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Top appointment to head Victoria cybersecurity partner

27 Sep 2016 - 09:57 in Achievement


Victoria University has welcomed the appointment of NZX Chief Operating Officer Mandy Simpson as head of Cyber Toa, Victoria's partner in developing a centre of excellence to strengthen New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific's resilience against cybercrime and cyberattacks.

“The appointment of someone of Mandy Simpson’s calibre as Chief Executive Officer is further testimony to the quality and impact of Cyber Toa,” said Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering.

“A combination of Victoria’s research and teaching excellence, Cyber Toa’s status as one of just 10 certified training partners in the world of the gold-standard Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States and Mandy’s extraordinary leadership skills makes for cybersecurity capability and potential unmatched in New Zealand.”

Victoria’s partnership with Cyber Toa, previously the cyber division of Total Risk, includes a new Master of Cybersecurity, with a range of undergraduate degrees also proposed.

In addition, Cyber Toa’s existing SEI-accredited cybersecurity training delivered in association with Victoria is being expanded to eventually include all 42 courses the SEI has available.

Cyber Toa and Victoria will be the only provider in the Southern Hemisphere to offer all the courses, teaching them in Wellington and Auckland, and if demand requires in Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

The partnership also sees the establishment of a commercial computer security incident response team, or CSIRT, run by Cyber Toa and based at Victoria’s Kelburn campus, where it will offer proactive and reactive cybersecurity support to businesses and other clients.

Chief Operating Officer at NZX for the past four years, Ms Simpson has held senior roles at the State Services Commission and IT services company Fronde.

Born in Britain but a Wellingtonian since 2006, she has an Executive Master of Public Administration from Victoria’s Australia and New Zealand School of Government and a Master of Arts in Law from the University of Cambridge.

She trained as an accountant at Deloitte in London, specialising in financial investigation, and later spent four years at the London Stock Exchange, initially in market surveillance.

Ms Simpson said: “I’m excited to be joining Cyber Toa in this key growth phase. As the use of technology accelerates in all areas of our business and personal lives, the need for qualified, capable cybersecurity professionals has never been clearer. With Cyber Toa’s world-class expertise, and in partnership with Victoria University, we’ll be able to make a significant difference to our clients’ ability to respond to this growing threat.”

Postdoctoral Fellow: Introducing Harith to ECS

26 Sep 2016 - 09:36 in Research


Name? Harith Al-Sahaf.

Born in? Lincoln, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Lived in? Iraq (1984-2006), and New Zealand (2006-present).

First job? Yarn machine operator (Iraq), Delicatessen, New World (New Zealand), and Tutor for SWEN304 (VUW).

Position at VUW? Postdoctoral Fellow working with the Evolutionary Computation Research Group.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Joining the team!

Key research interests? Evolutionary Computation and Computer Vision.

Why Wellington? Definitely not for the weather, but absolutely for the friendly people.

Favourite movie? The Message, The Godfather - and almost all comedy movies.

Favourite musician? Lionel Richie, Air Supply, ABBA.

Favourite food? My mum’s.

Quote to live by? “The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know”.
- David T. Freeman

Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study

20 Sep 2016 - 11:46 in Event


The challenges facing Wellington's fast-growing digital industry were explored in a recent seminar hosted by Victoria University.

The event, titled "Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study", brought together staff and students from Victoria's Schools of Engineering and Computer Science, and Management, with industry experts and practitioners, who delved into what it takes to thrive in the digital age.

Dr Richard Norman, a co-host of the event, is a senior lecturer in Victoria's School of Management. His research focuses on understanding how people and organisations can adapt to technology change.

"The work environment is changing. Occupations are changing, there are new sectors emerging—such as the cyber security sector—and companies are becoming more agile, with a focus on fast development and fast turnaround", says Dr Norman.

"What is distinctive about this event is that it brought together both the people and the technical sides of business. For companies to be successful they really have to be on top of both. We have had a lot of interest in this event from the local digital industry—it's a good opportunity to share knowledge".

Dr Stuart Marshall, Head of Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science, says that the event gave students an important opportunity to hear about the industry many of them will be working in.

"We ran a similar event late last year, which was solely for industry. This year we wanted to open it up to students, so we ran it during class time to make it even more accessible. When students graduate a lot of them will be working in these digitally-focussed companies, and this was a valuable opportunity to hear about what the environment is like".

This year, the speakers were:

- Associate Professor Kris Bubendorfer, Victoria University of Wellington
- Professor Neil Dodgson, Victoria University of Wellington
- Collier Isaacs, Farm IQ
- Ruth McDavitt, Summer of Tech
- Dean Pemberton, Network Startup Resource Center
- Anthony Pratt, Park Road Post Production
- Laura Reitel, Lightning Lab / Creative HG
- Chris Ward, Total Risk / CyberToa
- Dr Ian Welch, Victoria University of Wellington

Victoria alumna helps give Google Maps the green light

31 Aug 2016 - 12:41 in Alumni


Victoria University of Wellington alumna Anna Friedlander has gone from being a problem-solving, data-driven computer science student, to one of the 57,000 Google employees delivering search-engine functions people can’t imagine living without.

During study for her undergraduate degree at Victoria, Anna was a finalist for Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship, attending a scholars’ retreat at the Google Sydney office.

“I guess it was this experience that got me on the Google Scholars list, but it wasn’t until the second time that I was contacted by a recruiter that I realised it wasn’t a scam and that Google were interested in me,” says Anna, who completed her Master of Computer Science at Victoria in 2013.

Her Master’s research with the radio astronomy group at Victoria focused on developing new methods to automate the process of finding galaxies in astronomical images.

“Data from radio astronomy has one big similarity with other big data today: there is an almost unimaginable amount.

“Radio telescopes produce exabytes of data on hundreds of millions of objects, so automated methods of detection are absolutely crucial. Current methods find bright objects really well, but aren’t as good for finding faint sources, or those that are spread out”.

An exabyte is one billion gigabytes, or 1018 bytes.

After graduating, Anna was offered a position as a software engineer at Google Sydney where she worked in the Geo Monetisation team experimenting with different advertisement formats to optimise their relevance and usefulness.

In mid-2015 Anna transferred to the Google Zurich office where she began working on the book-a-ride (taxi) mode in Google Maps Mobile, a service allowing users to compare ride service options, a project she describes as the highlight of her career to date.

“It’s amazing to know that people in places as diverse as London, Mumbai, New York, Nairobi, Rio, and Wellington have seen and used a function of the app that I helped to develop”.

While the work Anna is doing at Google may be different to her research at Victoria, she says the skills she learnt during her degree have been invaluable to her career.

“Victoria’s focus on working across disciplines and sharing knowledge from those who have different expertise has set me up to work with people who all have different functions across Google.”

18 Aug 2016 - 11:06 in Achievement


A Victoria University student is helping local high school students learn basic computer science skills through an after-school coding club.

Software Engineering student Mansour Javaher runs weekly sessions for around 30 students in Years 9 and 10 at Wellington College.

“I really enjoy teaching. It’s great to see the students listen and respond to what I have to tell them. I try to make the classroom a friendly atmosphere so they can relax and have fun,” says Mansour.

“I recently moved to Wellington from Iran, and teaching has not only improved my own knowledge in computer science, but it makes me more confident and helps me practise my English language and communication skills. It’s been a great experience.”

In Term 2, Mansour taught the students fundamentals of programming. They’re now developing websites, and next term will learn with Raspberry Pi— mini computers that help with programming projects.

Recently the decision was made to extend sessions to twice a week.

John Barrow, Outreach Coordinator at Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, says Mansour has been an outstanding asset.

“Mansour has taken the lead and has been helping out regularly. His teaching initiatives and efforts have been excellent—we’re very proud of him.”

The students are learning some really great skills, says Wellington College digital technology teacher David Roberts.

“It’s important to show students examples of what different disciplines there are out there and what they can do. And the high amount of interest we’ve received about the club demonstrates the demand for it.”

Photo credit: David Benseman

From grad student to ECS lecturer: Introducing Yi Mei

12 Aug 2016 - 13:47 in Achievement


Name? Yi Mei.

Born in? Yongxiu, a small town in southern China.

Lived in? I lived in several Chinese cities when I was a student, then I spent two years working in Hong Kong. After that I moved to Melbourne for three years before coming to Wellington last year.

First job? When I was an undergraduate, I worked part-time as a private tutor, just to earn a bit of extra money.

Position at VUW? I’m a Lecturer in Computer Science.

Most looking forward to? Pursuing my academic career goals in such an excellent workplace. It’s always exciting to have opportunities to collaborate on research that can change the world. I’m also looking forward to sharing my knowledge with students – it’s great to see them grow and develop.

Key research interests? I’m really interested in artificial intelligence, machine learning and optimisation. I’m particularly interested in the most challenging problems, such as scheduling and combinatorial optimisation, and how to tackle them using evolutionary computation - a stream of very powerful optimisation techniques. I’m also interested in the human-like machine learning ideas such as reinforcement learning and lifelong machine learning.

Why Wellington? I love New Zealand. Coming from a heavily polluted and dictatorial country, I enjoy the freedom, fresh air and breathtaking scenery here. More importantly, people are so nice! I don’t want to leave after making so many great friends.

Favourite movie? Forrest Gump. It taught me that life is not decided by how you were born, but by how you face it. Everyone has the chance to pursue a happy and fulfilled life.

Favourite musician? A Taiwanese singer called Jay Chou. He is so talented and has created many new musical styles. He is also brave, daring to raise awareness of issues including environmental protection, war and family violence.

Favourite food? Definitely Chinese food - I love Sichuan food!

Quote to live by? I always remind myself: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Introducing Dionysis Athanasopoulos to the ICT Graduate School

11 Aug 2016 - 15:19 in Achievement


Name? Dionysis Athanasopoulos.

Born in? Greece.

Education? I received my PhD from the Computer Science & Engineering department of the University of Ioannina in Greece in 2014.

Work? During my MSc and PhD studies I worked as an R&D Software Engineer on several large-scale research projects (e.g., EU-funded FP7 ICT IP projects, ‘CHOReOS’ and 'SeaClouds'). I also taught at several Greek technological institutes and high schools. After completing my PhD, I worked as a Post-Doc researcher in the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

Position at VUW? Lecturer in Software Engineering for the ICT Graduate School.

Key research interests?
  • Software engineering, esp., maintenance (software refactoring)
  • Service-oriented & object-oriented architectures
  • Data engineering, esp., service & schema matching
  • Green-aware engineering of service-oriented software
  • Software as a Service (installed and operated in the cloud) model
  • Software design principles & patterns.
Why Wellington? Because it is one of the most lively capital cities in the world and Victoria University is among the top universities worldwide.

Favourite movie? Good Will Hunting.

Favourite musician? Andrea Bocelli.

Favourite food? Grand tortellini al tartufo – tortellini with truffles!

Gotta Catch Em All: An Insider’s Guide to Pokémon hunting

09 Aug 2016 - 12:41 in Achievement


Computer Graphics PhD student Kieran Carnegie has walked an extra 50 km a week since the release of Pokémon GO, so he’s the perfect person to share his experiences with other dedicated Pokémon hunters...

“I got into playing Pokémon GO as a mix of nostalgia and the fact that my lab mates were also playing. It’s a social game and running around the university catching Pokémon is a lot of fun.

I’m currently at Level 22. I walk to and from uni, so I hatch a 5 km egg every day, which really helps for getting Experience Points (Exp). I also save my lucky eggs until I have multiple eggs to hatch and then I mass-evolve Pokémon like Pidgeys to gain a massive amount of Exp in 30 minutes.

Pidgeys are useful as they are common, and evolve really easily. Eevees are also really common in Wellington which is nice – they are one of my favourite Pokémon from all those years ago.

In terms of rare Pokémon, a Ninetails got away from me in the Cotton building yesterday! Wandering around Wellington has also been good for nabbing a few other rares: I have hatched a Snorlax, caught an Aerodactyl at the hospital and, after a dead sprint across the university, caught a Charizard on Boyd-Wilson field!

One of the biggest advantages of Pokémon GO is is that it gets gamers outside. According to the in-game tracker, I walk around 50 km each week with it open. You also get to meet all sorts of people while out hunting.

The disadvantages include issues like trespass or people looking at their phones and walking into traffic. I’m not a fan of people spending their entire lives looking at a cellphone screen. Wellington has some amazing walking tracks and you don’t have to be married to your phone for the entire track!

A hardcore Pokémon GO gamer is someone who is willing to walk out of their way to find Pokémon, and who spends long days going for walks to catch Pokémon and long nights taking over gyms when no one else is awake to contest them.

Finally, here are my top tips and tricks for other Pokémon players – you’ll have to be a player to understand them!

  • If you are going to spend money on Pokémon GO, the egg hatchers are the best bet for improving Exp gain and getting rarer Pokémon – just don’t use them on 2 km eggs.
  • Take it easy! The game will be around for a long time and will be rebalanced and modified, so don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Don’t bother with Zubats. Catch Pidgeys, Caterpies and Weedles for mass evolution.
  • Combat Points (CP) values on gym defenders are irrelevant. You can take a gym that is 500CP above you with a type advantage, and 750-1000CP above you if you can time dodges well.
  • Multiple people on the same team can attack a gym at once to make it easier.
  • Team Valor is the best.
  • If you are going to use lures, the Botanical Gardens, Frank Kitts Park and Victoria University all have locations where three PokeStops overlap. These are the best lure spots - lots of people get to use them, and you get to spawn lots more Pokémon.”

All the IT in China

04 Aug 2016 - 15:26 in Achievement


Two ECS students, Amelia Harris and Keanu Holden, recently went on a whirlwind trip to Beijing Jiaotong University in China to attend an IT Summer School. We asked Amelia to share first-hand her impressions of the trip and the intriguing new culture she discovered...

“Beijing was a totally new experience because I had never been overseas before. The trip from the airport to the university was about an hour, so I was able to take in the different landscape that Beijing had to offer. Adapting to the heat was a challenge as the first day reached 37ºC!

Arriving on the Sunday morning gave me time to adjust to my new surroundings before the two-week programme began on Monday. I stayed in an international dorm with people from outside the course. Luckily, my roommate and I met someone who spoke Chinese, and they showed us the best place to find lunch.

The class included 25 people from more than 10 different countries. Our primary focus was to build an Android application which could record and play back sound, which we did using Android Studio.

We usually had class in the morning, and then in the afternoons we’d sometimes go on fieldtrips. For an authentic cultural experience we went to Beijing Shaolin Wushu School, which is a part of the International Kung Fu Federation. Here we watched some students perform and then we were given a quick lesson of “the most basic Kung Fu”, which proved quite difficult for most of us!

We also visited some technology companies including ChinaSoft and Xiaomi, where we were given tours and the chance to test out the different products for sale.

In my free time, I explored Beijing. I visited the Wangfujing snack street, Houhai lake, Sanlitun, and Wudaokou. The weekends consisted of organised day trips where we visited the main tourist attractions including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace.

The whole trip was a very eye-opening experience for me. I learnt a lot from the course and from being immersed in a new and exciting culture.”

For more information and to register your interest for future trips to Beijing Jiaotong University IT Summer School please contact Sharon Gao at