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Reality Check: Auror's Phil Thomson

Reality Check: Auror's Phil Thomson

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 Auror co-founder Phil Thomson.

What’s your favourite…

Technology you can’t live without?

My Garmin GPS watch and the Strava app. The watch keeps track of my exercise activity, and the online community using Strava helps keep me motivated. I think it’s super important to move during the day, whether that’s a running meeting, taking the office dogs for a walk, or even a regular catch-up at the gym (and spa) with my other co-founders Tom Batterbury and James Corbett.

Underrated or old technology?

Spotify is underrated for helping us set the mood in the Auror office. The workday isn’t the same without a motivational or uplifting soundtrack to set the tone. Current office playlists range from Throwback Thursdays (all the greatest hits that shouldn’t be relegated only to Thursdays) to Chilled Acoustic Covers.

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

Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl) is seriously cool, and doing great work in an area that seriously needs her help: making STEM subjects fun for young people and helping build a skilled and diverse technical workforce for tomorrow. We love her work.

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

Elon Musk has done so many cool things. But while lots of people recognise him for his work at Tesla and SpaceX, I think one of the most seriously cool things he’s done is to consider the human implications of the technologies he’s developing. While’s he’s pushing the boundaries of technology, he’s also considering the affects AI and robotics may have on our society. To me it’s cool that he’s a humanist as well as a technologist.

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

Auror obviously! Making the hard decision to leave a safe legal career to jump into the unknown world of startups became significantly easier once we helped solve our first crime. Seeing the potential of the platform unleashed was an incredible buzz.

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

I’m pretty jealous of the team at Intercom. Not only do they have a great product that is easy to fall in love with, but their growth trajectory (especially for a non-US startup) is something everyone should be envious of. We’ve used Intercom to help build our community, engage new customers, and handle support queries, and I think it’s made a huge difference in making our service better.

What first drew you to this industry?

Growing up I always enjoyed new technology, and I also always wanted to run a business. So when an opportunity to do both came along I was dead keen. It was a big leap, but I’m loving the uncertainty and challenge of running and scaling a tech startup.

What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?

I really love the opportunity to apply new technologies to age-old problems and work to make our lives and communities better. I particularly enjoy technology that isn’t beneficial from a convenience or entertainment standpoint, but that actually makes our society better.

How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?

We’re now well beyond the Number 8 wire mentality that was used to describe our tech scene previously. New Zealand is home to an enormous number of tech and startup companies that are changing their industry and the world, and we need to start recognising that. Our tech culture has been far too humble. We’re a world-class innovation economy, and it’s time we started championing that better.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

My inspiration is drawn from my co-founders, family, music, and exercise.

Reality check

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

You’re no longer required to build everything yourself. You can use other cloud providers, applications, or plugins to create a better overall solution. You can use the tech eco-system to focus on doing what you do really well, and get to market and iterate much more quickly.

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

We stare at our phones far too much and find it difficult to ‘be in the now’. We often live through screens, and fail to appreciate and experience the world, or to simply take a moment for ourselves. We could all be present in the moment more.

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

We’re all addicted. It’s a love/hate relationship; for all the things technology helps us do everyday, I hate the fact that it controls us instead of the opposite.

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

@ThePhilThomson thinks that overall social media is just another channel of communication. I’ve found it useful to open doors and get to people when emails and calls can’t. It’s helped me to get advice and meeting rooms, but there is a dark side of social media I hope I never fully come across.

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

As a reformed lawyer I’m torn with my views on more laws. I think we actually need laws to be written that are technology agnostic (law makers often get caught up in the latest craze but don’t think about the future implications/restrictions). We should use the law to shape the way we want our society to interact.

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

I believe there are four immediate things that could help:

1. Recognise and acknowledge that there is a diversity problem in technology.

2. Get more young people into STEM subjects over the long-term.

3. Promote inclusive and diverse workplaces and companies that do this well.

4. Actively seek new team members that make our workplaces more inclusive and diverse.

What worries you the most about technology?

We don’t yet truly understand the unintentional consequences of new technologies and how they may impact our communities.

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

The doomsday scenario I worry about is if an electromagnetic pulse wipes out all technology on the planet and we’d have to start again from scratch. Or maybe this could be a good thing after all.

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

I’d love to see a future where tech is New Zealand’s number one export, followed closely by sustainable foods.