Māori Tech Dreaming Big in Ōtautahi

Words by Tom King | Photography by Tom King and Emma Barnes

Earlier this month, the Dev Academy whānau took a trip south to Ōtautahi Christchurch, to attend Ko Māui Hangarau. Hosted by Vodafone, the event is the brainchild of co-founders Lee Timutimu (Arataki Systems) and Awhina Ngātuere (Toi Kai Rawa), and aims to show rangatahi that tech is a place that they are welcome and can thrive in. Big names from the Māori tech community came and presented to rangatahi from across Te Waipounamu — including our very own Kaihautū Hourua Tangata Whenua Dougal Stott!

Dougal spoke of sending his son from their home in Kaitaia to Ōtautahi, to further his talents and passion for Toi Māori. He went to work with Dougal’s friend, fellow speaker and Kaihautū of Ariki Creative, Hori Te Ariki Mataki. A full-circle journey for Dougal’s whānau (having grown up in Ōtautahi) and a story that he hopes will show the importance of whānau support for rangatahi going into tech — even if their passion is for drawing instead of math!

Kaihautū Hourua Dougal Stott speaking to rangatahi at Ko Māui Hangarau

As well as showing up to tautoko Dougal’s big moment, the team was put to work after lunch. Rangatahi were let loose on the tech in the room and were given the chance to meet and interrogate tech industry attendees, us included! Big shout out to Joseph (our Foundations Lead) who told his story of hating math and how coding is much more like cooking a delicious meal, or painting. Given that we didn’t have any flash gadgets or giveaways like the other contributors, we were blown away by the enthusiasm and engagement we saw. We often teach folks who are later in their careers, and this left us thinking — what is our commitment to rangatahi? 

We pondered those questions over a ping-pong table (Ming beat us all, thoroughly), followed by a whistle stop tour through central Christchurch. We had a chance to remark on the contrast between the remaining historic landmarks and the new developments post-quake. Then Joseph hosted us at his restaurant, Super, which we all agreed was as satisfying as writing some mean-as code. 

If day one was about rangatahi, day two was about whakawhanaungatanga. Dev Academy’s reach has grown (in part due to our new online campus) and we are welcoming more students into our bootcamps from the regions — including Canterbury. We have made a commitment to connecting with industry partners in these regions to listen and ensure we are preparing our students well for tech roles where they live. So we spent the day visiting three tech organisations who extended their manaakitanga to host us in their spaces whilst we were in the area and just listened to their stories. Two of the organisations we visited had presented at Ko Māui Hangarau the day before: Ariki Creative and Māui Studios. 

Interestingly, Ariki and Māui were both previously based in the same co-working space, but have recently moved into their own premises. From similar beginnings and a shared kaupapa, they have selected vastly different spaces to grow into! Firstly, Ariki Creative has curated a warm and welcoming space for their team to develop. Hori is humble and reserved, but his staff are rich with stories of the opportunities he provided for them when they saw no other path into the industry. Many of his team very vulnerably shared their experiences with us, and we felt privileged to hear these beautiful humans share their stories. They ranged from life-changing experiences of work, to helping them buy houses, teaching them how to side hustle, and some genuinely moving stories of reconnection with whakapapa and a life they didn’t know was possible. Hori and the team had only moved in two weeks ago and have been putting together furniture, artwork, tech and stocking the fridges so they were stoked to be able to show off their latest work for visitors. If you’ve had the pleasure of driving along the new Kaikōura highway and have seen the artwork that is laser cut into the walls, you have marvelled at some of Ariki’s work already. They have partnered with Māui Studios on many projects too, and told to expect a lot more “flash gadgets” in their whare.

Turning the handle of the humbly signed door in the concrete industrial area in Christchurch, nothing could have prepared us for the sights within (or the look on Jack’s face as he first laid eyes on Māui Studios’ new home). Greeted by Vinnie Egan and the team, he told us of how the space reflected how unrestricted their ideas are. “We don’t want to be limited by the boundaries of a small room”. This struck a chord with us and we were certainly caught up in their optimism and boundless energy. We saw different spaces for staff and clients, which had an equal amount of  pride and thought put into them. The ideas for future developments were flowing freely in the kōrero with Vinnie and Luke. However, behind the big thinking were core beliefs and values that were shared with Ariki Creative and all others that presented at Ko Māui Hangarau the previous day. An acknowledgement of their tīpuna that have contributed to where they are right now, and a commitment to making space for others to follow in their footsteps.

We left Māui Studios and headed to the airport (via ice cream) for our journeys home, wondering which organisation we think Dev Academy is most like. We like to think we create a supportive and welcoming whare similar to Ariki Creative, but with the big ideas of Māui Studios (albeit with less flash tech – for now). Much like Māui Studios, expanding our physical horizons by getting on the road is helping us think bigger and get a wider perspective on how our mahi can contribute to the outcomes we wish to see in tech.