Running out of time to jump on Tech wagon

posted: 4:00 pm - 4th May 2019
Tovia Vaaelua

People often question Misa Tovia Va’aelua (pictured) if he thinks of himself as a Kiwi because he was raised in New Zealand. 

However, as the Chairman of Pasifika in IT points out, the answer to that is complicated.   

“We moved to New Zealand from Sagafili in 1974 when I was six months old, and my father packed Samoa into his suitcase and opened it up in Mead Street, Avondale,” Tovia says. 

“We lived there as if we’d never left home – a key example would be the fact that English was unheard of in our home until I was 17 years old. 

“Who does that? My dad does that and I am grateful now when I need to speak in code with my mother-in-law but back then, it was a little bit painful,” he quips. 

Tovia attended Avondale Primary and College, and says he was smarter than the average bear but academics were not cool back then.   

He got a taste of being “the only one” when he chose to do typing instead of metal or wood work in fourth form. 

Twenty years later he was typing 100 words per minute without looking at the screen and listening to the latest developments to Microsoft products during the multinational’s Global Conference. 

Tovia entered the IT industry in 1999 and later worked for Datacom New Zealand, managing the team which handles all consumer and business escalations regarding Microsoft products. 

He resigned after three years to do post-graduate studies, and Microsoft asked him to work directly for them as a Marketing Intern. 

Tovia then moved from Product Management, to Business Group Management which taught him a lot about technology and how to take Microsoft products to market from a strategic and tactics perspective. 

After 11 years, he returned to managing people, and led the Small and Medium Business team at Microsoft Philippines and eventually also headed the Corporate Business team. 

The pull of home was strong however, and in September 2018, Tovia moved to Microsoft’s newest Cloud Distribution partner – rhipe New Zealand as its Country Manager. 

He is also the Chairman of the organisation, Pasifika in IT, a group of tech professionals who came together to create a support network for the few Pacific people in the industry. 

It aims to be much more, Tovia adds. 

“Automation will displace manual labour within 15 years – that is easy to see but what is unseen is the number of impacted families reliant on income from manual labour to get by … we have to do something about it.” 

downloadPasifika in IT has four key priorities which form its strategic plan, including preparing IT leaders of tomorrow; educating the Pacific workforce on the values and uses of technology; providing thought leadership for the technology agenda in Pacific communities; and representing Pacific contribution into NZ's Technology economy. 

On June 5, Pasifika in IT will launch Pasifika Advocates for Students in Technology (PASI) in Auckland, to address its first key priority. 

Sponsored by The Southern Initiative, Pasifika in IT is partnering with Project Wy to bring a classroom of Pacific children and their parents together to build their own journey towards a career in technology. 

“Our Project Lead Joanna Welch is super passionate about the mentorship of our new leaders and we’re excited to match these 30 kids with a mentor come June 5.” 

The PASI project is a pilot to highlight better alignment between the industry, decision makers (guardians/parents) and education institutions. 

Although the original plan was to target secondary school students in South Auckland, the team felt this was far too late in the game. 

“Influencing career choices needs to start before a child can throw their first spiral pass on a rugby field or bounce pass on a netball court.” 

There are two key aspects people need to understand when it comes to technology, Tovia continues. 

“Firstly, New Zealand is not a self-sustaining economy and one of the mainstays we have is our ability to tap into global markets with our products and services."

“Technology shrunk the globe a million times more in comparison to the leap from ship to plane, and now, there are no limits to who you can engage and sell to – Middle East, Africa, Americas, Europe – take your pick.” 

Kiwi’s businesses need to be more relevant, and get serious about diversity and bring in all kinds of people – whether they are able-bodied, people with disabilities, dyslexic, dyscalculia – everyone is needed. 

“Especially the touch typing Samoan guys – they’re the key to success.” 

Secondly, Tovia says in 15 years’ time, there will only be two industries to focus on – technology and healthcare. 

This is a wake-up call for more urgency and better alignment, Tovia says. 

“People have this crazy thought in their heads we are 10 years away from a critical situation but from where I’m standing – we are already five years behind.” 

Follow Pasifika in IT on Facebook for more information about the PASI launch.