn what was needed and asked for help when I needed it as well.
Now, I’m a senior software engineer at Google, working to make Chrome the best platform for developers. There are billions of people who are coming online for the first time in countries like India, but they’re on slower networks. Since the web is the best way for these people to connect online, my team is working to let developers create websites that behave like apps – giving users the benefits of apps in a smaller package.
I feel privileged to be where I am now, particularly since I had no background in programming before uni. It goes to show that with enough hard work, you can go from anywhere – even a country town – to working for one of the coolest tech companies in the world.
Dominick’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Information Technology, University of Sydney
> > PhD in Computer Science, University of Sydney
> > Senior software engineer, Google
“I feel privileged to be where I am now, particularly since I had no background in programming before uni.”
#2 Liam Carney, Intern at Telstra
Home town: Armidale, NSW
When Liam Carney first arrived at his Telstra internship in Sydney, he raised eyebrows for completing his work too quickly. “I was given a task and I finished it in 20 minutes by writing some code,” he says. “It was supposed to take me two weeks.”
However, Liam decided that corporate life in the city was not for him – he’s much more comfortable living the laid-back lifestyle in Armidale, NSW, where he’s studying a Bachelor of Computer Science at the University of New England.
Liam chose Armidale over big city life for its lifestyle and location, but also because the small city is fully NBN fibred and has a vibrant tech culture that is proving a fertile ground for innovative start-ups.
Rural areas are ripe for technical innovation, he says. At a recent hackathon called Agmentation, run by the University of New England SMART Region Incubator, Liam and other students set to work on agricultural challenges, such as automatically detecting and responding to quad bike flips, and networking farms that span across tens of thousands of hectares.
The country is also a great place to run an online business, says Liam. He found his skills were in high demand and now has a business partner based in Thailand. Their projects range from smart LED wearables for police to finding ways to reduce wastage in jewellery manufacturing offcuts.
An endless curiosity seems to drive most of Liam’s decisions. “When I was 12, my grandfather gave me three books – How Things Work, Volumes 1, 2 and 3,” he says. “I finished them in a few weeks.” And he’s been figuring stuff out ever since.
– Chloe Walker
Liam’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Computer Science, University of New England
> > Intern, Telstra
> > Freelance IT consultant
#3 Michael Walmsley, Founder of Code Avengers
Home town: Waikato, NZ
It was cricket that sparked the idea for Code Avengers, an online education company that teaches people to code. The brainchild of Michael Walmsley, the concept was formed when he asked his brother (who couldn’t code) to help develop some online cricket scoring software.
“I pointed my brother to different resources on the web and he found them boring,” Michael says. It was then that Walmsley realised the online market was lacking fun courses to teach code.
At the time, Michael was finishing his PhD at the University of Waikato, so he decided to focus on Code Avengers. “Now well over a million students all around the world have used our courses,” he says.
Michael says it’s extremely satisfying to meet computer science graduates who first learnt to code five or six years ago on Code Avengers.
“I wanted to be innovative, try and push new ground, and have the biggest impact I possibly could with the time that I have here on this earth,” Michael enthuses.
– Ruth Beran
Michael’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Engineering (Software Engineering), University of Waikato
> > PhD in Computer-Assisted Education, University of Waikato
> > Founder, Code Avengers
“I wanted to be innovative, try and push new ground, and have the biggest impact I possibly could with the time that I have here on this earth.”
#4 John Mills, WiseTech Global
Home town: Sydney, NSW
While at high school, I worked casually at KFC for five years – this gave me great teamwork experience, but when I was growing up I always wanted to get into video game development and design.
While in uni, I joined the BiG IT Society where I met a lot of people who also had a passion for tech. From there I was introduced to the ACS Foundation and that’s where I got my first job in the IT industry, organising and hosting the BiG Day In events.
After a year at the ACS Foundation, I wanted to have some more technical experience so I applied for a job as a developer at WiseTech Global, working on its logistics software, CargoWise One.
My advice to students who want to learn CS is to play around with it; try writing applications or games in your spare time. There are so many resources and tutorials online that you can take advantage of.
John’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Diploma in Information Technology Professional Practice, UTS
> > Intern, ACS Foundation
> > Associative Developer, Wisetech Global
#5 Hannah Craighead, Victoria University of Wellington
Home town: Blenheim, NZ
Hannah Craighead will have an enviable problem when she graduates with a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Software. “There’s too many things that I could do!” she says.
She has already interned at Google (twice!); tutored at Victoria University of Wellington; and completed a stint at Snapper, a contactless smartcard ticketing systems company.
“My dream job would be to work on Google Translate,” says Hannah, who has a passion for languages, having studied French and linguistics. And she will soon be off to South Korea as part of her Google Women Techmakers Scholarship.
Her advice to others in software engineering? Apply for everything. “You won’t get them all, but you don’t get the ones you don’t apply for.”
– Ruth Beran
Hannah’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Engineering (Software Engineering), Victoria University of Wellington
> > Intern, Google
“You won’t get them all, but you don’t get the [jobs] you don’t apply for.”
#6 Megan Dyke, Deloitte
Home town: Gippsland, Vic
Careers rarely follow a straight line. It’s important to embrace every opportunity you can to find out what you enjoy, what’s important to you, and get a broad skill set.
While at university I completed four holiday placements. One was at Deloitte, working in Technology Strategy and Architecture consulting – I’m currently working there on an IT sourcing project. It’s unlike anything I learnt at university, but still an opportunity to apply logical problem-solving.
There are thousands of different CS jobs out there for you to choose. I encourage everyone to get as much hands-on experience as you can – it’s the best opportunity to learn and gain confidence.
Megan’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Engineering/Commerce, Monash University
> > Business Analyst, Deloitte
#7 JC Hong, CBA
Home town: Sydney, NSW
When I was younger I had a lot of different ideas on what I wanted to do – from a doctor to a fashion designer. But instead I joined the Commonwealth Bank as a graduate and now I’m a software engineer.
When I started in CS, I realised there are so many different paths you can take and I’m willing to learn and explore new skills. I didn’t even do CS for my HSC; I studied English, 4 unit maths, textiles and design, and visual arts – that’s it. Not many CS graduates come from an arts background!
JC’s path to a computer science career:
> > Bachelor of Business/Science (Information Technology), UTS
> > Software Engineer, CBA
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs