Why don’t Australian kids want to be Tech Rock Stars?

In 2011 “The Economist” claimed that Australia could be the next California, “perhaps a more successful version of the Golden State”. Well we certainly won’t build our own Silicon Valley if we keep our heads buried in Australia’s ‘old economy’. Our Prime Minister’s vision of an ‘Innovation Nation’ will be merely that if we do not get enough of the next generation not only trained in the skills of tomorrow, but also seeing the world with an inherent technology lens. Today every company is indeed a technology company, and any ambitious young Australian needs to possess a fundamental understanding of technology’s power and limitless applicability. Our best and brightest will create the most value for themselves and our country through start-ups, either building their own or getting in at the ‘ground floor’ of others, and this needs to shape career conversations that parents and teachers have with children as soon as they start to choose their own subjects.   

In our first year as an ‘Innovation Nation’ start-ups are finally getting some of the attention that they deserve from the government, big business and the media. Although, the mass wealth that Australian kids could obtain by building a start-up like Atlassian, Campaign Monitor or Nitro needs to become a common ‘kitchen table’ conversation. Mike Cannon-Brookes, Scott Farquhar, David Greiner and Ben Richardson need to become household names like Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest. Atlassian (AUD $7.7 billion market cap[1]) founders Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar both top Australia’s Young Rich List with a combined wealth of $4.68 billion[2]. Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar, both 36 years old, are 26 and 18 years younger than Rinehart and Forest respectively, and could easily eclipse their wealth in time. Campaign Monitor founders David Greiner and Ben Richardson are even less well known than the Atlassian pair and they have a combined wealth of over $543 million[3].

Show me an Australian Investment Banker, Commercial Lawyer or Forensic Accountant who is 36 years old and has the self-made wealth of these ‘Young Turks’. They simply do not exist because building this scale of wealth through traditional high performing channels is just not possible. Atlassian and Campaign Monitor would not have succeeded without their founders’ computer science skills, understanding of the start-up business model and maybe most importantly their courage to pursue a relatively riskier career path. These success factors need to be clear in the mind of our most ambitious. Budding young Australian Tech entrepreneurs shouldn’t need to look to the U.S for inspiration, we just need our media to shine their light brighter onto our economy’s new vanguard.

tech carrot

This technology ‘carrot’ is not just to be waved at those trying to build Tech unicorns (start-ups valued over $1 billion) themselves. A graduate Developer at Atlassian can bring in a comparable salary package to some Australian Investment Banking graduates. Atlassian graduate’s also get the huge ‘cherry’ of working at Australia’s ‘best place to work’ for the last 2 years running. Campaign Monitor now occupies the top floors of Elizabeth & Park in Sydney which was previously occupied by global legal powerhouse DLA Piper. On top of some of the best views in the city and numerous other benefits, their young staff enjoys a full kitchen that provides all staff with free meals. Our best and brightest no longer need to slave through an Investment Banking grad program, Law clerkship or Chartered Accounting qualification to enjoy the highest salary packages. Tier 1 opportunities are available at Tech companies for those who want a more traditional career path.

A recent Grattan Institute report found that a third of recent IT graduates cannot find full-time work. Although technical computer science skills are incredibly valuable, they do not guarantee success in this new digital world. Atlassian recently brought on 75 graduates who will certainly hold strong technical credentials, but our new Tech titans also need their young Jedi to possess solid skills in critical thinking, design and communication. The next generations’ most successful will be those that will be able to turn real world customer problems into new technical solutions. Technology is created by people for people and the better our children understand both the more successful they will be. Tomorrow’s optimal skillset will not just be fostered in the IT faculty.

Code Camp founder Ben Levi believes “Learning to code is more than ‘becoming a developer’. Learning to code allows students to be creative with technology, develop logical thinking and problem solving skills, and understanding of computational thinking. In addition, through ‘app building’ we also focus on product and game design, the psychology of user experience and the entrepreneurial mindset. These skills can be adapted to any role in any industry.”

The ‘sheep’s back’ and the mining boom have driven Australia to incredible prosperity for such a small country. But 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth, almost a global record, has made Australians forget that this growth truly is a fight to the death, and history is littered with nations that were economic success stories for fifteen minutes. We have an incredible opportunity to pivot our great learning culture towards the areas that will drive our next 25 years of growth. We need to develop our kids into people that can build start-up unicorns or be key players within them so that overseas VC funds are banging on the door to invest in their start-ups and not the other way around.


[1] NASDAQ Market Capitalisation as of 7th of November 2016 (using exchange rate of USD $1 = AUD $1.30)

[2] BRW Young Rich List 2016

[3] BRW Young Rich List 2016

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