Master of Science (Computer Science)
Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences
Senior Software Development Test Engineer, Microsoft
A Canadian student who completed his Masters degree at the University of Waikato was recently able to tell his friends and family what he’s been doing for the last year and a half.
Since early 2012, all Mark Staveley’s family have known is that the software development engineer has been working for Microsoft somewhere on the company’s Seattle campus.
But on May 21, with the announcement of Microsoft’s Xbox One, he finally got to reveal he has been working as a senior software development test engineer on the new console.
“It’s been a really wild ride. I was proud to have the announcement go so well and to be able to share some of the excitement with my friends and family,” he says.
Working on something such as Xbox One is a once in a lifetime opportunity – “these will be coming into your living room” - and it’s an opportunity, he says, which likely would not have happened if he had never studied at Waikato University.
“It was one of those cocoon stages of my life,” he says.
“I came out of New Zealand a very different person. I have since taught at different universities, done research at world-class facilities, and finished a PhD. Throughout all of these things I have reflected on my time at Waikato and been thankful for how I was encouraged and pushed to excel. Professors in the Computer Science Department really made a tremendous impact on me and I’ve never looked back. Waikato has a really neat way of capturing that real Kiwi innovation and creative spirit,” he says.
Waikato University reflection
That innovative and creative spirit has proved invaluable in his work at Microsoft and Staveley still recalls how that was encouraged at the University of Waikato.
“I remember one assignment had a grading breakdown where 75% of the grade was obtained by simply doing the work and completing the assignment. However, in order to get the remaining 25% you had to come up with your own ways to extend the assignment and then do that work. I had never encountered that before, it was really valuable. That ‘show us what you’ve got’ attitude is a great mindset. Now I’m at Microsoft we’re encountering computer challenges every day which have never been done before, we’re solving problems no one has ever solved before and that approach has been fantastic.”
He says the collaborative approach to research he was part of at the University of Waikato is also encouraged at Microsoft.
“It’s what I like about Microsoft, it’s a very collaborative engineering space. We’re told ‘don’t be afraid to work with your peers’. That kind of thinking is very contagious,” he says.
“I remember telling a friend, a professor at the University of Toronto, about the standards at Waikato and what we do and he said it sounded like the MIT of the South Pacific. That kind of description of Computer Science at Waikato really resonated with me.”
He says people such as Professor Ian Witten and Associate Professor Steve Jones had played key roles in his learning and “my hat goes off to them”.
Perhaps appropriately, Staveley says gaming also had a part in his career development.
“I remember very fondly gaming tournaments in the Computer Science Department every Friday afternoon. A game would be loaded on the server - Quake and things like that – and away we’d go and I still remember hearing the yells of my supervisor down the hall every time I fired a missile at him. It’s nice to have that balance of work and play.”
As part of Microsoft’s Xbox One team, Staveley works as a senior software development engineer in test.
“I write software that simulates behavioural actions on various software systems,” he says.
“It simulates a month of a behaviour over an hour or weekend and finds performance problems or stress problems. It’s a really neat discipline and requires really creative thinking and problem solving.”
Involvement with the University of Waikato
Staveley has stayed involved with the University of Waikato through the Alumni Association and also through helping young students.
“They set up a mentoring programme so here I was on the east coast of Canada mentoring a Waikato third year student over Skype,” he says.
“That’s one of the nice ways of actually looking after people and making that contact. Waikato took very good care of me and gave me great tools and I know it’s somewhere I’m always welcome.”
And there’s a chance Staveley might be back at Waikato University one day.
“People at Microsoft can get sabbaticals and while I’m not senior enough, if I get to that stage, rest assured I’ll be on the phone to Waikato to see if they need a visiting lecturer from Microsoft. Waikato gave me a tremendous start and I will always be grateful. Plus I really miss mince and cheese pies.”