Students given insight into tech, startup careers

The inaugural ThriveHI event explored various pathways to break into the tech industry.

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David Lassner
UH President David Lassner. Photo by Alyssia Chen.
Photo by Trung Lam.

More than 130 University of Hawaii students were able to get real-world advice from 30 local tech and startup professionals on getting into the tech industry.

The “Talk Story with Tech Professionals” event was organized by ThriveHI, a new organization focused on growing Hawaii’s startup and tech scene.

UH President David Lassner opened the event, talking about his computer science background and his desire to help students get a strong start on their career path. Afterward, speakers from companies like Amazon, Google, and Servco gave quick introductions. Students were then able to hear and ask questions about career paths ranging from software engineering, cyber-security, product management, data science, business operations, and entrepreneurship.

“This is a great opportunity for these students because of the fact that it gives exposure to what they are able to do, and be able to apply what they learned and see that they are not restricted to one thing such as software engineering,” said Amanda Nitta, a UH Mānoa senior majoring in computer science and data science. “They have so many other capabilities within them to do interdisciplinary work and have different mindsets going into the workforce.”

Nitta, who also serves as and vice president and chief of operations for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at UH Mānoa, was one of the event’s student organizers and gained knowledge about how to apply data science and management in a future career.

“Students were inspired by these professionals and learned that there are more opportunities and there are countless ways that they can employ their capabilities in the work force here in Hawaii,” Nitta said.

Students were able to meet face to face with tech professionals and get advice on how to succeed in the industry. Photo by Alyssia Chen.

Many of the tech professionals featured at the event are remote workers for companies based on the continental U.S. Computer science student Kanai Gooding, president of the ACM, said there is often a disparity between salaries offered by those companies and salaries offered by companies based in Hawaii.

“This is just one of the many aspects that we are trying to attack the problem with,” Gooding said. “One of our big asks for the professionals here was, ‘Hey, we’re going to have the students ask you your salary. Please be ok with us asking and you answering,’” Gooding said. “Hopefully that spreads loudly across the community.”

Gooding said he wants to see Hawaii-based companies can match the salaries of their continental U.S.-based counterparts.

One of the speakers was Kevin Shin, a senior software engineer at LinkedIn who graduated from UH Mānoa in 2014 with a degree in mechanical engineering, before pursuing a graduate degree at Stanford University.

He said his goal for the event was “to let the students know that there is a path to tech and people from Hawaiʻi can make it. There are a bunch out here doing it.”

ThriveHI co-founder Rich Matsui observed that the conventional wisdom used to be that you had to leave Hawaii to make it in the tech industry.

“With remote work as the new norm alongside Hawaii’s growing tech scene, that sentiment isn’t as relevant anymore,” Matsui said. “Our team felt like this was the perfect opportunity to show the next generation that there’s also a vast world of high-paying tech jobs out there

The event was held at Kuykendall Hall on UH Manoa’s campus and organized in partnership with the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) at the Shidler School of Business, the Association for Computing Machinery, and Builders VC.

“Students at the University of Hawaii are just as capable of taking on tech careers, including tech-centered entrepreneurship, as their mainland counterparts,” said PACE Executive Director Sandra Fujiyama. “Because of Hawaii’s distance from major technological hubs, however, local students may be learning about these careers from the internet or other secondhand sources.

“PACE, along with ThriveHI, ACM@Mānoa and Builders VC, recognized the need to close that gap and connect students directly to people who know what it is to work in tech today,” she said.

Fujiyama said PACE looks forward to continue working with ThriveHI and ACM to “create a thriving innovation ecosystem for Hawaii.”

“We are grateful for the initiative and engagement by ThriveHI and the more than 30 tech-professionals, including software engineers, founders, product managers and cybersecurity experts, who came to campus last night to share their knowledge and experience with more than 100 students from a diverse set of backgrounds,” Fujiyama added. “The place was buzzing with activity, connections were made, careers were shaped and doors of opportunity were opened.”

ThriveHI Tech Career Event
Click the photo above to view the full album of photos from the event by Alyssia Chen.

About ThriveHI

ThriveHI is on a mission to move Hawaii from surviving to thriving by making a sustainable, resilient, and economically abundant local tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. ThriveHI connects the necessary people, organizations, and capital to catalyze growth in Hawaii’s tech scene. Currently, they publish a biweekly newsletter and host events regarding Hawaii’s startup and tech scene with the intention to expand their offerings in the future. Learn more at: www.thrivehi.org

About PACE

The Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE), established in 2000 at the Shidler College of Business, is the central unit that coordinates and offers educational opportunities for entrepreneurship, innovation, and commercialization to students at all 10 campuses of the University of Hawai‘i System (UH). The Center’s comprehensive portfolio of programs offers mentorship, training, and resources, and is designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking across disciplines and inspire entrepreneurs to move their ideas from conceptualization to commercialization.

About ACM

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a chapter of the national professional computer science organization. ACM strives to facilitate opportunities and fellowship amongst its members. While also exposing students to how they are able to apply their capabilities beyond code and expand their knowledge of what the field is beyond the classroom with an emphasis on teaching through fellowship.

About Builders VC

Builders VC is an early-stage venture capital firm focused on investing where technology meets new business models to modernize antiquated industries. Areas of interest include platform companies fixing Agriculture, Real Estate & Construction, Health IT, and Industrials. Builders is focused on improving Hawaii by engaging Hawaii founders, tech talent, key stakeholders, and capital providers for local startup ecosystem expansion, economic diversification, and job creation.

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