Ralph Chang, Commercial Director at Centrality FinTech
From happy and dedicated Commercial Banker, to transformational technology at Centrality FinTech . Ralph shares how a side interest in emerging digital currencies ignited a passion for blockchain technology and eventually led him to working at one of New Zealand's leading blockchain venture companies.
Firstly, how would you explain what you do to your grandmother?
I work on a range of initiatives but mainly on the commercial side of the business. We are developing new technology platforms in the financial sector for New Zealand businesses to grow and create new business models.
“Randomly, when I was young I really wanted to rip tickets at the movie theatre!”
Is working in tech something dreamed of doing when you were younger and if not, what was?
No. Randomly, when I was young I really wanted to rip tickets at the movie theatre! I never ended up doing it, but at the time I thought it would be fun.
In a more realistic sense, I always saw myself as a banker. Tech was never a pathway I considered and it never really showed up on the radar. I feel now, that had I had my time again I would have loved to learn some basic coding. When you think about it, most industries are looking at some form of digital formation and even a basic understanding would help in your new career.
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately how you ended up working at Centrality FinTech?
After finishing University, I applied to and was accepted into the ANZ graduate program. I was really interested in how the business world functions and thought what better place to learn that than at New Zealand's largest bank. As part of the program, we bounced around a number of areas of the bank, but ultimately I ended up in Commercial Banking.
When I reached my late-twenties, I started thinking about whether I wanted to be a career banker. I took some time off and my partner and I walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage which is a 1200km walk, visiting 88 temples on the way.
When I arrived back from Japan, I drove Uber for about two months to give me some time to think. The easy thing would have been to get a job back at the bank, however I knew if I did, that was likely me for the rest of my career.
At the same time, the whole digital assets (Bitcoin) craze was emerging and I became quite fascinated by it, in particular the underlying blockchain technology. The more I learned about blockchain, the more potential I saw for it to help a wide range of industries. I knew I wanted to get involved and was excited to learn about this technology..
For the next couple of months,I would wake up at 4am and drive Uber till about 9am. I would then head to the library and learn about everything I could about blockchain and digital assets.
Once I felt that I had a grasp on the technology and emerging use cases, I started to put it out to my networks that that was what I was interested in pursuing. , I was fortunately introduced to a senior leader at Centrality, one of New Zealand's emerging blockchain development companies.
“Realising that I had no prior experience in tech, I basically offered to work for free so they could see if I was a good fit.”
Can you share what that transition was like?
Realising that I had no prior experience in tech, I basically offered to work for free so they could see if I was a good fit. Fortunately, they took a punt on me giving me a contract to prove myself. Better still, they didn’t take up my offer to work for free and kindly paid me! That was how I got my foot in the door.
They started me off as a generalist, which as the title suggested meant I was there to do whatever needed to be done! To the most basic of admin like setting up P.O box numbers to marketing coordination, capital raising and commercial insights.
What is it that you like about working in tech, relative to your past jobs?
You get more creative control to impact the outcomes of what you are building or doing.
You have to remove your ego. In a small startup, nobody is going to do anything for you, you just have to roll your sleeves up and get things done. No task should be too small , as it requires everyone to pull together to keep things moving at pace.
Do you have any insight for people considering tech as a career pathway?
First and foremost it is building your resilience. You are likely going to get a lot of no’s from people. You have to realise that regardless of your past performance, you are having to prove yourself all over again which requires a level of determination.
The other big difference is that you might be the person that has to help create everything. Anything that you previously took for granted, like HR policies etc needs to be built or created. There is a lot of admin that does not result in revenue and can be quite thankless, but needs to get done.
What do you think are some of the main characteristics people transitioning from more traditional industries into tech need?
The number one would be dealing with uncertainty. Most are often going from something very stable to an environment that is changing before their eyes. This can mean that your job security is a lot lower. On top of this, you need to be comfortable with the fact that things might not always be as perfect as you would normally like, but you need to keep moving forward because of how quickly things can change.
Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?
My advice would be to develop a keen interest in emerging technologies, watch YouTube and get a feel for what is out there. Be a proactive learner, even if it is not related to what you are studying.
A basic understanding of how things are built or fundamental concepts, even at a high level.
It might be my conservative banker mindset but play to your strengths if possible and do something that you are good at to break into the industry. If you can position yourself in something that lends itself to your strengths, you can build some confidence and understanding of the business / industry then branch out.