So you're an open sourcerer who wants to move to NZ? Good idea.

Posted on: January 17, 2014 - 10:58 By: dave

So, you're an open source developer or tech expert and you want to move to New Zealand... what do you need to know? Here're some informal tips from someone who's been there and done that (but is not an immigration lawyer!): I moved to NZ in 1994 from the US and later started a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development and services company, which I ran for 14 years. Although there's certainly plenty of interesting FOSS stuff going on that I don't know about, I think I have a pretty good understanding of how things work here now.

First of all, if you're thinking of relocating to New Zealand, I think that's a good choice, and not just for selfish reasons (I'm keen to see more and more passionate and talented FOSS folks here).

Most of the FOSS developers I know in NZ have emigrated here from elsewhere and have found it a very good place to be. Despite the odd trouble with government policy, overall it's a free and open society, with an administration that is accessible and open to well reasoned arguments for changing the status quo. We have, for example, managed to get a ban on software patents. We are lucky to have a number of representative organisations in NZ who have thoughtful and energetic leadership, and are "doing the right thing" as far as the NZ FOSS community is concerned. These include

  • the Institute of IT Professionals who aim to raise the standard of professionalism in the industry,
  • InternetNZ, who champion an "open and uncapturable Internet", and
  • NZ Rise - a lobby group representing the interests of NZ-owned IT businesses (not multinationals)

The NZOSS often works with these groups on areas of shared interest like opposition to NZ's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations due to their oppressive and un-democratic secrecy. 

Second, there are a number of strong, smart FOSS companies here. Many of these companies are both successful and influential in NZ. They vary in size from sole-traders (i.e. one wo/man bands) to 200+ person companies with offices overseas as well as NZ.  Keep in mind that although NZ is pretty well known around the world, it is a small country. It's almost certainly very different from the sorts of scenes most of you have experienced before.

To put it into perspective, I once heard (I need to find references for these) that there are only about 200 companies in the country with more than 500 staff. Apparently more than half of professionals in NZ are self-employed, and 90% of businesses have fewer than 20 staff, 80% fewer than 10... It's the land of the freelancer/contractor, with lots and lots of small services companies and ambitious start-ups (something like 10,000 companies with fewer than 10 people). You can surf the Companies Register if you want to learn more about any specific companies.

There are upsides to the small scale - quality of life is pretty hard to beat. Food, coffee and fermented beverages (beer, wine, port, cider, etc.) are world class. It's a beautiful place. If you like the outdoors to complement your indoor computing activities, you'll be able to find a great balance. If you have a good idea, few will stand in your way in trying to achieve it, and some might join in and help you. I often (half) joke that "I moved to NZ to live the American Dream"... Plus, we have an actual, functional public health system.

If you want to move here best tips I can give you:

1. Unless you've got $millions to invest, it's only realistically possible to immigrate if you have a job waiting for you via the "skilled migrant" category. Do your research online and then come to NZ and talk to people - as I said before, it's a small a place, everyone knows everyone and very few people are hired "on spec". There are no HR departments in NZ. With few exceptions you'll typically be hired by the person who'll sit next to you most days at the office, so they'll want to know you're compatible.

2. Make sure you have a good CV (resumé for you Americans) - don't put too much weight on degrees
and certifications - they won't mean much to most people. List FOSS projects you've contributed to (with URLs - most people here use Github/Bitbucket) and provide contact details for professional references.

3. Very few interesting jobs are found via recruiters. Typically only major non-technical companies, multinationals, and government agencies use them, because they don't tend to have local networks of tech people or signficant tech cred. Worth having a look at the online job options (e.g. https://www.seek.co.nz/), but also realise that most positions in our industry are awarded based on serendipitous informal meetings in pubs or chats in the hallways at conferences rather than through some formal hiring process.

4. Attend one or more conferences relevant to your areas of interest in Australia and NZ - they're a great way to meet people and see who's doing interesting things. LinuxConf.AU will be held in NZ next year (2014's just finished in Perth, AU) (update 2018-06-19 - the next LCA will be held in my own home city of Christchurch in January 2019 - see https://linux.conf.au for details). Another great one to attend (though not strictly FOSS) is InternetNZ's NetHui.

5. In the meantime, join the relevant NZ-based online communities for the technologies that particularly interest you and get to know who some of the participants are. There are MeetUp (there a monthly one in Christchurch) communities for most FOSS technologies, as well as well established mailing lists like the PHP Users Group and Python Users Group.  There'll be a lot of lurkers, too, many of whom are also worth knowing - they might be too busy doing stuff to contribute much, but I'm always surprised who's quietly listening. I encourage you to lurk for a while as well to get a sense of how things work here (and where you might be able to help them work better!).

Leave comments about your own experiences below, particularly if you disagree with me here. Also, feel free to ask questions. Best of luck to you!