Atlassian software firm founder Scott Farquhar’s tips to make Australia rival Silicon Valley

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From Abc – Lateline 

The Scott Farquhar and Atlassian story is one of fairytale success. 

Mr Farquhar met Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes when they were both studying business information technology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. 

They became friends, founded the software company in 2002 and by 2014 were listed on BRW’s Rich List as billionaires – both aged 34. 

Last year, Atlassian’s revenue was $450 million. They employ 700 staff in Sydney and 1,000 around the world, plus they donate 1 per cent of annual profit, 1 per cent of employee time and 1 per cent of company equity to philanthropic projects. 

Both co-founders were raised in Sydney and are desperate to keep their company from moving offshore, but Mr Farquhar says Australia is years behind even developing nations when it comes to fostering the tech industry.

Scott Farquhar spoke to Lateline about what the Government can do to make Australia a global player in technology: 

1. Change the curriculum in schools:

“There’s a huge need to focus on science and technology, particularly computer science. There’s a huge need for emphasis on those subjects for us to be competitive in the 21st Century. I read the Government paper on the national curriculum talking about technology and it mentioned teacher training seven times in their recommendations. I think for us to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects and computers, it really comes down to training teachers in the workforce or allowing those subjects to be taught outside of school.”

2. Encourage more girls and women into the field: 

“There’s a phrase that I heard on stage the other day that by Year Eight it’s too late and so you need to get women studying science and technology and computers early on. When they realise that they’re actually better at it than boys at an early age, they continue their studies. So I think there’s a big need early in high school careers to get more women involved in science subjects.”

3. Check out the overseas models:

“Vietnam starts teaching computer science in Year Four and it’s a compulsory subject all the way through high school and as a result their entire populace is graduating understanding computers. I just came from there last week, they’ve got an incredibly burgeoning technology industry there so I think they’re doing a good job.”

4. Build a technology hub in Sydney:

“Sydney needs a technology hub. We’re working with the Government to try and convert ATP (Australian Technology Park) in Redfern and retain that as a technology park with Atlassian moving in there. If you look overseas there’s a lot of examples, whether it’s Shoreditch in London, or Silicon Valley or Roosevelt Island in New York. You need to create an epicentre so you can attract talent from all around the world.”

5. Encourage best and brightest to come to Australia:

“In Silicon Valley I can walk down the street and find hundreds of people that are really difficult to find in Australia today. We’re trying to change that. There’s not a critical mass here. People say I’d love to come and work for Atlassian, but if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, I have to relocate my family home because there’s no other job for me to get here.”

6. Make it easier for start-ups:

“A lot of start-ups can’t afford to pay their early employees and in return… companies often give shares in the company to renumerate the employees. If the company does well then those shares are worth a lot and then the employees do well. As part of some previous legislation the ability to do that was made very difficult by one of the governments. [It’s now been reversed.] It’s made it a lot easier now for us to allow our employers to share in the benefits of Atlassian, so if Atlassian does well we hope to create tens or hundreds of millionaires in Australia because they’ve been part of Atlassian.

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