These guys. Tom and Will. Wellington ICT Graduate School (WICTGS) Master of Software Development (MSwDev) students and the dynamic duo behind the latest non-profit policy comparison website, VoteWise. We talk to them about their views on technology and politics, taking calls from Microsoft and what gets them ticking.
Q. So how did you guys meet?
Tom: “We met in class, started talking about politics and got into a lot of philosophy.”
Will: “Yeah, we’re both big sports fans too and enjoy reading. I guess you could say politics is somewhere in the mix as well, however, I need to find a way to stop bringing it up on dates.”
Q. So what drew you to Wellington and studying a Master of Software Development at WICTGS?
Tom: “I’m from the Hawkes Bay, completed my BSc at Otago majoring in Plant Biotechnology and Ecology. The opportunity to re-skill into programming at a postgraduate level working closely with industry was what drew me. I guess both of us have always heard that the tech industry is where you want to be, but we weren’t given the opportunity to learn those skills when we were younger. And Wellington has a great culture — everything is a walking distance away, good food, it’s a student city… shame about the wind though.”
Will: “I come from Auckland, I have a BCom in Accounting and Commercial Law from Victoria University. After reading the 80,000 hours blog as an undergrad I was convinced to give it a go, hence you find me in this programme. The aspiration is to go towards project management but that’s once I get more experience in programming.”
Q. You’ve only been studying the MSwDev a few months, highlights of the programme so far?
Will: “The workspace and equipment to develop our ideas, and working around like-minded people that are motivated to work with technology and see how it can shape the world around us. In a way we have spent the last few months in a tech incubator. Also people involved in the programme, from classmates to the industry lecturers we get to talk to every week, even the security guard that comes checks on us past midnight – it’s helps to have enjoyable company around you to keep you in good spirits.”
Q. So talk us through the development of VoteWise, how did it come about?
Tom: “The voter turnout problem was brought up after class. We started brainstorming ideas on how technology could assist with our uni mates (Jessie Algar and Neill Skelly), and the idea of VoteWise was born. Then my friend Seth Reid from Zarmada got on board and led Will and I on the website development. He showed us a few cool tricks — under his guidance VoteWise is a WordPress site with some custom plugins and a theme, deployed onto azure directly from github. We had a staging website so we could test out changes, and switch between the staging site and live version with no downtime at all.”
Q. Nek minute, Microsoft are calling you!
Tom: “A representative from Microsoft called within 24 hours of our website going live to say they were impressed. They followed that up with an email so we had that in writing. We are currently going through the process of getting more funding via Microsoft philanthropies as a non-profit.”
Q. What were your expectations of the webb app?
Will: “The goal for the website was to encourage people to be independent voters — to vote for the political party that has the best policies in your view. We wanted to make a pilot project to see if technology could affect voter turnout — by engaging people through social media and easy to use web applications. There was no expectation of how many users or web pages we could get, we just wanted to trial an idea and learn some programming at the same time.”
Q. We love a bit of analytics — hit us with your numbers post election?
Will: “We spent a lot of time — maybe too much time — watching the google analytics of the website. We found out some cool stuff:
- The average user went on 6.5 pages meaning they checked out what the parties had to say on more than half the issues relevant to this election.
- We had a bounce rate of 0.36% and the average user was on the website for more than 4 and a half minutes.
- We also saw that certain parties were getting more clicks than others which is interesting stuff.
- 23% of users were returning users and overall, we had over 38,000 page views!
These stats made us very confident that there is a use for these kinds of applications and that technology can really help with political engagement.
Q. So what’s the future have in store for Team VoteWise?
Tom: “We have some cool ideas to develop VoteWise and take it open-source, with a few more people from industry wanting to jump on board. We also have a few other projects bouncing around on the drawing board, maybe start a non-profit before seeing about more funding. We’re going to give it a couple more weeks to see what we give priority to.”
Will: “I’m looking forward to working on more projects together. Tom drinks a lot of covfefe though. It got to the point where it was getting in the way of work. In all seriousness we’re having fun.”
Our 12-month Master of Software Development (MSwDev) is open to anyone with a Bachelor’s degree. This conversion programme has been deisgned for people from non-information technology disciplines, who want to become software developers.
Next intake for MSwDev is July 2018 — June 2019.
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