Rewarding careers keep alumni around the globe
4 November 2021
While lots of Kiwis have come home, many University of Auckland alumni are carving out great careers overseas.
I’ve been lucky in the opportunities life has presented me, but I think I’ve also been open-minded and willing to take risks.
Ollie Rankin: Los Angeles, United States
As Tinseltown news website True Hollywood Talk wrote last year, it can be a challenge for someone as multi-talented as Ollie Rankin to focus on one thing.
The University of Auckland computer science graduate, who was born in 1976 and grew up for the most part “poor, in a rough part” of the city, today lives in a beachside apartment in Los Angeles.
Ollie is chief executive and creative director of virtual-reality (VR) content producer Pansensory Interactive, has a long list of movie credits to his name, writes, makes music and is a keen practitioner of the culinary arts. And if there’s one positive that has come from Covid-19, it’s the impetus it has given his VR music “side hustle” of the past three years.
“The pandemic has changed the landscape and suddenly everybody sees value in virtual events,” Ollie says.
“My business partners and I are experiencing a golden age in this still nascent industry.”
That happy chance is pretty much the way his career path has gone. He would say it’s a result of his willingness to be led in unexpected directions.
“I’ve been lucky in the opportunities life has presented me, but I think I’ve also been open-minded and willing to take risks.”
From the get-go, he defied the typical route of a computer scientist with an artificial intelligence (AI) specialty.
“My professors had unwittingly convinced me there were very few interesting applications of AI outside academia. I’d resigned myself to the idea that the first-generation web development work I was doing to support myself through uni would turn into my de facto career. And it almost did.”
Instead, up popped Peter Jackson and his The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“I suddenly thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – a visual-effects artist,” says Ollie. “I put together a resumé that played up my computer graphics and film studies papers – and completely omitted the AI stuff, thinking that was irrelevant. But it turned out to be the key to unlocking that career path.”
For three years, he had the job of endowing orcs and elves with brains on the first two movie adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s books. He was part of a small team who pioneered the use of AI to choreograph epic on-screen battles.
Then came 20 years producing visual-effects for such franchises as The Matrix, Harry Potter, Transformers and US TV series The Good Doctor.
Ultimately, however, Ollie gave up the virtual reality of the movies to pursue his own creative endeavours with one real goal: championing inclusivity and sustainability in the industry.
“What motivates me now is making a positive impact on humanity and the world around me,” he says.
Swedish culture is important here. We regularly connect through fikas (Swedish coffee breaks) and they’re embedded in our day-to-day work.
Seraphina Kim: Delft, The Netherlands
Seraphina Kim works in the Netherlands, at the Delft headquarters of IKEA, the global furniture and homewares retailer. As an internal audit leader, she “navigates the risks of IKEA’s complex value chain”.
She did a BCom (accounting/finance) and credits involvement in the University’s Business School’s extra-curricular activities with getting her where she is.
“I was part of the scholarship and mentoring programme. I also joined the management consulting club, which involved reviewing mock business cases for companies like Unilever.”
Unilever later became a client and her advisory skills have since seen her travel to various parts of the world, including Pacific Island nations Tuvalu and Kiribati. Now working in a big city, Seraphina monitors the many and varied value-chain threats that are popping up in the areas of sustainability, intellectual property, data privacy, project management and food safety.
“The risks are ever changing, which keeps us on our toes.”
Covid-19 is one big shoal that the company – started by a 17-year-old Swede in 1943 – must navigate.
“The pandemic changed the way we operate, with an increased focus on digital risks.”
Although based in the Netherlands, IKEA’s Swedish origins remain a strong influence.
“Swedish culture is important here. We regularly connect through fikas (Swedish coffee breaks) and they’re embedded in our day-to-day work. Even in our team meetings, fika is a standing item on the agenda.”
When it comes to giving career advice, Seraphina leans on Swedish culture.
“I started off in a formal, corporate environment, but later realised I’m happier in a more relaxed place that allows a bit more creativity and fun.
“Having balance in all aspects of my life – the Swedish call it ‘lagom’: not too much, not too little – makes me happy. So the advice I would give to others is do what makes you happy.”
Working in India has been exhilarating. I’m not constrained to an office. With a laptop in tow, I can pretty much work from anywhere, preferably with a view.
Nazneen Bhatia: Himachal Pradesh, India
Nazneen Bhatia’s chosen career allows her to tread into the unknown. The Mumbai-born film-maker says her job is a privilege in that she can experience life itself, but also present the findings to an audience.
“Being a film-maker allows you into unexplored places to tell unspoken stories. Film-making, like any art form, allows introspection, and that benefits both the film-maker and the viewer.”
Nazneen’s film career began at the University in 2000 when she undertook a BA, majoring in Film, Television and Media Studies with a minor in psychology.
She credits that time with helping her figure out who she was, the kind of stories she wanted to tell and that needed to be told and how to pave her own path. Opportunities arose to work as an assistant director in India and other locations overseas and she now has her own production house, The Unknown Film Company.
Nazneen returned home straight after graduation and loves the diversity of India’s culture.
“The way people look, their way of dressing, the cuisine, language, music and dance: everything changes every 50 to 100 kilometres.
“India is also a treasure trove of inspiring stories from centuries past. They are often transformational stories and in telling them through film, you get the chance to bring forth their deep inward significance, rather than the superficial appearance of things.
“Working in India has been exhilarating. I’m not constrained to an office. With a laptop in tow, I can pretty much work from anywhere, preferably with a view.”
Nazneen’s home country was hard hit by a second wave of Covid-19, and she says the pandemic has been a great leveller.
“People’s lives were brought to a standstill. We collectively experienced things we never imagined possible. That made us sit back, look at our lives, reflect, strategise our lives’ trajectories and just realise the fragile nature of our existence.”
There could be a film in that.
Stories by Anthony Doesburg