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Creative Technology Careers: 5 Questions with Darryn Melrose of Media Design School

Darryn Melrose, Chief Executive of Media Design School, spoke to BrainGain magazine about the school, its courses, outcomes and graduates. Read more below.
BY Skendha Singh |   03-11-2016

Media Design School is one of New Zealand’s most awarded institutions for higher education. It offers courses in fields like game programming, advertising, interactive design, and other digital and creative technologies.  

BrainGain magazine spoke to Darryn Melrose, Chief Executive of Media Design School, about emerging careers, invisible barriers to building a creative career, and the job market for ICT graduates. Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.

  1. The Media Design School is the first in New Zealand to offer a qualification in VR/AR (Graduate Diploma of Creative Technologies). Could you tell us more about the stream and its outcomes?

    I’m quite excited about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. There’s also another thing called Mixed Reality, which is being worked on. The Auckland government has set up an AR/VR Garage to try and create incubators for developing AR/VR businesses.

    They have a partnership with Warner Brothers, an Auckland government VR project, and 2-3 industry [projects] happening right now. So, suddenly there’s work, but no trained graduates.

    AR/VR is going to fix aspects of design, technology, industries like retail and health. Particularly, health training. Also, education. In 2-3 years, you will get the benefits of being in a class and enjoy the classroom dynamic, while having the convenience of being online. So, we’re on the cusp of a massive change.

    We’re very excited by it because this is a big future career. We’re the first in games in New Zealand. We’re the first in Virtual Reality as well. What surprised me is that I thought we’d go into [this stream] as jobs start happening. But, we’ve got jobs now, and no one to do those jobs.

     
  2. Getting a job is one of the top concerns and challenges for a graduate, especially those who want to make a career in the creative industries. How do your students fare after graduation?

    The Media Design School has a high graduate employment rate. We average above 90% employment in the first six months, which is about the highest in New Zealand. So, we don’t have any issues with our graduates getting jobs. And, it depends on the field but, if you’re studying software engineering then, in the last two years, we’ve had a 100% employment before the courses have even ended.

    Creative industries in New Zealand are growing significantly, and most have a problem with lack of trained labour. In some areas, like games or film and information, there’s been a constraint in the industries only because there hasn’t been enough talent coming through.

    What we’re going to see in the future is explosive growth but a lack of trained graduates. So, in New Zealand, the creative industry is a big employer.

     
  3. Please tell us about the Girls in Games initiative.

    There aren’t enough women in ICT careers. It’s a New Zealand problem and a global problem.

    In the US, it was tracked back to 1972-73, where women graduates started to disappear from the ICT sector. And they traced much of it back to high school, to the career guidance people.

    The ICT industry, and games in particular, can’t just be men. We’re seeing a particular type of games development from men, which tend to be shooting games. And we [should] have medical and educational games - games developed with broader perspectives. It’s very important we encourage that.

    Also, we’re trying to get high school students to focus on what a games career looks like, and get excited by it. There seem to be some invisible barriers. But, if this is their dream, they should be able to do it.

    It’s working already. Currently, I wouldn’t say half, but maybe three-sevenths of our faculty in games are female. So, yeah, we just want more of it.

     
  4. Pursuing a career in creative technologies is a big leap of faith for international students and their parents. Comments?

    [Studying abroad] is one of the most important decisions you can make. There are so many questions – Can I get in? Can I succeed? Will I make friends? Is it a supportive environment? Then - Can I get a job? How much will I earn?

    What we find from India, interestingly, is many graduates who have studied a STEM qualification major in India, but, they want to be creative. They’ve got their law, commerce or engineering degree. Their family are happy. Then they come to us - to follow their passion, be creative and design. We’ve got some great success stories from Indian students who went on to work in companies like WETA Workshop.

    Following your passion can be hard because, in creative technology careers, it’s hard for parents to agree. These careers weren’t available to them. But, while ICT hasn’t been around for hundreds of years, it’s here now and it’s global.

     
  5. What would you like to say to prospective applicants?

    The thing we find [common] in our students is their passion. In New Zealand, they come to us because they’ve known for years where they want to go, where they want to work. They come to us because they know we’re the best, certainly in New Zealand. And now, we’re becoming one of the best in the region.

    So, the key thing is to have the passion. The thing that most of our faculty do is cut down the scope of projects. They want students to be able to do amazing stuff. Quite often, our staff tell students to go home, focus, and keep working on their ideas.

    If you’re not too sure about what to do, then maybe there are other options [for you]. But, if you’re passionate and want to make it in the industry, come to us.

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