George Wiles, a software developer with Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand, started studying for a Master of Artificial Intelligence in early 2021.
“I’ve been working in the software development side of things for quite a long time because I enjoy the creativity of building things and creating services that hopefully have a positive experience. One of the main reasons I started this degree is my interest in this field—the potential that AI and big data have to impact our everyday lives,” he says.
Formerly from Auckland, George moved to Wellington in 2000 to join his brother Robert, who received funding for an innovative IT start-up using personal domain names as a social networking tool. “I found Wellington very interesting. I liked how everything was so close that you could walk and cycle across town. The city was wired with high-speed infrastructure, and I decided to stay on.”
He began his long-term adventure with learning when he was in Auckland. “Initially working as a motorcycle courier and building pre-nail construction, I did some programming courses out of interest at the Auckland Institute of Technology, which introduced me to C++. My first job was for a multinational market research company writing software with a small team, analysing raw data sourced from all the supermarket chains in New Zealand to investigate buyer behaviour. I was sent to Japan on two occasions to assist with the port of our software to kanji and katakana. My career started to take off with work in the telecommunication and banking sector, when I was involved in the launch of ASB’s BankDirect initiative, after which I worked with Computershare in Sydney to replace New Zealand’s stock exchange trading system.
“Having found something I was passionate about, I completed a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma in Business (IT) to broaden my skills. With the Master of Artificial Intelligence, I guess you could say that my education has been slowly accumulating incrementally.”
Attending university-hosted sessions with his daughters when they were researching their own study options offered George an insight into the variety of study areas he could explore. “Seeing my daughters succeed in civil engineering and physics degrees, and listening to various universities talk about the degrees and courses they offered, reignited my curiosity about the future, and I found the University’s Computer Science presentation particularly engaging,” he says.
“I also find the questions around the ethics of using AI very relevant. There are the positive sides of using AI in healthcare and ecosystem modelling, but also very negative examples such as Cambridge Analytica’s use of personal information to influence people by targeting voting behaviour, and how important it is that people are made aware of these sorts of issues.”
Speaking about his experience of being a Master of Artificial Intelligence student, George says, “I really enjoy being back in the classroom and having the opportunity to be part of conversations. Some of the students in the 400-level classes are working on some unique projects in neural networks and natural language processing.
“I’m very happy with my career choice and I believe growth is about continual and incremental learning. As someone who likes to give 100 percent to anything I do, I’m still learning to balance part-time study and full-time work. And it’s helpful to know that there are others navigating the same sort of challenges.”