Diogo Menezes| How A Working Holiday Turned into an Engineering Role at Robotics Plus
Engineer, Diogo Menezes and his wife Nathalie, came to New Zealand for an adventure.
The Brazilian couple had previously visited the country separately and it made such an impression on them they later applied for a Working Holiday Visa. Friends convinced them to come straight to Tauranga when they arrived.
Diogo was working in a kiwifruit packhouse and looking for engineering work experience when he found out about Robotics Plus – an iconic Bay of Plenty company designing and building robotic solutions for the primary industries. He showed up unannounced at their office the next day, CV in hand, and was given two minutes to tell his story.
Before he knew it, Diogo was offered a role as a casual Project Engineer at Robotics Plus, which led two months later to being offered his current role as Research and Development Engineer – an opportunity that means the New Zealand adventure is becoming a longer-term one than originally anticipated.
This is his story.
Diogo, can you tell us your career story?
I graduated in Electrical Engineering at Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG), Brazil. Halfway through my degree, I was granted a one-year scholarship at Monash University, Australia. Close to completing my studies, I was granted a one-semester scholarship at Aalto University, Finland. These were unique experiences that gave me the opportunity to study engineering in different contexts, be exposed to different cultures, and develop my communication skills.
Not long before I came to New Zealand, I worked in Brazil for almost a year as a Product Engineering Systems Analyst at KPIT, an India-based IT/Engineering company. I mainly worked with automotive systems software documentation for the US and LATAM markets.
What brought you to New Zealand?
My wife and I had frequently thought about living abroad, even if it were only for a while. One of the destinations we had in mind was New Zealand, which had impressed us a lot in my visit in 2012 and her visit in 2014. In August 2017, we decided to apply for visas under the Working Holiday Scheme. Once we had our visas approved, we knew we were in for an adventure starting in 2018, but we thought we were just coming for one year.
How did Tauranga end up on your radar?
One of the benefits of having a Working Holiday Visa is that you can work and travel anywhere in New Zealand. At first, we thought it would make sense to start in Auckland, as that is where we would fly into from Brazil, but some friends convinced us to come straight to Tauranga. They kept telling us all the good things about living in Tauranga and we thought, “well, at least we know we can find kiwifruit picking work in Tauranga to keep us going”.
How did your working holiday begin?
My first job here in New Zealand was as a kiwifruit picker. However, after the very first day, I noticed that work availability would be rather weather-dependent and decided to look for work in kiwifruit packhouses instead. The new plan was then to work night shifts at a packhouse. My hope was to have consistent work hours, as well as to be able to attend engineering-related role interviews during business hours. So, I started working in an Eastpack packhouse and stayed with them for about a month.
How did you go from packing Kiwifruit to working as an engineer at Robotics Plus?
Around the same time I started to work at the packhouse, I had the great surprise of finding out about Robotics Plus. A visit to their website was enough to make me want to check them out, as Robotics Plus’ capabilities are closely related to the type of engineering I am passionate about. I didn’t think twice before deciding to print out my CV and knock on their door the next day. After a quick chat with the COO (he basically said I had two minutes to tell my story), he took me to one of the senior engineers for a chat. They then called me for a formal interview, which led to a job offer as a casual Project Engineer.
What happened next?
During the first two months working with Robotics Plus, the company valued my skills and all I had learned about our Robotic Apple Packer system and production process. I was then offered my current position, which meant that I had to apply for a new work visa based on this new job offer. The Brazilian working holiday visa only allows three months of work for the same employer. That’s when Nathalie and I started considering a long journey here in Tauranga, which has been fun.
What does your role as an R&D Engineer at Robotics Plus involve?
I started my R&D position working closely with the Apple Packer (AP) Production Team, given the experience I had from my previous role. At that time, my day-to-day would include assembling electromechanical systems, mentoring new staff, troubleshooting and testing of AP production units, and validation of design changes. At present, I’m mainly working with electrical/software development and testing in the multidisciplinary design team of one of our products, as well as helping with technical support of commissioned AP machines.
What do you enjoy about the role?
To see a concept taking form and becoming a product is quite amazing, and that’s visible at Robotics Plus. I haven’t seen the same product going through the whole process, but I have seen different products in different stages. It’s that hands-on engineering teamwork that I enjoy. It means I get to contribute to the process.
What do you respect about Robotics Plus as a company?
I really appreciate Robotics Plus’ values. They’re centred around being principled, stewards, pioneers, and collaborators. In fact, these values, and their associated behaviors, were drafted from brainstorm sessions with all the staff. Involving all of us in the process of shaping the values in our workplace is significant.
What advice would you give to other tech professionals considering moving to Tauranga?
In terms of the tech scene in Tauranga, it can be defined as vibrant. Proof of that is the consortium of eight local businesses (BlueLab, Cucumber, GPS-It, Eurofins, Robotics Plus, Trimax Mowing Systems, Waka Digital, and Zespri International) to help establish PlantTech Regional Research Institute. As PlantTech became operational last year, I do expect a lot of exciting things in the next years.
From an immigration point of view, I believe that tech professionals who are serious about moving to Tauranga and fulfill certain requirements are welcomed by the country. I say that because of the existing skill shortage lists, and the fact that additional points are currently given to residency applicants with a job offer outside of Auckland. So, I would highly encourage these tech-professionals to visit Immigration New Zealand’s website for more information on the next steps of their move. That’s what my wife and I did (and still do).
What do you love about working in Tauranga?
Robotics Plus’ head office is in a rural area, which is beneficial to testing robots in the orchards nearby. What it means to the team is that we can go out for walks or simply have an outdoor lunch. To top it all off, the view of Mount Maunganui on my way back home never gets old.
What do you love about the lifestyle in Tauranga?
I love how people here enjoy being outdoors. I guess the city itself is one of the biggest incentives for that, especially during daylight savings. There are, for example, so many nice walking tracks, beaches, waterfalls around the region that you almost feel guilty for not making the most of them. Learning to surf is on my to-do list for this summer.
One of the things that I started doing here in Tauranga is playing ultimate frisbee. And that’s the cool thing about Tauranga: if you can think of a sport, there’s probably a club for it here. Also, meeting up with friends is guaranteed fun. Quite often I get together with friends from our local church, have a boardgames night with workmates, or have dinner with some other Brazilians based in Tauranga.
What has surprised you about Tauranga?
It’s awesome how Tauranga has this getaway destination feel but is a city that has pretty much everything you need. It’s also quite surprising how Tauranga is well located in the North Island, as you can quite easily have a day trip to cities like Rotorua, Taupo, Coromandel, and Auckland.
What has moving to Tauranga meant:
For your career? Big change. I’m currently doing what I’m passionate about. I’m always learning from creative and experienced people while bringing my own skillset to the team.
For your wellbeing? In general, I believe the Kiwi culture promotes a good work-life balance. It’s “Go Hard and Go Home” instead of “Go Hard or Go Home”. It means more time with family and friends.
For your relationships? The time zone difference to Brazil makes it harder to keep in touch with family and friends living there. As to new relationships in Tauranga, they have come naturally as we get more and more familiar with the culture.
Ready for a Change?
“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