There’s a technology start-up based at Waikato Innovation Park whose workforce have something in common – they are all graduates of the University of Waikato.
That company is Torutek, an R&D-focussed organisation where team members pride themselves on both their agility and their ability to meet customer needs. The staff work on a variety of projects: facial recognition systems for helping problem gamblers; indoor security and tracking systems; Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing solutions; and hi-tech consultancy services.
Last year Torutek launched a University of Waikato scholarship for an undergraduate student studying either a Bachelor of Engineering (majoring in software engineering) or a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences. This year they’re offering the scholarship again.
The scholarship is worth $4000 and includes the opportunity for a paid summer internship at Torutek.
Quenton Buser (pictured) was the inaugural recipient and he spent the summer working at Torutek enhancing their core systems and gaining valuable experience across the full development stack. Quenton worked closely with fellow Waikato computer science graduate Caine Jameson, a senior engineer at Torutek who mentored him throughout the summer.
Another University of Waikato intern, Luke Schwarz, is about to start the final year of his computer science degree. He’s been working on developing an embedded safety device which can keep track of mobile workers within large buildings and facilities. Luke says the work experience has been fantastic. “My learning has gone crazy!”
The company directors are Chris Yu, David Leaver and James McCosh, who all graduated from Waikato with Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) degrees majoring in software engineering. James says the young business is establishing a reputation for creating solutions that seamlessly blend software and hardware. “Software is a great enabler,” he says. “But often, software alone can only take you so far. One of our key advantages is our ability to develop custom hardware and software solutions to solve the really tricky problems, which in turn delivers the maximum value to our customers.”
In developing their maiden product, Torutek worked with New Zealand gaming trusts, the Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Gambling Commission, treatment providers, and another New Zealand company called COMS systems, to create a facial recognition solution for problem gamblers.
This product, known as Guardian, matches a person’s face against a database of self-excluded problem gamblers, so that if they turn up to a gambling establishment they’ll be spotted and turned away. “The entire process is voluntary,” Chris Yu says. “A problem gambler must sign up for the list. It’s a way for them to protect themselves and it makes it easier for all parties to comply with and meet their obligations under the New Zealand gaming laws.” Guardian is currently active in more than 30 gaming venues and has proven to be a very effective tool in reducing harm caused by problem gambling.
Chris says one of the advantages in being small is that they can respond quickly to requests or ideas, use their skills to take a new or emerging technology and apply it to a real world problem, and turn that solution into a product that can be sold to other customers.
James says he has fond memories of his time at Waikato and that his engineering degree prepared him well to start a business. “The engineering degree at Waikato gave me a broad base of skills and knowledge to build on, which has served me well throughout my career. Making the move from engineering to business definitely presents a different set of challenges, but the underlying skills you need to deal with these challenges aren’t all that different.”
Above all else, James says Torutek tries to make sure their staff are happy, healthy and engaged. “We have a high-performing team of very talented individuals who are passionate about what they do, and our job as an employer is to make sure that they enjoy coming to work every day.”
James says to achieve this they work to foster an environment where everyone is comfortable asking for help and sharing knowledge across the team. “We encourage our staff to spend time keeping abreast of new technologies and try to use them as much as possible in our products, so that our skills and products never go stale, and the work stays interesting.”
“Engineering is as much about people as it is about problem solving. If you are trying to solve a problem without thinking about the customers or the stakeholders, you aren’t going to succeed. Business is the same; whether it is colleagues or customers, what matters most is people.”
For more information on the University of Waikato Torutek scholarship go to: https://www.waikato.ac.nz/scholarships/s/torutek-software-engineering-scholarship