Marie - Computer Programmer / Kaitito Pūmanawa Rorohiko

I was brought up with three brothers in Otago and Canterbury. My father was a shepherd and we moved around several farms. It was a normal thing for me to go out and feed the animals with dad. On the weekends he would take us go-karting and I learnt to ride a motorbike. I never stayed at home with mum. Occasionally we baked biscuits together, but most of the time I was out in the sandpit with my brothers. I don’t remember having a doll as a kid, I’d rather play with toy diggers. I was lucky in that I was never told, “Girls don’t do that.” My brothers and I were very competitive. If they were climbing a tree I’d be out there trying to beat them up it.

I didn’t go to uni knowing what I wanted to do. I just took subjects that interested me and that I was good at. Computer science was one of those.

It involved a lot of problem solving, which is exactly what I love doing. Nikki and I were the only females in our year. We were also the first women to take computer science at Otago University and make it to the end of the course. That was back in 1988 when the subject was pretty new and a personal computer was a recent invention. I also did other papers in philosophy, psychology and phenomenology of religion.

I had no idea that my computer science degree would become a sought after qualification. I’ve never had problems getting a job, actually. I was lucky I chose a subject that led to a solid career. I didn’t plan or know that that would be the case - things just worked themselves out.
My first computer programming job was in Brisbane. It was the first time I applied what I learnt at uni to a real work situation. I moved to Sydney soon after to take on a better role at the same company and I had to buy a whole lot of flash business clothes.

I did a lot of traveling around the city, visiting clients up in the high rises and fixing problems with their software. They’d explain what was wrong and usually it was something quite simple. I’d always make a point of asking what else they would like me to do to make their job easier. I was able to take them from frustration, to problem solved, to being beyond happy.

I met my husband while working in Australia. A while later, we decided to come back to New Zealand to raise a family. I applied for a job in Christchurch, got an interview and flew over to meet the company. They gave it to me, so Brad and I went off on a skiing holiday to celebrate. We were home in Aussie packing up all our belongings when I found out I was pregnant. I panicked. I rung the new company and explained, “Look, I’ve just found out I’m pregnant. Do you still want me?” Luckily they did. I had that job for about six months, until Jessica arrived. Just after she was born I was keen to get back into work. A fantastic job came up at a new company, so I applied and managed to get it.

They didn’t have a part-time option back then. Brad took up a job on the weekends and looked after our (now two) kids during the week which was when I worked. He also got an evening job at the freezing works. It worked well for the kids, but wasn’t the best for us as a couple. We never saw each other. Financially it worked and the kids came through fine, but our marriage didn’t.

I was only the sixth employee to be hired at the company, but now I work with 150 others. I’ve been developing the same product for 20 years. It’s complex and big and multi-national companies use our software. Google, Microsoft, oil companies, governments.

I enjoy the work and my workmates. I’ve built some good relationships. Despite this, at times I have thought about at changing jobs. Somewhere I could work with other women and be social. I once even thought about becoming a florist.  I thought about being a marriage celebrant too - that would be a wonderful job - but I weighed it all up and my programming job is well paid, I can leave work at work, and do what I want on the weekends. It’s good for us as a family.

I enjoy being outside and a lot of my spare time is spent out in the garden or renovating my home. I bought this place eight years ago. Owning a home means there’s always something to work on and I’ve been teaching myself how to DIY. I had a friend who went to wood work night classes, and so I joined her. It was great fun. They had a room full of equipment and we took along our own projects.

I’ve built a pergola, a path, and a fence. I ripped off the deck and turned that area into a garden. There’s lots more I want to do and skills I want to learn, but I’ve learnt to take things one step at a time.

My partner Mark calls our office space a prison. We are all locked on our screens, tapping away at keyboards in little cubicles. I guess it’s a bit stuffy, but after so many years I’ve gotten used to it. I make sure I use my lunchtimes and weekends to get out and exercise.  I’m in a mountain biking group and we’re heading up to Nelson soon for a week-long ride. There are a dozen of us and I’m the only female, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s usually about three hours of riding, followed by a cup of coffee and a chat.

I ran around Hagley Park every day this week to try get fit for the trip. Believe me, it’s hard work. I’m not a naturally good or fast runner. Exercise might take it out of me, but it helps keep me in a positive state of mind.
There are no female managers at work, which I’d like to see change. Our parent company is American and they are very business focused. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but they tend to lean towards making hard-nosed financial decisions. There’s no ‘family’ perspective on valuing employees.

If the books are saying we’ve got to cut 30% off our spending, they line up staff and go ‘chop’. They try to be empathetic in terms of how those decisions are communicated, but they fail badly. I do feel like a number. There’s not a lot of thought given to how people feel or room to discuss what alternatives might be available. Instead of making people redundant, they could first ask if anyone wants to cut down their hours or job share. I think we could work things out internally. But at the moment, it’s very much top down. Management decides and workers are the last to be told.

I couldn’t see myself going into management. I’d be expected to work in their mould. I wouldn’t toe the line, I’m not prepared to work like that or act like that. But I do feel they need women up there helping in the decision making. At a departmental level, me amongst my peers, I think we have gender equality. There is no discrimination. Although our numbers are few, we are respected.

I want to see management make better decisions for families who survive on their wages. I want to see them make better decisions for our community. It might come at a financial cost, but I think it would benefit society.

I turned fifty last year. I’m wondering how long I’ve got left and I’m questioning what’s most important to me. My parents are getting older and I’d like to spend more time looking after them. In 10 years time I’d love to be semi-retired, working one or two days a week, or not at all. I’m looking forward to spending more time out in my garden and renovating. For now, I’m content with how things are going. My son, Ben is 15 and at high school and Jessica is at university. My work is important to me because it helps me support them. They’re my top priority. But before I do retire, I’ll have to save up. Goodness knows where my children will be living in five or 10 years. I want to be able to visit them whenever I can, wherever they are.

How do I get into this career?

Marie has been in her job for over 20 years, so we're not suggesting that you would jump straight into a job like hers. Careers can take time to build and there's that saying "you have to start somewhere":

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about a computer programming job. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting a Polytechnic or University and asking them more about their courses.

- Another idea is to Google search computer programming companies in your area, call them, and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this.