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Reality Check: Kiwi Landing Pad's Sian Simpson

As part of Idealog's Technology Month, we've picked the brains of some of the movers and shakers in the industry to find out their favourite tech-related things, their biggest fears for the future and what other companies and individuals inspire their work. Here's Kiwi Landing Pad's director of community Sian Simpson.

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

Internet and power.

Underrated or old technology?

Wells (for getting water out of the ground), time, bicycles (getting from A to B), anything navigation related from the stars to Google Maps.

New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Soul Machines, Xero, Edmund Hillary Fellowship & Rocketlab.

Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?

Airbnb, Amazon, Salesforce, Facebook, Linkedin.

Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?

I’ve been creating videos for SaaStr and interviewing their speakers for the last three years, that’s a pretty awesome company and community to be apart of with the world leaders in all things SaaS. Watching them go from a blog to a fund, conference, co-working space and becoming a media company has been awesome and I'm lucky to be apart of it.

Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

Soul Machines, I think the plight of democratising psychology/therapy and also education with AI and digital avatars is incredibly interesting and also immensely cost effective at scale. Looking at all the information available in the world and being able to pick up your device and speaking to a avatar about anything that you want and it having an objective answer is mind blowing and transformative. As is with education and learning, having a digital avatar that is your peer tutor when you’re not at school that observes how you learn and then engages with you where you are at, as opposed to what curriculum teaches you is a game changer and will change the face of education in places that can’t afford formal education, and also bolster the learning of children who don’t fit into the normal system. I hope this is where they go with some of their tech.
 

What first drew you to this industry?

I distinctly remember a lesson at my school (Pinehurst) when I was nine years old, we were in a computer lab and everything was windows 95 there, I absolutely loved MS paint, and our teacher got us to deconstruct a chicken in MS word clip art, and make a different animal, I just thought it was amazing how you could pull apart things and put them back together. Then also I spent a lot of time playing computer games like Age of Empires and the Sims, creating fictitious people with careers and houses and just how you could create these worlds and maneuver them with different resources and interactions really captivated me as a child. My dad also groomed me to take over his businesses from when I was about five so i’ve lived and breathed entrepreneurship since I was really young.

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

I would have to say the people, and also how something can just be an idea and then turn into something that people buy. I love baffling concepts that you scientifically understand but also in your brain you’re still like ‘how did this happen’. I think there is a magic in technology and I enjoy seeing it and the people who create it and use it every day.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

I think we are born innovators and entrepreneurship is in our blood. I’d describe us as creative, resourceful, and ambitious to a point. Great at creating weird things and world firsts. I love to see some more appetite for the global stage and more examples of this but I think that’ll come. In every corner of NZ there are people doing mind blowing things, we still hold on to our humbleness which I find endearing.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

I travel a lot, my mantra is if you want to understand the world you have to see the world, I’ve been to 45+ countries and love spending time with local communities observing and exploring different cultures. I frequently wander around cities and listen to music taking in all of the imagery and interactions. Big fan of non-verbal communication and people watching. Also I spend so much time on planes, there is something about flying for hours, steering out the wind and pondering life and it’s mysteries, this is where I do most of my thinking.

Reality check

How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?

Tech has had a massive impact on my work, as a team of 1.5 at the Kiwi Landing Pad, with a small amount of resources, tech has allowed me to do the work of 10 people by using it smartly to enable and grow our community globally and add value. The biggest impact is that it’s removed my barriers to entry allowing me to connect and do things globally, everything feels like it’s at my finger tips whether it’s a video, tweet, email or call i’ve connected with some amazing people using the power of social media and the internet. I think in the future we’ll see a lower barier to entry and more free movement between people, place and projects.

What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?

When I was about 15 I remember talking about how the biggest challenge of my generation and the next generations would be teaching people how to communicate again face to face, and I think we are very much seeing that today.

How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?

I love technology, absolutely live and breathe it. I am addicted to it, it’s how I communicate and do a lot of work. I wrote in an article recently on this,  I think this quote sums it up quite well:

“Where you make friends in person or by joining clubs, or going to college, I decided to be different and do what works for me. I did my degree online, and decided to travel the world to see it, so that I could understand it and myself more; this lead to me remote working so that I could pay my way and travel and study, instead of getting loans or taking credit and got back to a job I figured out how to take my job with me, by creating one and learning the skills.. I make friends on twitter, linkedin and more recently instagram as well as in person, those people I actively visit all over the world as far reaching as Kenya to Buenos Aires, we found each other over a shared love of our passions and conversation whether that is long form, how we portray an image with a quirky caption or in 140 characters.”

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

I think it’s a double edged sword, both an enabler but also a detractor. I think we are in our infancy in social media and it’s only going to get more powerful, I use it to connect with people globally offline and online, it’s helped me with my social currency in the absence of money. I do think that we need to teach people the mental models to cope with an online world, that validation needs to come from within not likes, that someone smiling in a photo doesn’t necessarily mean that they are happy offline, we need to teach the difference between these worlds so that people can interface with them successfully and grow with them, be enabled by them.

Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?

I don’t think i’m qualified to answer this question, I wish that trolls didn’t exist but I think technology is always going to be ahead of the curve and my wish would be that we build strong communities that act as the bumper rails for any untoward behaviour.

What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?

I really struggle with this one as it’s such a big topic that has so many layers and variables, there is some great work being done in schools to ensure that people are exposed to many career paths and alternatives. I think the continuation of successful people offering a hand up to up and comers and I think it really comes down to choice and effort, sometimes it takes 10 times longer to ensure you have diversity but I think it’s totally worth it and you should take that time to make that so. To borrow from my good friend Sacha Judd, you can’t be what you can’t see so I think it’s up to us to find role models, share, and offering a helping hand to everyone to help them be more successful and more diverse. New Zealand has a special platform for this to be a world leader given the volume of multiculturalism in our society, this should be cherished as it allows us to better understand the cultures and world that we live in.

What worries you the most about technology?

People using it without understanding it, I worry about having the right mental models to process the speed at which the world and human behaviour is changing.

What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?

I’m not too worried about robots at this stage, I’m more worried about people, communication and purpose. I think technology makes the world a smaller place and technology for a long time will continue to be our enabler, I worry about what happens in the future when we don’t need to work. If universal basic income does become a thing I think we will have a on mass purpose issue. This is something we should address now. I work with so many kids and youth that don’t know how to have fun or play, the scariest prediction is that we won’t know how to just be and I think ultimately a life without this purpose will kill us.

What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?

Our mental health and suicide problem will be eradicated, our land will be cherished and still green and beautiful, technology will be our number one export. Our children and future generations won’t have to leave because we’ll have abundant opportunities here in Aoteroa. We’ll lead on climate change and global issues, and be happy as a society that looks after each other. I hope our communities get closer in the future and more well rounded.

It’s so far away, and I like fast sustainable growth.