Waikato computer scientists have the X factor

8 May 2019

Company-X founding directors David Hallett and Jeremy Hughes.

While some employers look overseas for computing and mathematical science graduates to cover their needs, Hamilton software firm Company-X makes a point of hiring a large number of University of Waikato alumni, with more than half their workforce holding a Waikato qualification, including founding directors Jeremy Hughes and David Hallett.

Why? “Because the University of Waikato produces work-ready technologists,” says David. “We look for the best and brightest IT professionals and computer scientists, and Waikato graduates have proved to be integral to the success of our firm.”

A computer science graduate himself, David says that the qualifications offered at Waikato fit well with the development work Company-X is involved in. “We need strong technical people, and in this rapidly changing technological environment, Waikato graduates bring the right knowledge and practical skills to solve our clients’ business problems,” he says. “You don't get a top 250 world QS ranking for your Department of Computer Science without earning it.”

The University of Waikato is renowned for producing world-leading technologists, including researcher Dr Craig Nevill-Manning – the man behind Google Maps, and co-founder of Google DeepMind Dr Shane Legg. “University of Waikato Computer Science graduates measure themselves against such greatness and so do we,” says David.

Founded in 2012 and now employing more than 50 staff, Company-X was recently named fastest growing technology company in the central North Island by Deloitte. Company-X analysts and developers design, build and test bespoke software applications for businesses, from creating four e-commerce websites to promote the world’s first hydrofoil e-bike to developing the Waikato Expressway testing application. The firm is also behind an innovative project to provide every Waikato Year 7 student with a credit card-sized micro:bit computer by 2020, working alongside teaching solutions provider Learning Developments and the Computer Science for Schools (CS4S) network.

Waikato graduate and Company-X Senior Developer Marcel van de Steeg.

Waikato graduate Marcel van de Steeg has been working as a Senior Developer at Company-X for five years, and hopes to inspire the next generation of technologists. He regularly spends time teaching Hamilton Boys’ High School technology students how to write, publish and market their own games. Marcel’s classroom visits are part of the Smart Waikato Secondary School Employer Partnership (SSEP), which Company-X is supporting for the third consecutive year. Marcel runs similar sessions at his daughter’s primary school, using a tea-making robot and a biscuit-dunking bot he has built and programmed. “If you show younger kids a physical component that they can interact with, there’s a much stronger engagement and they are much more likely to be interested in software development,” he says.

Marcel says that technologists need to combine solid academic expertise with the right attitude. “Studying at the University of Waikato gave me access to a broad range of papers and played a huge part in building the foundations of my professional life,” he says. “You never know what you’ll encounter next in the workforce, so having the right attitude and a willingness to learn also makes a huge difference.”

Director Jeremy Hughes says that Company-X's biggest challenge is the global skills shortage in the information technology business sector. “Without University of Waikato graduates the fast growth of Company-X may probably not have been as meteoric as it has been, and we need more to go around.”

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