My first exposure to computers was in 1969, as a high school student. The Computer Science class was held in the period before my Grade 11 math class: I’d come in and the boards would be littered with Fortran code. It was a deep hook.
That summer, I interned in the Board of Education data centre: I didn’t get paid in cash, but I got to use the student computer, an IBM 1130, when I wasn’t loading paper in the printer or mounting tapes on the administrative Honeywell 1200. So I taught myself to program. Payment enough!
Yet I didn’t stick with my original ambition to get a Computer Science degree — indeed, I dropped out after first year and didn’t go back as a part-time student for a decade — but my summer jobs had been in data centres and I got a job as an operator when I left university. RCA 301s, a Burroughs 3500, then a Univac, and finally into IBM’s facilities in 1975.
IBM, in turn, gave me the chance to teach, as part of the roll-out of MVS/JES3, and I’d go to Poughkeepsie, NY one week out of four to teach operator education for the new operating system, do the same in Toronto, and work on the floor training people (IBM was getting ready to open another computing centre in Toronto, so we were building staff for it) the other two weeks.
This brought me to understand just how much could be accomplished if you could couple the context of the work you were doing for the organization who’s name was on your paycheque with what was actually going on in the machine. Operations didn’t have to just follow schedules and procedures: if you understood what would matter to the business, you could make the time and capacity trade-offs that made sense.
In 1984 I acquired a Macintosh to replace my IBM PC. The idea of working visually with the machine fascinated me — and still does. I’ve had Windows (every version), OS/2 (right from Version 1), various Unix and Linux systems on my desk, and devices from a first-generation Newton, early Palm Pilots and more up to today’s iPhone that I carry. Oddly enough the one thing that has never interested me is the iPad (or any other tablet), despite my own personal computers always being Macs since that first one 28 years ago.
From operator, to management, to research analyst, to consultant, I’ve never been a developer, but I’ve always been concerned with how IT and the purpose of the organization intertwine. I’m firmly convinced that the more we get our hands around this — the more we focus on the user experience, the ability to find and use information, and have systems that are open, flexible and adapt to changing circumstances, the better off our enterprises will be — and the more those of us from IT will have to do.
From the furthest corners of the back rooms … to advising CEOs on technology. IT truly is a pathway to the future.