Building software in Aotearoa

Starting foundations :

  • Tino Rangatiratanga : Iwi never ceded sovereignty and as such possess Tino Rangatiratanga1
  • New Zealand is a settler-colonial nation
  • Māori ways of knowing are multiple, diverse and not less than other ways of knowing
  • IT is neither objective nor neutral

I am not going to talk about the decolonisation of software development, because decolonisation must start with the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Or in the parlance of these times “Land Back”. There are much smarter people than I working on this massive topic, so what I am going to attempt to do is suggest some few small ways we can start to build software better here in Aotearoa.

1. Data must remain on our whenua, and with a NZ owned company.

We simply can’t achieve any level of Māori data sovereignty if data is stored outside of NZ’s legal jurisdiction. It’s hard enough to get NZ law to recognise Te Tiriti o Waitangi, let alone others.

2. Co design is not a real thing unless practiced under an equity lens.

Every project is a product of the society it is built in. We live in a racist society that is actively hostile towards Māori in a lot of ways. Unless this is accepted and factored in, no amount of participatory design will guarantee a project that doesn’t serve to reinforce existing systems. As Angela Davis said “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

3. Not about us, without us.

If you are building something that touches on anything Māori, Māori need to be involved. This, like the other points to be honest, isn’t specific to software projects but is a general rule for any work in Aotearoa.

4. Names are important, get it right

Māori names may contain tohutō (macrons) so storing, displaying and searching of them must handle them. Macrons are important, just ask weta. Māori names may often contain more than one word. A first name could be one, two, three or even more words. Assuming each part of a name is split by a space is a false assumption and will result in your system assuming there are hundreds of Māori called Te.

5. If you are collecting data about Iwi/Hapū affiliations, there is no limit on the number of Iwi a person can belong to, don’t put arbitrary artificial limits in your software.

6. On a related note, New Zealander is not an ethnicity.

7. The software you build is a built on the foundation of your, and the people you work with, biases, life experiences, language and so on. This is not always a bad thing, but pretending that you are able to be objective in design decisions is. Verbalise, or write down, your assumptions, check them with your peers and more importantly with the intended audience of your software.

8. Finally, maybe don’t build it at all. Not all ideas are good ideas and not all clients are good people. This is probably the hardest one to put in place because in the society we live in we have to get paid to be able to live. But if you are in a place where you can say no to implementing bad ideas, or working for bad people, please do.

1 –

Further reading.

Dussel, E. (1995) Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures). In: Beverley, J., Oviedo, J. & Aronn, M. eds. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Durham, US: Duke University Press: 65-77.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2000. ‘The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference,’ South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (1): 57-96

Nethui 2019

To start with, I just want to say this is purely a summary of what I took away from Nethui this year. Also I will be being careful not to takahi anyone, If I do, please let me know and I will apologise and correct it. Nethui was held inside Te Papa, and my feelings are we were in off the marae ātea at that point and that the rules of Rongomaraeroa apply. It would be very hypocritcal then of me to have spent the last 3 days talking about tikanga and te ao Māori, to then be whakahīhī and belittle others, a most un Māori thing to do. All that being said (longest disclaimer ever) here we go.

This year I attended both the 2 main days of Nethui and the partner/pre events on Wednesday also.
The first session I attended on Wednesday was about blocking/filtering parts of the internet, mainly focused at the ISP level. Some interesting discussion was had, but I’m not sure any sort of consensus was reached, but I don’t think there ever will be one on such a topic, especially when (usually) those making the decisions are those least likely to be impacted by them. But it was a good discussion to be part of nonetheless.
After lunch, Amber and I got a little lost and ended up in an Ally Skills workshop, which was the best accident of the whole 3 days. It was a great workshop that I won’t try to summarise here, but if you ever get the chance to do it, you should. I’ll be happy to explain why in person.
That evening there was a Māori in Tech dinner at Dragons restaurant. It was great to see some familiar faces, and meet some new people.

Thursday Nethui proper started with a whakatau, and then into the first keynote. This was interesting, my one piece of feedback, and I tweeted it at the time is that I prefer (and think it is more effective) when people use examples from their own place/culture, than using others.

I don’t think anyone from a settler colony would have to think too hard to find examples of oppressive and brutal regimes.
Following that I attended a session on Environmental Sustainability and the Internet. It was a great session, with one exception. The guy who tried to tell everyone that there were no tāngata whenua left

I wish I could say it was surprising, it did seem to surprise a lot of the non Māori that he would say that, but we hear it all the time. What was surprising and in a good way, was how quickly the room shut this nonsense down.
So a bit of a rocky start to the morning.
After that I went to the session on Copyright, the main topic of discussion was the upcoming copyright reform act, and how the time to make submissions is now. It was a little worrying how people are still quite confused between copyright, trademarks and patents. I think that this is something that perhaps would be a good mini talk in its own right. The discussion was good, and one of the ideas was that Te Tiriti o Waitangi should have a much more prominent position in the legislation. Which was great to hear.
Following lunch there was the keynote from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who spoke eloquently, and in my promise of non takahi, I’ll leave it there.
I had quite a few issues with the panel afterwards, I am not going to name names, but when you are talking about what happened in Christchurch in March, and the one Muslim on the stage talks about white supremacy, the last thing you should do is talk about terrorism with all your references being non white supremacists. It was like watching gaslighting play out on stage.
After that, and a few deep breaths, I went to Building a New Zealand Disinformation Response plan. The main thing I took away from this is we are way underprepared for what is coming our way. And that the existing organisations such as the BSA and the media council are not able to deal with things other than traditional media. You may be able to guess how I (as a Māori) think they do dealing with traditional media currrently. It was also discussed how there is no one place a person could report disinfomation too.
Following this was drinks, nibbles and networking. A long day, equally interesting, positive and frustrating.

Friday the first up for me was the session on Internet of Things. It quickly became clear data privacy is the main issue so most of the discussion focused around this. I could sum it up by saying non-Māori seem to have far more trust in the Govt and its agencies than Māori do. Another reason NZ history needs to be taught in schools.
Following this was Amber and I facilitating a session on Digital Colonisation. I think this went ok, but I’d much prefer someone else summarised/shared their opinions on it than me.
The final session I attended was Technology & Māori Community wellbeing. I missed the start as I got caught up downstairs after our session, so I think I missed quite a lot of the context, so I didn’t really get much out of this. My fault entirely.
After the wrap up, a few of us went out for some drinks and dinner, which was fantastic. This leads me nicely into the highlights (for me) of Nethui.
It was the people, it’s always the people.
Catching up with old friends. Hanging out with the rangatahi Māori, hanging out with the other mātua and whaea, making new friends.
I particularly liked watching the young Māori speak up, with clear and direct words. We could do a lot worse than to get out of their way.
Ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi

He kaituhi hōtaka rorohiko ahau

Warning: This is a messy bunch of jumbled up thoughts, with no real conclusion.

How did I end up here? This is something I often ask myself. How did a person born in Kawakawa, from Te Wai Pounamu, end up in the server room of the Library of Bowen University in Iwo, Nigeria?



When I was young I wanted to be a chef, then I realised how hard they have to work, and noped right out of that idea. I was super privileged that both my parents were teachers, and that my dad has always had a strong interest in computers. We always had computers in the house, since I was about 12, so computer science was what I ended up studying.

In a theme that has continued through a large part of my life, I couldn’t do a double major in Computer Science and Māori Studies in a BSc. So I ended up doing a BSc and a BA. Once I finished my BSc, and while I was finishing my BA I worked part time at Te Pūtahi a Toi at Massey University. For those 2.5 years I was able to really feel like I was a Māori programmer, not a programmer who happens to be Māori.

Since 1997 I have worked for 3 different companies, 2 of them were fantastic, Katipo Communications, and Catalyst IT (where I still work now). The third one, not so much, but that is a whole other story. While Katipo and Catalyst were and are great places to work, the reality of working in IT in Wellington is, it is quite likely you are going to be the only Māori in the room most times. What may be a little different for me is that I don’t look like what most people think Māori look like. (Us Kāi Tahu had contact with Europeans relatively early on, lots of whalers down that way. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “but how much Māori are you?” or “Why did you learn Māori?” I’d have retired about 10 years ago.) This means I get to overhear lots of really offensive opinions and the worst part is when people assume I will agree.  I’m not going to delve into the role privilege plays in IT, apart to say, I think a lot more people could think on Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini kē. (My strength is not the strength of one, it is the strength of many. We are the product of our ancestors and our environments, no one stands alone, no one did it themselves).

So, at least in my experience, the easiest way to be Māori in IT is to be as Pākehā as you can. That’s certainly the path of least resistance and will make your daily life easier. Except of course, unless you are working for a Māori organisation. I also acknowledge that for most of my career I have been working with Libraries, this has brought me into contact with many awesome people through groups like Te Rōpū Whakahau. So I have had a much easier journey than others.

Things are changing though, people are now taking Te Reo classes at my work, I have a great support group of people like my whānau, Kris, Amber and many others here in Wellington. IT has also given me the chance to meet people from all over the world. To visit places like Nigeria, Argentina, Greece, Scotland, Canada, USA, Fiji .. and so many more. It is, in the scheme of things, a pretty damn good career choice. It is something I encourage many more Māori to get involved in, as it is an expanding and massively varied field of work. From User Experience to Design, to Business Analysis, to Operations, to Sales, to Project management, and on and on. There is so much more to it than just us coders. I think in summary I’d say to Māori.
IT is like rugby, there is a position for every type of player. However it is quite likely some cracker is going to say something like we need a sensible Pākehā in the centres.

My list of conference presentations

I realised the other day, I was losing track of the conference presentations I have given. So in order to have a list somewhere I decided to write one here. I’ll update it as I have changes.

I think that’s all of them, if you know of any I’ve missed please let me know

My 2015 in pictures

2015 was a really busy year for me, I’m sure I’ll forget lots in doing this run down, but I’ll try to do one anyway. The year started pretty shittily, with Laurel being ill, but we soldiered on and enjoyed some cricket anyway

The Catalyst Open Source Academy again went well, with the group working on Koha getting a lot done.


Photo by Catalyst Media CC-BY-SA

The boys and I went on a trip to the Hawkes Bay at the end of January which was a ton of fun, splash planet is great fun with kids. One of the highlights for Te Pō Atarau was getting to feed a lamb.


2015-01-27 10.07.03

In February we went to watch the Jousting at Harcourt park and the kids got to try archery.


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In April, Te Pō Atarau invented which might be the most complicated game I have ever tried to play


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And I presented at the Open Source Open Society conference.

OSOS conference
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – April 17: OSOS conference April 17, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/ mark

I turned 42 in May and Te Pō Atarau turned 6. I also went up the coast to participate in the Digital Nati sessions, which was great.

The highlight of June for me was the kid’s disco which I live tweeted.

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July was busy with Matariki, and my favourite Kaumatua kapa haka, as well as Armageddon and Māori language week.

August was about the quietest month of the year, but then in September we went to Fiji and the US.

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We got back in October, and 4 days later I flew out to Kohacon15 in Nigeria, which was a totally amazing trip

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November was the LIANZA conference.

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Kahurangi turned 9.

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And we had Island food O’clock for one of our beer o’clocks at work.

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And December was Kiwicon and of course Christmas

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Gatekeepers or Gatecrashers

This post is a collection of not fully formed thoughts, ideas that I have been mulling over since my VALA boot camp on epublishing. Take them with a grain of salt please.

Traditionally information professionals, be they Archivists, Librarians, Curators or the rest of the cultural heritage sector, have been seen (rightly or wrongly) as gatekeepers of knowledge and information. These days as information becomes more and more locked down (DMCA, DRM, never expiring copyright, etc) the term gatekeeper becomes more and more accurate.

Every DRM encumbered book a library lends makes DRM one little bit more accepted. Every borrower who is helped to jump through the ridiculous hoops that DRM puts in front them is one more step in normalising it. When we make gallery exhibition apps that work only on ‘I’ devices we encourage our users to use proprietary software. In essence I contend that we are actually providing a disservice when we do these things.

Luckily at the same time this increased lock in is occurring, the Open Access movement is also increasing. I say Open Access not Open Data, because data is just 1s and 0s it is useless without software. And if the software I need to access the data isn’t Open, then I don’t have Open Access.

So I think we need to become gatecrashers, we should at the very least be pointing out the gates are there, and who put them there, at best we should be busting them open. Let’s promote Open Access, that’s Open Data and Open Software, at every opportunity we get. Let’s push back against those who would put knowledge in a walled garden. Let’s storm the gates and send them crashing open.

How to avoid burn out

One of the great advantages of working on Free Software is the openness and transparency, not only of the code but of the processes around creating the code.  Weirdly (or perhaps not weirdly) this can also be a disadvantage. We can see all the bugs … we know we can fix them, but also sometimes  we can’t fix them as fast as we want. Or  we can see the bugs but don’t have the time, or the permission, to fix them. This can be hugely frustrating, and can cause us to feel like we are not making any progress. What can exacerbate this is the fact we can see all the process, if our patch gets stuck at QA, or signoff, we can see this, it’s all open.

How do we get around this? I don’t really have the answer, but what works for me is mini breaks. Take a week off, or even a day or two off every time you begin to feel a little burnt out. Work on another project, read a book, knit a scarf .. do anything except work on patches in your evenings 🙂 This works for me, a few days off and I’m excited and ready to go again, what never works for me is trying to slog on through it.

International FOSS developer cooperation

A few weeks ago my laptop died so I needed to buy a new one.  As I am heading off to Atlanta for the  Supporting Cultural Heritage Open Source Software Symposium, I thought hmm, I could get a System76 laptop and pick it up when I’m there.

Equinox Software  support both Evergreen and Koha and are based in Atlanta, even though I have never met most of them, they agreed to have the laptop  delivered there. So when I get to Atlanta, I will go pick it up, exchange some beers, then go back to my hotel and check out my presentation out of git ready for the next day.

So thanks to a company that specialises in Linux laptops, and another that specialises in FOSS library software, I will have a brand new laptop running Linux in 3 days time.

Update: Here it is, so far I love it.

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2013 – WTF Happened?

With still 9 days to go I’ve decided to do a bit of a wrap up for the year.

It was a pretty massive year in a lot of ways starting with


  • This year we had the highest number of commits ever, as of today 2619 commits
  • 82 different people had code committed into Koha
  • 32 were new developers
  • At least (probably about 4 times this many really) 167 libraries liberated themselves by moving to Koha
  • 3.12 and 3.14 were released on time and with no major issues
  • Kohacon in Reno was a great time.
  • The NZ trademark issue was finally settled with the Community winning it’s challenge to Liblime/PTFS’s application.
  • I wrote 50 patches, signed off 182 patches, did QA on 72 and when doing release maintenance pushed 248.

Personal Stuff

  • Maui came to the 4th birthday party of Te Po Atarau.
  • Kahurangi turned 7 and had a space party.
  • I turned 40
  • Laurel had ankle reconstruction surgery, that resulted in a bunch of complications that meant I did the school run for most of the year.
  • I gave 11 presentations. (It would have been 12 but I bailed on one)
  • I survived 3 Whisky O’Clocks
  • I travelled 36,577 km