“Is the grass really greener outside of New Zealand shores?” That was the question posed by James Bergin, Chief Architect, ASB Bank at ClearPoint’s latest TechDrop session. And before you think, how cool is he to have designed the award-winning, 5-green-star-rated building that is ASB’s new headquarters at Auckland’s North Wharf, let’s quickly clarify that he is the ‘other’ type of architect (and just as cool). James is ASB Bank’s chief technology architect and leads a team of 30 IT architects and engineers to design and develop the technology underpinning ASB Bank’s financial products and services in New Zealand.

New Zealand is perennially competing for tech talent as scores of bright brains look to move overseas seeking greener pastures, lured by opportunities offered by tech giants like Google and Apple. Yet, are the opportunities that much better when you look beyond the salaries and perks and view the whole package? There are other factors to consider such as the potential to have an impact on a project vs being a cog in a wheel, the work-life balance, and overall quality of lifestyle.

Many people think the United States and Silicon Valley are where dreams and fortunes are made. The Employee Value Proposition (EVP) seems appealing: starting IT salaries of USD 100k+, the prestige of working for global tech brands, potentially large exit strategies through stock options, free “gourmet” food, laundry services, massages, etc. But the flip side is the long hours you’ll be expected to put in, the competitive, high-pressure environment you’ll work under, and the fact that you may only get to work on a small piece of a huge project due to the large scale of the companies.

One ex-Google employee during her exit interview said, “You’re simply a guy/girl with an oil can to grease the wheels or cogs of a machine.” One Apple engineer said, “It’s like wearing a badge of honour to diss your family in favour of a weekend at the office. Clearly the solution is to hire more personnel, but why do that when you can work your engineers 6-7 days a week 6-8 months out of the year.” Add that attitude towards employees to the high rental prices in the Silicon Valley, and it’s no wonder people feel pressured to work all hours.

Australia is another popular draw for IT talent. Yet look more closely at the country’s economic status, specifically its AUD 123 billion national debt (roughly AUD 25,000 debt per man, woman and child) and the future doesn’t look as bright. Debt of that magnitude can be controlling and it has potential implications in terms of the government’s taxes and services. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks Sydney as the 5th most expensive city to live, so think about cost of living and quality of life when you have to commute for hours to get to work. To give some perspective, there are around 285 architects at the CBA Bank in Sydney (vs 30 at ASB Bank in Auckland). Again, you are a cog in a big wheel, living in a big city, with the downside of ‘big city thinking.’ And don’t forget the poisonous snakes, spiders, sharks and sparks!

With brush fires commonplace in Australia and drought-ridden California, you only have look at the lush nature around us to see that the grass is pretty green right here.

New Zealand has a lot to offer as a country, but companies have to work towards a new “AGRI” model (A=Attract, G=Grow, R=Retain, I=Innovate) to build effective retention strategies and have a relationship with the growing mobile IT workforce.

From an ‘Attract’ perspective, New Zealand is blessed with natural beauty and Auckland is well-positioned compared to other cities, ranking #3 in Mercer’s international Quality of Living Survey in 2014. To ‘Grow,’ companies need to offer talented staff the opportunity for professional growth. Companies are generally smaller in New Zealand, so employees often have the chance to wear many hats and develop “T” shaped professional skills, i.e. to be both a specialist and then branch out and broaden their skills within an organisation. ‘Retain’ strategies are critical to keeping talent here in NZ, and that can be done by offering a package of benefits that suits the reality of today’s workforce demands, e.g. modern, state-of-the-art work environments, flexible working schedules, career break options, engagement activities, etc. ‘Innovate’ is an area of opportunity since the Internet and cloud technologies have eliminated the ‘tyranny of distance’ and levelled the playing field for New Zealand. Successful IT companies such as Xero have proven that New Zealand can innovate and compete on the global stage. The old adage is true; the mother of invention is necessity. New Zealand has a history of innovating; we just need to do more of it.

One IT talent sums up what New Zealand has to offer, “You end up with a much broader role with a much more enjoyable place to live.”  The grass is looking greener all the time.

James Bergin, Chief Architect at ASB Bank presented at ClearPoint’s TechDrop session on 25 November 2014. At ClearPoint we believe that innovation can occur anywhere and anytime. Discussion and debate between peers from different industries is a good stimulus for creativity and innovation. That’s why we initiate the TechDrop series. Get in touch for more details or stay tuned to our blog for more fresh thinking.