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Our Stories • Volume One

Siosaia Maka

Talofa Siosaia.

What do you do?

I’m a Software Development Intern at RUSH Digital and Co-Founder of Ngā Mihi, and I’m a father and husband. 

Ngā Mihi is a charity that provides a platform for whānau of people in prison to purchase essentials on their behalf and also provides a starter kit of basic essentials for people entering prison for the first time. We make sure that they have a the basics to start their journey - from underwear, socks, shoes, flannel and a water bottle. We do this to help them have a humane start to their time inside. 

That is awesome! How did you get started in tech?

I sort of stumbled upon tech, it wasn't like a plan that I set for myself. While I was in prison, I had just been sentenced and moved to Auckland. I had three years to go until the end of my time, and I was trying to find a way for me to succeed. I still had a family outside, so I still wanted to do something or whatever it takes to make sure that I can look after myself and our family. 

So yeah, I hung around some of the boys and I thought that my future would be something in the criminal world. I was already deep in it so I thought that I need to just look a bit deeper into this sort of polluted pond to find my thing. While that was going on, I had a little induction into the prison, where you go in and then do a couple of tests just to see where you're at and see what programmes they could offer you. 


So I did that and, I think within that same week the Education Coordinator came to my unit and asked to speak to me. The officers told me that she wanted to speak to me and I was real suspicious about it. I didn't know who the lady was and I never asked for anything so I wasn't sure why they wanted to speak to me. And then she told me there's this amazing programme that we're about to start soon. It's called TAKE2 and it’s about bit coding and programming. She was telling me all this other stuff. I wasn't really listening cuz I was just trying to understand why, why is she telling me this? She did say it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. She really wanted me to take it. I was still unsure about why she was offering this to me and that, but I thought I'd go along and check out the seminars and see what it’s about. 

I went there and they were telling us and the men that they had this opportunity for us to have a career in technology. It sounded like a mean opportunity, but I didn't understand how something like that is possible for people like us. I think a lot of the guys felt the same too. There were probably 30 of us and at the end of it only two of us signed up. It was me and my Co-Founder. 


Later two other guys signed up as well, and it was just the four of us. By the first month, they brought a lot of people from outside to talk to us and stuff. There was a bit of exposure to tech, and I picked it up pretty quick and enjoyed it straightaway. They helped me see myself in a different light that I had never seen myself in before. The more I went through the journey, I started finding all these things about myself, I think I probably knew, but because of all the bad choices I made, I started to doubt a lot of my potential. I stayed through the programme and knew it would be good for me. 

Fast forward one year later, I'm out now and got an internship in Software Development. I’ve made heaps of cool friends and met lots of amazing people. It wasn't something that I planned. I never planned to get into tech, but it just happened. I just had to open myself up to the opportunity and let it do its thing. 

That’s amazing! Did you have any technical experience or knowledge before you went into the programme?

Nah. My only experience was that I’d used a computer before. Some of the older guys had never touched a computer since the floppy disk days. I didn’t really know anything about coding. I just knew how to navigate through a laptop. 

That’s incredible - and now you’re here. What skills did you bring into building Ngā Mihi?

The tech side - Knowing how the tech needs to work and what we need to make the tech work. Understanding the problem and validating it. I didn't really know [all of the other stuff] and I had to force myself to get out of my comfort zone and do it using what we had.  I think the biggest thing that helped wasn't so much skills, it was just the experience that we had in prison allowed us to understand the problem a lot better and put the other skills we had within the team to use as well. The time we spent there was so valuable, because we knew all the [pain points] and that helped us put together a solution that would work. Our time inside helped us a lot.


I just knew that it had to be simple. I understood that the tech we needed wasn’t anything super complicated and that the main thing we had to cover was privacy, but that we could build something really simple and it could work. 

That’s really cool. It’s only been one year and look at the success that you’ve had! What are you loving about where you are right now?

I think probably the biggest thing is seeing my family happy. In the past, there wasn't too much that I did that I could be proud of. But to see them being able to feel proud about me now, and having done things that our family is able to feel proud about, it's probably one of the biggest things. 

I always wanted to make them proud and provide and all of that - but I wasn't quite ready to step into that role. So yes, probably the biggest thing is just seeing my family happy and trying to set a good example. 

Just really grateful, super grateful. I made a lot of bad choices and did a lot of bad things in the past, but I am so grateful that God has led me through this journey. And I'm still breathing today. Super grateful for the opportunities and everything that I've been able to do. I think in my youth, as a kid, I always dreamed of doing things like this. 

That's awesome. Lastly, any words to live by?

When it gets hard, just remain solid and do your best and all that you can to keep moving, Keep moving forward. Even if it's crawling or walking or running - just as long as you're moving forward. 

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