Atlassian Co-founder Scott Farquhar on Why He’s Still Trying to Convince Aussies Tech Is the Future

Atlassian Co-founder Scott Farquhar on Why He’s Still Trying to Convince Aussies Tech Is the Future

In 2002, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes put themselves into $10,000 worth of credit card debt and founded Atlassian, solidifying the company as Australia’s biggest tech success story merely a few years later.

Since then, the pair have been screaming into a void, telling anyone who would listen for the good part of 20 years that Australia needs to pay more attention to tech and upskill the country to fill out an industry that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Now, they’re back at it again. On Wednesday, Atlassian launched a recruitment drive…literally. They’re driving around an Atlassian-branded RV (calling it the AtlassiVan) to promote the fact they’re looking for 1,032 people to hire. It’s a gimmick, sure, but it’ll probably get your attention if you saw it on the street.

It’s also the reason I got the opportunity to sit down with Farquhar to ask him, basically, why?

For the last few years, Atlassian has been pushing its “work from anywhere” vibe. Butts on seats, after all, is something a lot of employers have understood is unnecessary, and, often, unproductive. Which is why this recruitment drive is focused on the idea of working from anywhere, and that coming to one of the company’s offices in the Sydney CBD could happen once or twice a year, if you want. Farquhar calls this “intentional togetherness”. While that does sound severely wanky, it makes sense.

Basically, he said, people haven’t quite internalised yet that these high-paying technology jobs don’t have to be within a kilometre of a CBD.

“I think people who want their employees back in the office five days a week are going to struggle … you can’t live in Maroochydore and come to an office job in Sydney … you’re not going to have a lot of fun,” he told Gizmodo Australia, adding, “You just limit the pool of workers that you can employ.”

The idea of a skills shortage is nothing new, it’s been talked about at length by everyone from your uni lecturer to Aussie think tanks to politicians. But, in 2022, it’s still a conversation we’re having. As an aside, it does help that now we have a government that understands what ‘tech’ is. Anyway, to Farquhar, someone who has had these conversations almost daily for 20 years, he wouldn’t characterise it as banging his head against a wall. Which surprised me.

“I think we’ve come a long way in the last seven or eight years, or even the last 20 years, in terms of understanding technology. That doesn’t mean we still don’t have a long way to go … there will be almost 200,000 jobs available where we don’t have people for them over the next decade – that’s a lot of people, that’s what, three Stadium Australias?,” he said.

“That’s a lot of people that we still need to train or migrate to Australia.”

There’s still the notion, however, that to work in tech you have to be a “nerd who sits down programming all day”. Obviously, we need those of you with programming expertise, but the tech industry also needs PR, marketing, sales, writers, finance heads – anything and everything.

What is holding us back?

Well, Farquhar would argue kids follow their parents quite often in career choices. And many of our parents aren’t in tech roles as it wasn’t overly a ‘thing’ when they were choosing their path. But what do we do in the interim while we wait for the next generation of parents then? Do companies like Atlassian walk into, say, a TAFE class on day one and get people to switch from what they were about to study to a tech course? How do you interest people in tech if they’re simply not?

If it seems like I’m spruiking this message Atlassian is delivering it’s because I kind of am. Technology is an industry that isn’t going away anytime soon. If you’re reading this, it’s because you clearly have an interest in tech – and if you’re not working in the industry, I have to ask you simply: Why? If the local industry is going to have any chance to kick ass on a global stage, it needs people like you to have an impact.

Pushing this ideal onto Australia is great in theory, but Atlassian is well-known for setting up overseas to give it the best shot at success. In December 2015, Atlassian listed on the NASDAQ – becoming a public company on a U.S. stock exchange. It was the biggest ever float from an Australian company and it left a sour taste in the mouths of many locals. This isn’t exactly eating your own proverbial dog food, setting up shop in Silicon Valley and hiring Americans to work for your company.

“I think for Atlassian to be successful as a company, we’ve got to do the best thing for our company, our customers, our shareholders, our staff and when we started Atlassian 20-something years ago there was no product marketing expertise in Australia or online marketing expertise – there was no enterprise software market, we couldn’t hire people,” Farquhar said in response to my criticism.

That’s why, he said, it’s about encouraging Australians to grow these jobs other markets have.

“Because we can hire senior people in the U.S., they can train people in Australia,” he added. “If we hadn’t been able to tap into a global expertise, we wouldn’t be in that situation.”

The man is well media trained, I’ll give him that.

But why is it Atlassian’s job to promote tech?

Well, who else is going to do it? I put that question to Farquhar and he said: “We want Australia to shine” and that it’s about inspiring others.

“We’ve been saying this for 20 years and finally people are realising and saying, ‘Hey, all the wealth, prosperity, great jobs are all being created in the tech industry these days not in the mining industry or in the banking industry’,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a responsibility, I think we’re trying to do it to help Australia be a better place.”

While it’s the same message Farquhar and Cannon-Brookes have been pushing for over two decades, the pair are now making their way to being household names. Farquhar in August bought himself a $10.85 million house on the NSW south coast with his $13.1 billion net worth and Cannon-Brookes is much the same. While he’s not suggesting you can achieve the same if you switch to tech from say finance, it helps that these men are now in the public arena and can back up their claims with something tangible.

“One of my goals in life is to inspire others for their own greatness and to the extent Atlassian can help do that, be a shining light …to the extent we can be a bit of a mascot for the industry, that’s awesome, but at the end of the day, it’s going to take more than an Atlassian to create all the jobs for Australia,” he said.

“There’s so many jobs in technology and it’s such a great industry … we just have to get the word out there early enough to people.”

As Farquhar said: “Just take a leap”.

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