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How a Zookeeper became an eLearning Consultant at Catalyst


Alex Virtue, zookeeper stands next to giraffes infront of a tree.

Not all careers have a straight line, sometimes, they’re squiggly.

From Zookeeper to eLearning consultant, check out Alex Virtue’s career journey that led her to Catalyst.

Early career

Alex’s love of animals turned into an apprenticeship at Tierpark Berlin, which developed into a ten-year stay. Working in the largest zoo in Europe, made it hard for her to choose a favourite animal. But Alex had a soft spot for the zebu, the holy cow of India. Zebu, if you’re unfamiliar, is a breed of Asian cattle with a hump.

“The most adorable moments as zookeepers was raising baby animals,” she says. “Sometimes the zebu mothers wouldn’t look after the babies well so we got to look after them, giraffes too. I loved working with those because they are just too cute.”

Finding a passion for learning

Zoos have evolved into more educational spaces these days. From teaching visitors to learn about their ways of life in the wild, to supporting conservation efforts. Tierpark Berlin now works alongside the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) to reintroduce bison to their natural habitat in the Caucasus.

“It’s always been an interesting aspect of looking after the animals,” Alex says. “Knowing about their biotopes [habitats] and where they live, and giving them an interesting environment so they don’t get bored. Depending on what type of animal they are, sometimes socialising different species to mimic what they see in nature.”

Alex feeding a giraffe at Tierpark Berlin

The start of a squiggly career

As fun as zookeeping was, it was also a physical and demanding manual labour job. Wanting new experiences, Alex added a new curve to her career. That’s when she and her husband moved to Ireland where she worked in hospitality and tourism.

After a few years in Ireland, they moved back to her husband’s home, New Zealand. For six years, Alex worked as a travel agent. Then she became a product owner at a German inbound tour operator, creating journeys for tourists travelling around New Zealand. But working in the tourism industry wasn’t quite the right fit for her. After her second child, Alex explored other opportunities for the next stage of her career.

Introduction to learning management systems

This move introduced Alex to Catalyst, as well as to learning management systems (LMS). As an administrator at the Ministry of Primary Industries, in the MPI learning and development team, she was introduced to Tōtara LMS. Alex eventually became the site administrator for MPI’s Tōtara instance, which Catalyst was the provider for.

Connecting with Catalyst

“From the start, I really admired Catalyst’s work ethic and their way of doing things and supporting the system,” says Alex.

“As well as supporting me as a site administrator and creating customisations and workflows for us as we required them. So my experience was always really positive in terms of the service we received from Catalyst.”

This partnership planted the seed for Alex that she’d like her future job to be at Catalyst.

“We had another company provider and I got to compare, and the other company didn’t come close to the professionalism and knowledge Catalyst has,” she says.

Creating a career at Catalyst

Later, the seed germinated as a role opened up at Catalyst and Alex became a consultant in the eLearning team. These days you’ll find her in her element working on Tōtara and Moodle projects providing:

  • upgrades,
  • migrations,
  • customisations,
  • first and second-level support for users.

“I enjoy the aspect of working with a multitude of clients, and I’ve gained a lot of additional knowledge about the product and the system. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly and made me feel at home straight away.”

As for her love of animals? “We have a little zoo at home,” Alex says. “Not a proper zoo, but a dog and a cat.”

Today, Alex is part of the eLearning team at Catalyst, who are a Platinum Partner for Tōtara and a Platinum Partner for Moodle. We recently won the Moodle Global Partner of the Year 2023 for the second time.

If you’re on your own squiggly career journey and are interested in a future career in tech, check out our current vacancies.