Craig Nevill-Manning's technology career has lead him from growing up in Blenheim to Google's New York engineering hub (which he now directs) – and along the way the expat Kiwi has worked on iconic Google properties such as Google Maps and Froogle.
I spoke to Nevill-Manning while he was visiting friends and family in New Zealand last month. The conversation was quickly steered towards what can be done to get more Kiwi youths interested in technology careers, a topic which Nevill-Manning has much passion for.
He says it's hard to imagine now that his earliest interest in computing came from writing programmes in BASIC in the late '80s, when Nevill-Manning was 11 years old.
"It's all quaint now," he says.
The proliferation of technologies such as smartphones and social networks have come with a great demystifying of their inner workings. Young people aren't interested in solving the mysteries of a computer and creating their own programmes like they were in the green screen era. The greatest multiplier towards growing New Zealand's digital export economy would in sparking that interest again and growing the number of technology-literate students in the country – more geeks and engineers, says Nevill-Manning.
"There's an insatiable demand for good engineers the world over and I think New Zealand is a bit hamstrung by the numbers available currently," he says.
Nevill-Manning is a supporter of integrating ICT deeper into school curricula and moving away from ICT being a class to learn about PowerPoint. He says work being done by Canterbury University head of software department Tim Bell on the NCEA-level ICT has done a lot to make the subject more about the theory and application of what makes students' favourite bits of technology work. Google funds the Computer Science for High Schools teacher workshops which help ICT teachers in new technology teaching methods.
Other initiatives Nevill-Manning points out that need to be replicated across the country include the Institute of IT Professionals NZ's ICT Connect programme, which brings IT professionals into schools to evangalise careers in the sector; and the Programming Challenge 4 Grils (PC4G) – a coding competition for Year 10 girls.
It's not just schools and government programmes that can help excite children about technology. Neville-Manning says he spends time with his nephews and godsons to teach them simple programming languages like SCRATCH, as a stepping stone for the kinds of languages used by tech giants like Google.