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Alex Dunham | Oxford to Tauranga and the Growth of the Technology Sector

Alex Dunham

Alex Dunham wasn’t sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. Born and raised on the North Shore, she headed off to the University of Auckland and began a Bachelor of Arts while she figured things out. She majored in Spanish, thinking that learning a language sounded like fun                         

When that career path proved to be a dead-end, she pivoted and learned a new kind of language: coding.  A Bootcamp at Yoobee confirmed that a technology career was a natural fit for her. It put her on the path towards front-end development – where technology and the arts overlap.

After being part of some exciting projects in Oxford in the United Kingdom, Alex and her husband David have recently returned home. They bypassed Auckland in favour of Tauranga; the city they always planned to live in eventually, and where Alex discovered a growing technology sector and an abundance of opportunities for her next career move.

This is her story.


Alex, what led you to your career pivot into coding/web development?

My degree didn’t really provide me with any clear career options. I ended up working a few office jobs. One of them required me to learn a bit about technology. It turned out I was pretty good at picking it up, which got me thinking I could be interested in learning more. Meanwhile, my sister had become a developer by doing a year-long diploma at Yoobee and found a great job through it. It sounded cool, so I thought I’d give it a try as well.

What happened next?

After finishing my three-month Bootcamp course at Yoobee, I managed to put together enough of a portfolio to start applying for junior web development jobs. I found one in an agency environment doing websites for small businesses mainly, and then gradually worked my way up the ladder across a few companies. After getting a bit of experience I was able to get a job at a consultancy in Oxford in the UK, where I got to specialize my skills a bit more.

What took you to Oxford?

My husband was born in New Zealand but grew up in the UK, where his family still lives. We wanted to try living over there so we could be nearer to them, at least for a while. Moving country is one of the most stressful things you can do, and I’m pleased I did it, just to prove to myself I could settle in somewhere abroad and make a go of it. I made some lovely friends and learned a lot about what I do and don’t want out of my life in the future.

Professionally, I got lots of practice with React, a Javascript framework, which was helpful because this technology is really popular now. I gained lots of real-world experience on really interesting projects, particularly in the science and engineering worlds. I worked on front-end development for some cool web apps that came out of Oxford University and various other interesting places.

How did you know it was time to come home to New Zealand?

We had been living in the UK for about a year and a half, and it was the middle of winter when we decided to move back here, which probably says a lot about why we came back. If I never see snow again, I will be happy! Living near Oxford was really expensive and while we were getting some great experience professionally, I missed the easy-going lifestyle that you get here in New Zealand. While we were away we had missed the first year or so of my little niece’s life, and I was sad not to be a part of all that.

Why did you move to Tauranga rather than go back to Auckland?

We had bought a house in Tauranga just before we got married because we wanted to eventually live in our own home. Auckland prices meant buying up there was out of the question. My husband had lived in the Bay of Plenty a few years ago when he initially moved to New Zealand. He was familiar with Tauranga and we were keen to live somewhere at least one of us knew well.

The Tauranga lifestyle also made us keen to be here. After moving country twice in two years, I was ready to settle down. In the UK we were inland and it felt so weird after being in Auckland and near water most of my life. I was really keen to have a quiet life near the sea, get outside more, one day get a dog, that whole thing.

What was your experience of finding work here like?

It was much easier than I anticipated actually. Both my husband and I managed to secure jobs here before we left the UK, which was a relief. It seems like technology roles are coming up here more and more. When I was applying for jobs, there were quite a few good companies looking for people with my skill-set.  I accepted a role as a front-end developer for GPS-it Precision Land Mapping.

What does GPS-it Precision Land Mapping do?

GPS-it capture and produce spatially accurate farm and orchard maps across the entire country for the agricultural and horticultural sectors. Additionally, GPS-it also develops bespoke digital GIS solutions, including their own Sass product AgBox. Agbox basically allows the user to manage their property by annotating their farm or orchard map and keep track of things. They can take the data from the GPS-it map, and turn it into something they can explore and manage themselves.


What does your role involve? Do you enjoy it?

I am working on the front end for AgBox. I basically work on anything that you see or interact with and use React.js to create all the views and components of the web app. We use Esri GIS Mapping Software, so I use their Javascript API to render the maps we create, and allow the user to interact with them. I really like working with Javascript, and how much I get to do as a front-end developer.

The landscape of front-end development has changed a lot over the last few years. We get to make some really cool, challenging stuff using front-end technologies. I also like working in agriculture – an area that I didn’t have previous experience with. I’m learning a lot, and I feel like I’m making something that’s really useful for people in this industry. The whole team is great, and going to work doesn’t actually feel like work.

What do you love about living in Tauranga?

My commute is only about 10 minutes! It has made my life so much easier, not having to travel up to an hour each way to get to and from work. We live in Judea, and the buses are also really good where I am. Generally, we have more time and disposable income because the cost of living is far less for us down here than it was in Oxford or Auckland. We can get around much quicker and easier. There are some really cool social activities happening around here, and I’ve met some really lovely people so far. Generally, life is just a lot less stressful.


What do you do for fun/to relax here?

I really like crafts, so I’ve started meeting up with a great group of ladies of all ages to knit at a local cafe once a month. It’s such a cool way to meet people and have some laughs. I also love reading and hanging out at cafes, so I’ve been making great use of the local library. It always has a great selection of books and is one of my favourite places to go on a weekend.

What has surprised you about Tauranga?

How many different hobby-based groups and activities there are! It seems like no matter what you are into, there is a meetup for you. It’s given me lots of options for getting out there and making friends, which I have so appreciated.

What has moving to Tauranga meant:

For your career? I’m in a great job where I get to challenge my brain every day and have a great time doing it. I’m happy to be able to use all the latest technologies in my field and to be with a great bunch of people.

For your wellbeing? I have a much better balance in my life now that I don’t commute very far, and far less stress generally. The lifestyle and routine I’ve found here have meant I get much more incidental exercise and I love the peace and quiet. I’m so much happier.

For your relationships?  It’s hard being away from my husband’s family in the UK, but being here means we can save up to visit quicker than if we lived in Auckland. My husband and I get to spend more time together in the evenings now because we get home earlier. I’ve met some great ladies through social groups here, and am really looking forward to getting to know more people here.


Ready for a Change?

GPS-it is a key company in Tauranga’s growing agri-tech sector.

“Strong growth in Tauranga has led to significant skills shortages in our AGRI-TECH sector. Key companies want to connect with Kiwi expats, migrants, and tech-professionals from within New Zealand with relevant expertise.” ~ Nigel Tutt, Priority One CEO



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