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Life and work in New Zealand – an interview with Dmytro Veselov

Dmytro Veselov worked in Ukrainian gaming journalism, was engaged in the design, and then moved to New Zealand and built a career in the IT. He also has a popular Twitter account and enjoys extreme sports. In an interview with AIN.UA, he told about life in New Zealand and why it is worth relocating there.

Where are you from? Where’s your alma mater and where did you start your career?

I am from the city of Dnipro on the Dnipro river. I graduated from the faculty of history of the local university. After that, from 2007 to 2015 I worked as a journalist, I wrote about video games in ITC and several Russian magazines.

Along the way, I also began doing design. From 2004 to 2010 I worked for an American startup, making websites and logos for investment companies from Florida. There I began to code. Then I went freelance, scribed for magazines and websites like Kanobu. In 2011, I moved to New Zealand.

What was a startup?

Open Tick. A movie is coming soon featuring Jesse Eisenberg, about boys who tried to earn billions, getting data from the exchanges a little faster than everyone else. Open Tick was about that.

I worked remotely. About ten years before I moved to New Zealand, I usually had three jobs: articles in the morning, and designs in the evening. The startup had a Ukrainian office for developers. But the founder was headquartered in the U.S. and was not particularly concerned with me being absent from the workplace.

The founder, Noah Letske, had about twenty businesses. I hopped from project to project. At some point, there were even electric cars, clones of Ariel Atom.

Why did you begin coding, and which language did you use?

I began by making an HTML website for the team, which was very typical for the designer. The threshold of entry into the front-end has always been tiny, be it now or fifteen years ago. Then followed CSS, jQuery, standard set.

When and under what circumstances did you move to New Zealand?

It all started with my wife being called to do a doctorate at the University of Auckland. We moved in 2011 and this immediately raised several questions. Both of my careers were at a standstill, I reached a certain level of remuneration and professionalism and reached the top in the niche.

There was a choice: either mix the pixels (and words) for the salary of the lower middle class, or try something else.

At first, I put my journalistic career aside and went to PR. I worked in the German Daedalic, with their quests. But PR is a strange job: you write letters and sit in Excel. It began to seem to me that I was remotely turning into ‘office plankton’. In response to that, I mastered JavaScript and found a job as a programmer.

After about a year and a half, I gained just about enough knowledge to start making JavaScript apps. I worked for Stas Kulesh digital studio (many people know him as the main New Zealand blogger), where I had a chance to participate in the making of startups: Karmabot and Buddybid, to name a few.

Then I moved from Auckland to Wellington, where I was hired at one of the main New Zealand web companies, Metservice. And now I work for a non-profit that helps New Zealand students look for work.

How tough are the country’s immigration policies?

For a long time, an immigration escalator was in place in New Zealand. People came to get an education, which provided visas and the opportunity to find work, and a diploma gave much eligibility for a residence permit.

Unfortunately, there is only one large (and relatively warm) city in the country – Auckland. Therefore, everyone stayed there and at some point, its infrastructure failed. Auckland turned into an expensive and cramped metropolis.

New Zealanders got pissed off and tightened the immigration rules. Nevertheless, the residence permit is still given to decent specialists: you just need to know the language, have work experience and, preferably, a girlfriend or a boyfriend.

There are no specific issues with the red tape, if you understand how it works. If your documents meet the government’s criteria, everything will be fine.

To understand what is suitable and what is not, you should talk with a specialist, a local immigration attorney.

Are you planning to stay here with your wife and get a residence permit, citizenship?

We got divorced! But yes, we are planning. We received the residence permit three years ago. We also plan to get citizenship. It is not too wealthy, but a good country. Here we have friends, community, plus, it seems, we are quite important to this country being vigorous and savvy specialists.

What made you decide that your career reached a deadlock and you had to change everything?

Probably after looking at house prices.

The average salary in New Zealand is US$23,000 per year. You can earn that kind of money and be part of the middle class.

But for an immigrant the situation is more complicated than that of a resident – there are no parents from whom you can inherit real estate. There is no cash cushion, investments, and so on. The average price of a house in Auckland is now $560,000. If you goof off, you will die in a shelter.

How much has your income grown after your transition to IT and programming? What are the average salaries in this domain?

About fourfold. IT is a great way to build a career, compared with the rest of the country, we are well remunerated, and most importantly, there is room to grow.

An ordinary sales rep sits on his chair for twenty years, whereas a programmer changes companies and grows into senior, recruiters are on the lookout for them, they are given teams to guide. For example, this week I was contacted by a man whose technical partner moved to another island. This CEO was looking for someone to put in charge of his studio.

Salaries, compared with the United States and Australia, are lower, but it is still enough. In a year, depending on the type of contract (the pay in temporary contracts is higher), a developer can earn from US$60,000 to US$80,000.

And what’s the cost of living in New Zealand?

Depends on a number of things. There are almost no apartment buildings, usually, people lease a big house with flatmates. If you want to live separately, and you don’t have a partner, you will have to spend about $12,000 on rent only.

I’d say, the starting salary, which does not allow you yet to save, but you can already do what you want – starts from $30,000 per year

You mentioned buying a property. Are you planning to settle down here?

I do not know yet. I moved to Wellington from Auckland to ride a mountain bike here, this is one of the best cities for it in the world.

The best one is in Canada, so maybe over time, I’ll stop by there too. In addition, there is a remote work ecosystem now, very cool engineers can live in Bali and run a Californian startup.

This is the next goal, after acquiring citizenship. But with time I will, of course, come back. New Zealand is my home, it’s a cozy place.

Is a bike really a reason for relocation?

One of the main ones. In addition, Wellington feels like a European city. It has its own atmosphere. For example, you can hang around the downtown hopping from bar to bar in the evening, and then walk home on foot.

In Auckland, this requires a sober driver. In addition, the South Island, where the country’s main things are happening (climbing, mountaineering, hiking), is closer.

Tell about the country: what are your main observations of the past 8 years?

New Zealand has its own atmosphere. First, Kiwi – friendly, positive guys, with a culture that encourages independence and the ability to rely on your own strengths. Secondly, the flow of migrants created a community of expats here.

For example, our mountain bike trips include a couple from Holland, a German, a British, and a Czech.

It’s almost a dream society, like that of the Strugatskys. No matter where you’re from, it’s important how cool you are.

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All this mixed conventionalism and mobility into the local society. On the one hand, everyone knows everyone, couples usually get married forever, business contracts are signed through acquaintances. On the other hand, you can move anywhere and they will accept you there. Interest clubs, mutual friends. In many ways, it happened because New Zealand boasts one of the lowest crime rates. It is a safe society where people trust each other.

The climate, by the way, is not terrible. Everyone imagines New Zealand as a tropical island, but it is rather a country of eternal freshness. During the year, the temperature in Auckland varies from +14 ° C to +24 ° C. There are no storms, and it only rains for fifteen days in August.

The cities are all different, the main are three. Auckland – five smaller cities, merged into each other. Endless suburbs, hills, nonstop traffic jams.

Wellington is the cultural capital, pressed between the hills in a tiny area and therefore the building density is closer to the European. Cozy, beautiful, walkable.

Christchurch – on the South Island. Close to the mountains that everyone saw in the pictures, but eight years ago it was blown away by an earthquake and now there are only people who could not or were too stubborn to leave.

What are the main pros and cons of living in New Zealand?

It is a country with a pleasant level of freedom and an abundance of opportunities. You can study to become an anthropologist and spend ten years in a village, recording Maori tales. You can buy a van, live in it and surf for a year or two. You can start your own company, make a video game, like the authors of Ashen

The main drawback? Probably alienation. A migrant always refuses his homeland in order to feel like a slightly crazed marmot in another country. The future is unclear, there are no friends to ask for help.

How well have you adjusted to the new society?

The first few years were difficult, but then I settled for a year in a big house with a bunch of foreign flatmates and started traveling around the country. Now I understand the language, I have friends in all big cities who can let me stay overnight

I organized several affinity groups, such as a bicycle group. Now it is very easy for me to find a common language with kiwi, a few of my girlfriends were local.

What’s working culture here like: do you need to work hard or can you relax?

This is a very laid-back country. Some visitors, especially from Pacific Asia, are amazed. Kiwis work in a very relaxed manner and unhurriedly. Having said that, each one has a great sense of personal responsibility and everyone knows everyone. In the end, you simply cannot let other people down.

It is pretty unusual. On the one hand, you do not tell anyone what to do and how they should do it because they will do it anyway. On the other hand, any task will take twice as long as it should.

I’d like to say a few words separately about IT. Here it has its own freedom, some companies allow employees to work from home part of the week, they usually spend 7.5 hours a day in the office.

Would you recommend moving to New Zealand? What’s the local demand when we are talking about IT?

New Zealand is good. There is a small and friendly Ukrainian community, and there’s a scarcity of skilled labor. In IT, most projects are in C#, followed by Java and PHP. We need experts in databases, networks, security, and so on. Microsoft and Amazon have their offices here.

What about gaming industry?

There is a local community of indie developers, probably about 100 people. A few have published games on Steam. But most of them are students without hope of serious money.

There are three teams in the business. There was an office of Gameloft, plus the original author DayZ – New Zealand special forces, and also a very small team from the suburb of Wellington made and successfully launched Ashen. So, all in all, there is no shortage of staff, and there is essentially no place to work.

Tell about your content projects: you had a YouTube channel, you created 3droid.com and Gameplay.ua. Why have you decided not to work on them?

 We started Gameplay.com.ua about 12 years ago. It was a kind of a collaborative blogging effort about games that made a certain noise and, it seems, even started a fashion for collaborative geek blogs. 3droid.com was an attempt to repeat the same thing in pop culture. Both were closed because they did not bring money, and the founders focused on other things.

Sergey Galenkin, who invented Gameplay, develops Epic Games store in the States. I have a similar situation. After a couple of years in New Zealand, I had to choose between writing news about pop media and live in a kennel, or – Spanish startups and a sea view every morning.

The choice is obvious, but there is one more thing. It is impossible to do the same thing 10 years in a row and feel good. At some point, writing a blog about “Star Wars” became simply painful. There are so many opinions on the Internet, it is crammed with them like an ocean is flooded with plastic. Adding your own opinion into that pool makes you feel like an asshole

I suspended the YouTube channel for a similar reason: little money and grew a wee bit tired of my voice.

What is your impression of working in gaming journalism? Is this niche still alive and does it have future?

The information distribution business will always have a future. Only it changes faster than gaming journalists manage to run. At first, everyone wrote reviews, then texts with personal opinions, then they made video content, and now they stream and blabber in the background (and podcasts).

New formats quickly pick up new names. The old gaming journalism has disappeared per se, but gaming journalism is omnipresent — every schoolchild can be a gaming journalist. 

Therefore, it is interesting to watch how people who started it in the 2000s grow and change. In the Russian segment, there are dudes who are forty years old. They still generate gaming journalism content every day. They have a name, audience, but their career already looks more like a history of mental illness. Such a dinosaur wakes up and tries to get into Uber.

From my own experience, many go to PR – there are a lot of good people. But the best of them have long been either making games or involved in media projects. Almost half of them are in Wargaming.

Finally, what are your plans for the future?

I have been planning to go to South America for a long time. There are good conditions for extreme sports, that is, mountaineering, riding a mountain bike and surfing.

I’m thinking of buying a van and driving between Argentina and Chile for a few years until the van gets stolen. At the same time, I will try to complete and start a few small online projects (but nothing related to gaming journalism or geek media, fortunately).

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