The Dominion Post
Adding some art to the IT business
IT’S not the most common career combination but mixing acting with software development has served Shane Bartle well. In fact he credits treading the boards with preventing his being stereotyped.
‘‘I feel I was saved from being a complete geek by acting!’’ he laughs.
‘‘It’s rounded me out perhaps – and, funnily enough, to be successful these days in the computer industry, there’s probably more art to it than people think. It’s a people industry as much as it is a ones and zeroes industry.’’
Bartle’s own ones and zeroes business is called Storbie, which provides ecommerce enabled websites to small and medium sized businesses.
‘‘People can build a website, list their products on it and offer them for sale,’’ Bartle says.
‘‘It’s super easy to use, anyone can come in there and do it themselves – although we do build people’s sites for them too if they don’t have time or a DIY bent.’’
What differentiates Storbie from other providers, Bartle says, is the way the company helps its customers promote their businesses, which is something he and his co-founders – software developer brother Andrew and brand designer Tim Christie – aimed for right from the beginning.
It started, Bartle says, when Christie asked him to help market on the Internet a board game that he’d designed.
‘‘Trademe was exploding in those days, but I thought we could put together something for people to create their own store, instead of putting their product somewhere where they’d lose their brand identity.
‘‘We looked at what happens in the real world where businesses coalesce, in a city for example,’’ he says. ‘‘And we decided to provide that metaphor on the Internet.’’
Storbie works as a connected platform, with small to medium businesses making up the majority of the company’s clients.
‘‘Customers’ shops are individual shops but we provide a way for them to come together in various marketplaces to help drive sales,’’ he says.
‘‘You have your own site and identity, but underneath the covers it’s an interconnected network of shops, markets and suppliers.’’
Bartle had a passion for software from an early age.
‘‘It was the start of the days when people could actually build software at home,’’ he says. ‘‘I was kind of addicted to it – even if I was away on holiday I’d be writing bits of code on the back of an envelope.’’
In high school, while his software development hobby continued unabated, Bartle became involved in theatre.
‘‘I ended up going to drama school – Toi Whakaari – and that kind of slingshots you into acting as a profession,’’ he says.
Bartle graduated in 1993, working in theatre in Wellington, at Bats, Circa, Downstage & The Depot, before heading to Christchurch and the Court Theatre and Palmerston North’s Centrepoint. He also worked in film and television, where he is still remembered as Shortland Street nurse Otis Jackson. And he’s probably even better known now as the face of Mitsubishi Electric in New Zealand in its commercials.
Bartle kept his software development hand in as well, although his university studies didn’t last long.
‘‘I did one year of a comp sci degree and then a play came up,’’ he says. ‘‘It was called the Big Blue Planet Earth show and I had a hand in devising it – it got some funding and so I dropped out to do a tour of North Island schools.’’
The show is still done in schools and Bartle gets the occasional royalty cheque.
Acting work can be sporadic which means having a back-up income stream is a necessity.
‘‘I was lucky, because I had this computer bent,’’ Bartle says. ‘‘I would do things like computer training, teaching people how to use Excel and that was my kind of side-line job, and it probably paid better than some of the jobs other actors were getting.
‘‘It was probably inevitable when I had kids I would end up sliding into that other profession. You have to really admire actors who have kids and stay in the profession, for the sacrifices they make in order to bring up a family and be an actor in New Zealand. It’s a tough ask.’’
Bartle had planned to complete his degree after the run of a play at the Court Theatre, but lasted less than a week.
‘‘It might have even been the first lecture!’’ he laughs ‘‘The lecturer was doing his best, but I thought ‘Holy cow this is going to kill me – I actually cannot do this.’’’
He discovered that if he pulled out of the course, he’d get all of his fees back.
‘‘And I worked out that would be enough to buy a reasonable computer and a book on how to program – and I thought I could teach myself to program faster than I was going to learn at university.’’
‘‘I don’t think university was for me and I actually think that’s quite common for people in my generation in the profession,’’ he says.
‘‘Having said that though, I value having done that first year because I actually learnt some fundamental concepts that have been useful and I’m sure there would have been value had I done the following years – I was just too impatient.’’
Bartle is often called on to talk to people wanting to get into the IT industry, and recount his experience of it.
‘‘I met with some people the other week, immigrants with backgounds in IT,’’ he says.
‘‘I was giving them my impression of the industry and some advice on what they could do to get jobs, and one of the things I said was that some of their prospective employers probably hadn’t done a university degree, or if they had, it’s often in something other than computing.’’
‘‘I was suggesting to them that when they went for a job interview one thing to bear in mind is the person interviewing might not value a degree as much as one might think. What they value – from what I’ve seen in my 20 years in the software industry – is if this person passionate enough about the software industry they can’t help themselves keeping up with it.’’
The IT industry is reinventing itself at such a rate, he says, that you have to constantly relearn how to do things. So it helps to be excited about it.
‘‘Someone who loves change, embraces change and wants to know what the next thing coming out is, they can’t help themselves – they want to go and play with it!’’ He admits he’s one of those people. ‘‘When the next version of the tool comes out I have to go and find out all about it, I have to trial it . . and if you don’t want to do that you’re going to struggle in this profession, and you’ll find yourself left behind.’’