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Michael Koziarski of Vend: Economist turned tech executive

Divina Paredes | July 13, 2016
How ‘Koz’ went from crawling under computers to heading technology architecture for a growing company, one fun, gruelling step at a time.

Speaking at the 2016 AWS Summit in Auckland (Photo by Divina Paredes)

It was an IT 'grunt' job that led Michael Koziarski to rethink his original career plans.

Koziarski was studying economics, finance and management at Victoria University of Wellington when a friend offered him a part-time role for a startup.

"I was crawling under the desk and scanning the barcodes of computers, that kind of thing," Koziarski says. "I realised I was good at the computer side of things."

Today, Koziarski-or 'Koz' as he is known in tech circles-is vice president of technology architecture at Vend, a cloud-based retail management platform used in over 15,000 stores across 140 countries. But it took a lot of "bouncing around" to get where he is.

In a way, computing was always a part of his life, more so than economics would be, even after earning his bachelors in 2006.

"As a kid, I was copying basic programmes from the boxes of computer manuals," says Koziarski.

Programming at Uni was "just for fun" and made some assignments easier, he says. "It was like a tool that I had used as an economist."

The learning curve

He enjoyed working in ICT, but the startup he was working with did not succeed. "I went on what I referred to as a sabbatical."

Koziarski's "sabbatical" led him to the banking industry where he took roles as Java Architect for the Bank of New Zealand and Westpac.

"So that was the other end of the spectrum," he says, smiling. "Rather than constant pressure for shipping, shipping, shipping everything moving fast...In a large organisation it is much more risk aversion, and getting things right.

"I saw both sides of the coin [in ICT work] in the first four years of my career."

Riding the Rails to the top of the IT game 

It was while working in the banking sector that he "stumbled upon" the open source framework Ruby on Rails.

"I started working on the open source project in my spare time while working at the banks," says Koziarski.

"It was kind of a good balance, the banks were very formal, structured slow and the open source project was very quick and was very fast," he says.

Koziarski found himself speaking at conferences as an expert on Ruby on Rails.

"After about six to seven months, I realised I was saying 'no' to a lot of people who said, 'Come work for me'.

"I said, 'Well, I am doing this for fun, why not do it for a job?"

Over the next six years, he worked on projects involving Ruby on Rails, either as a contractor or directly for various companies.


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