entrepreneurship

Student Developer Rolling with Dunedin-based Startup Kitt

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Angus Pauley interviews IT student, developer and Distiller resident; Scott Finnigan.

Scott is a second year Bachelor of IT student at Otago Polytechnic who works for the property software startup, Kitt. Today he shares his learning experiences between University and the practical work experience of being in a Startup. 

Tell us about your role at Kitt.

I’m a developer.

Kitt is built on the Angular 4 Javascript framework. I work on the front-end stuff with Aleks (Founder & Developer) and Sam (Founder & Designer). Eugene (Marketing) works on the business side of stuff and David (Developer) works on the back-end stuff.

I also spend way too much time fixing spelling and grammar. Sam if you are reading this please get a spell-checker!

What is your favourite part about working for a startup?

Kitt is the only startup I’ve ever worked for, but I like being on the team. It’s a nice experience; having a group of people you are working on something with. It feels more like a group project at university than a job, but more like a job than a group project. It probably helps that I knew all of the guys to some extent before I joined. It’s also super good to get experience working on a team developing something.

What is your least favourite part of working for a startup? Is there something you find particularly frustrating?

Well it’s never going to be as secure as a regular job. Plus the hours are all over the place sometimes, but that’s just the nature of these kind of things. I really enjoy my job and only really get frustrated when I see Sam has once again spelt “example” as “examle”.

How has getting involved in the Dunedin startup scene changed your trajectory?

It's definitely switched my main focus to web development. Prior to working at Kitt I was headed towards application development. I’m not complaining though, I’ve already learnt a bunch under Aleks’ watchful/beady eyes and it has really refreshed my perspective on web stuff in general.

I still can’t style anything to save my life though. Luckily, Sam does a good job at making things look nice.

After seeing what David has been doing on the backend, building our entire API himself, I’m kinda curious to look into that side of things in the future.

Is it true you get paid in Pepsi?

Pepsi Max actually. Aleks bought 24 cans under the pre-tense of paying me with them, but really he just wants an excuse to have it sitting around the office space so he can sneakily drink them when he thinks no-one is looking.

I have yet to drink a single one. I give it a month before Aleks has a noticeable Pepsi gut.

If you were to look at your skill set before and after working for Kitt, would you say there are any new skills you have acquired or any old skills you have sharpened through your work?

Definitely. This is my first time working on a project of this size; our codebase is huge and it was pretty overwhelming trying to navigate through it all when I first joined the team.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot about working in a team and collaborating with other developers on something. I mentioned before that it has made me focus a lot more on my web development skills, which didn't used to be my strength.

I’ve also learnt quite a bit about the startup scene and how things work just by talking to others at The Distiller. There are several very different start-ups here, all of which seem to face their own unique problems and challenges.

Do you find your work with Kitt clashes with study? How do you manage this? 

I started working for Kitt after last year’s study had ended, so I don’t really know. I won't be able to work the hours I currently do, but we’re preparing for our closed beta launch right now so there’s quite a lot of stuff to do. I guess I’ll find out in February!

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Have any of your opinions about work changed after working for Kitt?

I don’t hate open-plan offices anymore. I always thought it would be distracting and impossible to concentrate on coding, but it’s never really been an issue, and it helps me stay on task since everyone can see if I’m working or not. It’s also way easier to quickly ask someone something if they’re just across the room from you.

I still wouldn’t work at Google though, I don’t know how they ever get anything done with all of the stuff they seem to do in their offices. I went to a talk by Google at the University last year thinking it would be useful as an aspiring developer, but they just talked about their offices and the activities they do there for an hour.

Why did you choose to work with Kitt?

I’ve known Aleks for 11 years now and we’ve been flatting together for the last two years. He’s taught me web development stuff on and off over the last year or so, and in December he asked me if I wanted a job helping them get ready for launch. I was only working part-time as a cleaner so I had the spare time, and I knew that any development experience will be invaluable later on.

I also knew Sam, David and Eugene before I joined, although I am yet to meet David and Sam in person.

What is on your horizon in the next few years?

I want to finish study. I have one more year left at Otago Polytechnic and then I’m done. I also want to sort out my partner’s NZ Visa, and now that they have changed the rules it might require a move.

Other than that I don’t have any obvious plans. It’s hard to say how Kitt fits in due to the volatile nature of startups, but I enjoy working with the team so if they want me to stay on in the future then I’m in.


INTERVIEW BY ANGUS PAULEY

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Guest Piece: Put Six Strangers in a Room and See What Happens

An entrepreneurial story on the Sino-NZ model By April Henderson and Jane Armour-Raudon

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In November 2017, three Otago Polytechnic students; Jane Armour-Raudon, Evelyn Araujo Hodson and April Henderson won a fully funded experience to Tianjin China. They were selected through a New Zealand wide competition for individuals with an innovation mindset and entrepreneurial attitude, to experience a unique, cross cultural, innovation and entrepreneur student workshop.

The Sino-New Zealand Modern Vocational Education Development Forum is a result of the Strategic Education Partnership between China and New Zealand and facilitated by the Waikato Institute of Technology.

This year’s forum focussed on innovation and entrepreneurship. The student workshop was the practical outcome of Chinese and New Zealand delegates discussing innovation in vocational education at a scholarly level.

The winning New Zealand students worked alongside three winning Chinese students by first pitching their winning one-page business plans in a workshop, facilitated by entrepreneur Theresa Brady. Each idea was discussed and challenged. Feedback was given to help the group clarify each business proposition. On day two the group chose one of the business ideas to further develop and present at the conclusion of the conference.

Day three started with a group presentation of the workshopped business idea to over 200 New Zealand and Chinese delegates. This was followed by responses to both the business plan and the workshop outcomes, from the head of Sino-New Zealand vocational training at Tianjin Vocational Technical College and Erin Wansbrough CEO of SODA Inc.

The forum concluded with a Q+A session, run by Marc Doesburg of Otago Polytechnic, focusing on individual's learning outcomes and how they plan to integrate these learnings in their own business ventures.

Once back on New Zealand soil, the students were asked to reflect on their individual experiences.

The forum really opened my eyes. I learnt so much about business solutions, creation, sustainability and innovation.
— Evelyn
I learnt more expansive thinking around my business idea and gained valuable insights into my target market.
— Jane
I gained so much insight and inspiration from everyone involved. One of the goals I wanted to achieve while there was to get some connections that I could get in touch with once I graduate, and I achieved this!
— April

The goal of the Sino-NZ model is to strengthen collaboration between New Zealand and China. All six students agreed: “We have strengthened our cultural business understanding through overcoming differences and challenges to collaborate together to present a cohesive business model”.

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Article by April Henderson and Jane Armour-Raudon

Want to find out more? Contact Jane at artifactnz@gmail.com