IT students are being offered up to $215,000 straight out of university

IT students are being offered up to $215,000 straight out of university

Kiwi computer science students in their final year at university are being lured across the Tasman with pay offers as high as NZ$215,000, as global competition for top grads heats up.
The Sydney arm of Dutch financial technology company Optiver turned the heads of students when it posted an advertisement on an Auckland University jobs board for graduate software developers with that starting pay.
Its jobs come with other benefits, including a flat management structure, a casual dress code, “chef-cooked” breakfasts and lunches, and weekly massages for all employees.
Supplied Staff at Optiver in Sydney don’t need to dress up to earn big dollars. An Optiver spokeswoman confirmed the total remuneration was no misprint and did not require students have postgraduate degrees. “Undergraduate is sufficient.”
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Each year Optiver tended to recruit at least a few New Zealand students for different parts of its business, she said.
The company specialises in acting as a “market maker”, buying and selling financial products at razor-thin margins to provide liquidity to its financial market customers.
It’s a business where fine decisions come thick and fast and getting them just right counts.
“Optiver relies on the skills of our immensely talented employees who develop the algorithmic trading strategies and custom-built technology,” its spokeswoman said.
“Most of our hires are top achievers from a science, technology, engineering and mathematics background.”
As such it was competing for talent with fintech firms around the world, as well as big tech firms in the United States, Britain and Hong Kong, she said.
“Our remuneration packages of A$200,000 reflect the scarcity of the skills and the quality of the candidates we hire.
While competition was increasing generally, Optiver would not necessarily attribute it to the Covid pandemic, she said.
Liam Scott-Russell, who was in his final year studying maths and computer science and one of the university’s top students, said Optiver was “one of those companies pretty much everyone applies to”.
“They have an infamously hard interviewing process and are well-regarded,” he said.
“There are a couple of other high-frequency trading firms that are very similar in terms of their compensation packages – it’s crazy.”
While the pay offered by Optiver and a small number of other fintech companies may stand out, six-figure salaries no longer do.
A lot of graduates from Auckland, and he suspected from across New Zealand, were considering Australia because of “pay and prestige”, Scott-Russell said.
At least up until recently, a first job with Amazon, Google, Facebook or Microsoft paying more than $100,000 most likely meant a move to Sydney, he said.
“For a lot of people, if they can get a job at Google they will happily move to wherever that takes them.”
Abigail Dougherty/Stuff Computer science student Maya Gibson can see the lure of Australia but intends to do an honours year before she considers her career options. Fellow computer science student Maya Gibson, who was also enrolled in the university’s science scholar programme aimed at high potential students, said she understood the lure of Australia.
“You get the benefit of exploring the world without being too far from home.”
But Gibson was enjoying her studies and planned do an honours year to build more of a foundation before making decisions about jobs.
Auckland University’s computer science course is more high-brow academic and less vocational than many IT degrees, she said.
“I think going overseas for a while is a great thing when you are young. At the same time I don’t want to leave my family behind.”
The competition for talent appeared to pose a problem for New Zealand employers, which were offering IT grads starting salaries that were usually in the lower half of a scale between $50,000 to $80,000, but which were facing a skills crunch.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope has said about 10 per cent of positions in the IT sector were vacant, making investments in large-scale projects or even improving cyber-security more difficult.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFF BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope says skills shortages are a threat to business investment. Ian McCrae, chief executive of health technology firm Orion Health, which was looking to add to its 600 staff to cope with a surge in work from overseas, said salaries that used to be reviewed annually now needed to be looked at almost monthly.
The company had toyed with the idea of offering e-bikes and, at the other end of the environmental spectrum, bonuses in bitcoin​ to attract staff.
NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller said there wasn’t a shortage of IT graduates in the job market as such.
Most of the current shortages were for staff with “experience”, he said.
“But in saying that, the pipeline of grads is weakening, as in the past few years fewer kids have been studying relevant subjects at high school,” he said.
The number of school students taking NCEA courses in maths, science and technology had decreased, while those studying hospitality, retail and sport had increased, he said.
And with the border effectively closed, more employers were having to bite the bullet and reassess their willingness to take on and further train workers straight out of university.
“One thing I have definitely noticed is employers’ outreach on the campus has gone up a lot,” Scott-Russell said.
“We are starting to get more employers holding events, talking to students and sponsoring clubs, so they can set up a pipeline to recruit talent earlier, as opposed to just hoping people apply in their final year.”
Michael Bradley/Stuff NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller is worried about a decline in school students taking ‘stem’ subjects. For many students, their choices are not all about the money.
Scott-Russell considered working for Amazon Web Services in Australia after doing an internship with the company remotely from New Zealand last year.
But he instead expected to take up a position with a fintech company in Auckland that he had been working for part-time, after he graduated.
“Part of what convinced me was the culture and I really enjoyed their vision,” he said.
New Zealand employers could not really compete on pay, but there was a lot that could be said for providing a good working environment, he said.
“One thing I have noticed is a lot of New Zealand companies are focusing on giving recruits more ‘agency’ because they don’t want to be ‘employee XYZ’.”
Scott-Russell had lived in Australia and New Zealand and said their different responses to the Covid pandemic had also been a factor in his thinking.
“In Australia, where it is managed state by state, they are constantly getting flare-ups, so it’s a bigger unknown.”
Stuff Auckland University’s computer science course is generally viewed as being towards the academic rather than the vocational end of the spectrum. Gibson did not believe pay would really be a factor when she entered the workforce.
Instead, she expected she would be looking for an employer doing interesting work that had a good vibe.
“A good company is more important than how much they pay you.”
Similarly, employers valued recruits who could show a deeper involvement with the subject, she suggested.
“Especially in tech, I think it is really valued if you have lots of side projects and things you are doing in your own time – a portfolio that can show you are contributing to the tech community.”

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