Project Description

Staff Spotlight: supporting Pasifika in IT

At CodeBlue, we’re proud of our staff diversity. Having a team of various genders, backgrounds and ethnicities bring a broader range of insights to the table. Different perspectives help identify blind spots, challenge assumptions and results in more well-rounded decisions.

Kassandra Lei Sam and Mel Chan-Ting are account and service delivery managers of Samoan ancestry. They’ve had a love for technology since they were children. We chatted with Kassandra and Mel to get their views on fostering greater diversity in the workplace – especially in IT.

Mel Chan-Ting Tufuga – Service Delivery Manager

Mel Chan-Ting Tufuga – Service Delivery Manager

What motivated you to pursue a career in IT?

Kass: I initially developed an interest in SQL coding and pursued Information Systems and Commercial Law as my majors at university – I was the first university graduate in my family. I started my IT journey as a graduate at an educational software company, which kick-started my passion for Account Management which I am currently in.

Mel: I started off doing a Computer Science degree at the University of Auckland, but my deep hatred for MATH stopped me from being great so I switched gears and did Information Systems & Ops Management instead. To be honest, I grew up really thinking I was going to be a professional gamer (lol). I have countless memories of begging my parents for gold coins to spend at the Avondale internet cafes playing ‘Counter Strike’ with my cousins. Then once we figured out how to set up a little LAN party at home, that was it – we were hooked! My current role isn’t exactly where I thought I’d end up when I was 12 (haha) but I always knew it would be in the technology space.

How has your upbringing influenced your work ethic and the values you prioritise in your professional life?

Kass: Seeing my parents go from immigrants to thriving in New Zealand, really instilled the value of hard work in me from an early age. To this day, I continue to watch my parents working hard and it’s only fair that I match or exceed their energy. The sacrifices they endured is something that I base my work ethic and gratitude towards. When I was younger, I still remember my parents eating less, sleeping less and almost giving up on their dreams just to make sure my siblings and I were well fed, taken care of, and given the best chance at life to thrive.

Mel: My Samoan upbringing definitely had a big impact, especially early on in my career. I remember having a bit of hesitancy to ‘speak up’ in a work environment, especially around management. Fa’aaloalo (respect) especially towards your elders is a big value taught by my parents. It’s something we need to get the balance right to ensure all our voices get heard and to feel that we can do so confidently. Also, the idea of Aiga (family) is HUGE in our culture. Family is everything, and we have a great knack at bringing this type of culture into the workplace. Notions of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’ where our workmates almost become family, always having each other’s backs are the ‘norm’ for us. It’s the one thing I always try to create if you’re in my team, I will root for you no matter what. Also – I’m coming to yours for dinner one way or another!

What changes would you like to see in terms of more representation of Pasifika / women in the IT industry?

Kass: I don’t necessarily believe the IT industry under-represents Pasifika willingly. It could be down to just greater numbers of our people choosing other industries more suited to them over IT. In NZ, we have the unique advantage of having many Pacific programmes and scholarships available at the university level, which helps expose more of our people to this industry. The change I’d like to see would be those who are in low decile schools given these opportunities earlier on, to put them on the same level playing field before they even reach university. Also, there are limited women (especially those of Polynesian decent) who are leaders in the IT industry. But overall I think we are slowly making progress to bridge that gap. It’s a little unnerving, but definitely provides me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully one day make it to a seat at that board table.

Mel: Do we need more women in IT, especially in management – hell yes! I only say this as I think it sets the example for our young girls looking to enter the industry. That yes – you can have the family; you can run the household and still be the boss!

In terms of increasing our Pasifika representation, I think a lot of it comes down to our old ways of thinking that IT is just ‘programming or coding’ and that you have to be extremely intelligent to get in. Most don’t know that there’s a whole range of areas and roles within tech to get into! I have huge hope that we will see a lot more of our young Pasifika come through. I look at our kids who are so clued up with technology now, so the exposure will come naturally.

Tell us where your roots are in Samoa and your favourite island dish from your childhood.

Mel: My father’s villages are Lelepa (Savai’i) and Lotopa (Apia), and Mum hails from Ga’utavai (Savai’i). They both migrated to New Zealand in the 1970s and actually met here in New Zealand at a birthday party! My absolute favourite dish has to be Fa’ausi Talo – it’s basically mashed taro cooked and cut into bite-size pieces then smothered with a rich caramel sauce made from burnt sugar (done over hot rocks) mixed with fresh coconut cream.

Kass: Both of my parents are from the village of Aleisa (Apia). My Mum migrated to NZ before I was born and my Dad followed later in 2003. My favourite dishes are Puligi (pudding) with custard and Oka (raw fish in coconut cream).