Virtual lab a great gig for Wintec students and Waikato businesses

The Gig interns having a brainstorming session with Lego
The Gig interns using Lego in an Agile methodology workshop. 

When COVID-19 caused a drop-off in internship opportunities for Wintec Information Technology (IT) students this year, Alison Marshall, the Centre for Information Technology Industry Relationship Manager, came up with an idea: The Gig.  

The Gig is a ‘MakerLab’ that can be operated virtually, run by the Wintec Centre for Information Technology. Like a business, it has real clients, and students have the opportunity to gain industry experience through a time of uncertainty.  Alison Marshall explains: 

“The Gig is run as a real IT company. We’ve got clients, and we’ve got students from our Masters, Postgraduate and Bachelor of Applied IT programmes all working together. 

We’ve made roles for everybody. I’m the director, and we’ve got two of our Wintec staff working there too – Heather Maitland as Agile Coach and Alex Yu as Technical Lead. If you were running an IT company, those would be the roles leading the operations every day.  

We give the students industry roles such as scrum masters, engineers, business analysts and a security consultant.” 

There are real benefits for clients too, as they can test out early-stage ideas and experiment with them. 

Marshall had been thinking about the idea for a while, but COVID-19 was the catalyst that got everything going.  

“When COVID-19 hit, all of our students had to go virtual. We could see with the potential economic downturn that there would be a drop off in internships available. I thought that if we had to stay working in a virtual environment, there would continue to be opportunities for those students.” 

The idea also brought together problems in the community where Māori-led initiatives, not-for-profits and start-ups did not have the technical skills or funding to get their ideas started. 

It began as a pilot but the Gig is a roaring success. It has provided internships for students, and a space to ensure those students are getting technical guidance throughout their projects.  

“Students appreciate getting real-world experience through working with these clients,” says Marshall. 

Student Vinod Gupta was one of the students involved with The Gig’s pilot programme. He says that through The Gig he “got a huge amount of professional experience”. 

“I learned fundamental skills and applications, as well as professional and interpersonal skills like customer negotiation, client relationships and working in high pressure environments.” 

The clients students worked with included from not-for-profit Healing Innovation Hub, who were trialling virtual reality apps to teach rangatahi (youth) about mental health and wellbeing; to ThrillCapital, a sports funding company who hope to start a global online racing competition using VR car simulation; and a start-up who wanted help creating an IoT device and mobile application called aimed at simplifying processes in the testing and tagging industry.  

Adele Hauwai of Healing Innovation Hub and David Tomlinson of ThrillCapital have both had positive experiences in working with The Gig.  

Hauwai says The Gig has “given the organisation a more solid idea of where they’re headed with their mindfulness app,” with Tomlinson adding that “The Gig’s input has been extremely useful as we are now able to examine and work on ideas outside of our own echo chamber.” 

He also says, "The connection with Wintec has also helped our business development. For example, a global engineering consultancy now plans to use our project as a focal point for one of their internship programmes.” 

With such positive outcomes for staff, clients and students, The Gig seems set up to have a thriving future post-COVID.  

“We have clients coming out of our ears. It’s my ambition to have the pilot developed into a fully functioning MakerLab. We’ve been consulting with non-profits, industry and iwi to look at putting together a business case to continue The Gig,” says Marshall.  

“We want to ensure that the work we do with The Gig doesn’t detract from industry, so we’ve set rules created after consulting an industry advisory group on what kinds of projects we should be taking on. These include innovation ideas in our sector that need support to get their idea going or projects from not-for-profits that give back to their community, that need technical help or prototyping. 

“We also have our sights set on connecting with other Wintec centres so that The Gig is multi-disciplinary, incorporating Wintec School of Media Arts, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.   

“The Gig links into future of work principles where students can get real experiences for their future prospects and works as a transition from study into employment.” 

Gupta is equally as excited for future prospects with The Gig. 

“Working for The Gig in future would be a dream come true. I love to learn while working and I love to share my knowledge and my experience with younger learners so that they can create new pathways for their professional career in IT.” 

For those interested in learning more about the students and the projects they worked on during The Gig’s pilot programme, The Gig students and all industry internships students will be presenting their work at a Waikato IoT (Internet of Things) event  at Wintec on Tuesday 17 November, which is open to the public.  

Want to get involved? 

Marshall is interested in hearing how the IT industry would like to engage and support The Gig. If you are interested in being involved, contact Alison Marshall

Read more: