Microsoft Executive says: “Being Māori is my superpower”

By Bronson Perich
Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure and Applications Solutions Lead Dan Te Whenua Walker. Source/File

Microsoft executive Dan Te Whenua Walker (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Maniapoto, Tūhourangi and Ngāti Kahungunu) says that Māoritanga has accelerated his career in the IT/Tech sector. An IT/Tech sector veteran with over 14 years under his belt, Walker recounts when ten years ago, he decided to take a walk on the reo side.

The result, he says, was the emergence of his rangatiratanga.

“My journey of understanding my reo, connecting back to my marae, back in Ngāti Ruanui South Taranaki, and really going on that journey of understanding who I was from a w’akapapa perspective has been the growth journey really,” Walker says.

Throughout his journey in the corporate world, Walker has worked to address the chronic shortage of Māori and Pasifika in the IT/Tech sector. Walker says, that our ethnicities make up less than 2% of the total workers in his industry.

Walkers’ latest effort to bridge this gap, is mentoring Dylan Apera, an AUT networking undergraduate from Rarotonga.

Dylan tries to get free Sky

For many in the industry, their first introduction into their future line of work was some form of home experimentation.

One of Aperas’ first experiments when he tried building a satellite dish so that he could get Sky Television.

“I wrapped it around in foil, chucked random cables on and connected it to my computer just to see if we could get any signal,” Apera says.

The subsequent failure to get anything that remotely resembled Sky Television taught Apera about how satellite transmissions work. His enthusiasm and subsequent school achievements meant that he qualified for an internship with the Cook Islands government. From there he went onto full-time study at AUT, and then through to Tuputoa.

Tuputoa is an Auckland based agency that specialises in helping Māori and Pasifika land internships in corporate NZ. Through Tuputoa, Apera was connected to Microsoft and was welcomed as an intern for the tech giant just before Waitangi Day.

Dan Walker (left) and Dylan Aperu (right). Source/Dylan Apera, used with permission.

How to foster tamariki into the IT/Tech Industry

Apera says that the number one thing that whānau can do to get their tamariki into IT/Tech is to expose them to technology.

“They need to know what the tech industry is,” Apera says.

“The second one would be the support, and the love.”

Walker weighed in on this matter, talking about what he does as a father, to nourish his whānau into the industry.

“For my kids, I want them to have an ease and a comfort of the digital tools.”

This presents the challenge of balancing ‘screen time’ with other whānau activities. But Walker says, his tamariki need to be comfortable and have an understanding of technology such as iPads.

The father of three spoke about the need for Māori and Pasifika role models in the industry.

“Introduce them [his tamariki] to good people, who are role models in technology,” Walker says, but he is fine if his uri pursue other careers.

“I want them to love what they do, so if they want to be a policeman… then kei te pai tēnā as well!”

How adults can transition into the IT/Tech Industry

Working in the IT/Tech sector doesn’t always mean working for a software company like Microsoft. Walker explains that 70% of the jobs in his industry, are not with IT/Tech sector companies. He cites the example of the technology team employed by the NZ Police.

Tertiary study is not mandatory to enter the IT/Tech sector. That being said, Walker has an Executive MBA Masters in Business and a Master’s Degree in Business Leadership. However he gained these qualifications after becoming a decade long veteran in the sector. Working ones’ way up in their current roles, and then using transferable skills to cross over is a viable avenue to IT/Tech work.

“Having a digital mindset, is a key part of enabling our people to … grow through their career.”

A digital mindset, Walker says, is the ability of a person to apply their culture to solve modern day problems, using modern technology. It is taking ancestral knowledge, tikanga, and kawa to face the modern realities, but not shying away from digital tools.

Walker explains that along with embracing digital tools in his career, the Māori and Pasifika way of interacting with people helped him work his up and through his industry.

“We have our unique style and it resonates really well with people.

“We can build relationships really easy and build rapport really easy.”

Can Māori/Pacific culture and IT/Tech complement each other?

Both Walker and Apera emphasised the value that their respective cultures bring into their line of work. Whereas Walker started his reo journey a decade ago, Apera explained how his AUT studies helped him reconnect back to his own culture.

“I was totally disconnected and I went on a similar journey, [as Walker].

“I decided to challenge myself. Even though I was born and raised in the Cook Islands, I was brought up in a different sort of way.”

That different way, Apera says, was that English was the language that would help him progress beyond his island home. He mused on the irony, that he left the Cook Islands to be successful in IT, only to have AUT help him "be a Cook Islander”.

These ‘technical tamatoa’ both agree that Polynesian cultures can enrich big corporations, and that the IT/Tech sector needs that enrichment. In return, Māori and Pasifika can provide for their families and enrich themselves in the process. Walker concludes:

“When they bring it [Māori and Pasifika culture] in the right way into their roles, they make it rain!”

A type of success, that Walker says, extends beyond ones’ bank balance.