5 minutes with . . . Wes Harrison

Wes Harrison is an independent IT contractorComputerworld: Why did you choose IT as a profession?

Wes Harrison: When I started my working life in the mid 70s I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so for a brief time I went into an office job in an insurance company.

However, even though I knew very little about computing then (remember this was well before the ubiquitous PC arrived) - I did know some people in what was then called data processing - and it fascinated me. I left the office job to start as a trainee computer operator in an IBM mainframe environment.

Since then I've always worked in companies and followed the operational roles to operator, senior operator, operations manager - then followed a change into applications development for three years - then back to operations management-type roles.

Since 1995, I've held roles including project manager, implementing a new national infrastructure and been involved in moving an insourced desktop, LAN and WAN environment to a remotely provided outsourced situation.

I've also implemented national voice infrastructures, videoconferencing systems and been involved in a couple of global projects involving telecommunications.

CW: Six months ago you became an independent contractor - why?

WH: After a long time in the industry and 10 years in my previous company, I decided it was time for a change. An opportunity arose which was on a contract basis and both the role and the opportunity to move to contracting was attractive. As far as I'm concerned, it makes little difference to the way one approaches a role, unless perhaps it is a very short-term contract, with tight time frames and very specific objectives that must be met.

The obvious difference is that as a contractor you have a higher possibility of being let go if the employer changes priorities or wants to cut costs. This comes with the territory, but for those who are able to maintain contract work on a regular basis - they obviously get the benefits of good remuneration. The debate is the ‘security' of permanent work versus the ‘risk' of contract work. It also depends on your skill set and what is available in the market.

I don't believe the security of permanent roles is anywhere near what it used to be, in the ever-changing world we are in. However, there are still pluses to permanent roles.

This situation suits me for the present - the future depends on the dynamics of the situation at the time - contract work remains attractive if available, but it may not be forever.

CW: What projects have you been involved in most recently?

WH: My most recent contract involved looking after infrastructure for a large Australian company division, for NSW. Primarily it encompassed supporting about 850 users at the desktop level. It also encompassed managing voice support and responsibility for some Unix system support from a hardware perspective.

CW: How do you want your career to develop in the future?

WH: Most of my experience and time has been in infrastructure - and that's what I enjoy doing. Therefore, I expect to continue to work in those areas; I think the appeal of this lies in the broad background of mainframe, large ‘mini' and Unix environments I've worked in, along with all the mix of technologies employed in the LAN and WAN arena - and voice and video as well. I like the mix of challenges all these areas in IT bring to a role at the management or project management level.

CW: What technology developments are you most interested in now and why?

WH: I think the general convergence in all networking areas is one to watch. There's been prediction of true convergence for voice, data, video and the like for quite a few years and, while the earlier talk was a bit optimistic, I think we're seeing technologies that really do offer possibilities coming on stream now. However, I do believe that it comes down to the environment each business is running as to how appropriate or ‘easy' it is to deploy some of these ideas. Experience suggests that as often as not, a ‘horses for courses' rule applies, so it's then a case of selecting the best technology for the situation, not trying to fit a situation to a technology.

CW: Do you think Microsoft should be split up?

WH: Not particularly. I wonder how that would work in reality and I don't think you can take the Bell company split up and believe it would work the same way. We're in a world that's rapidly globalising and, in the IT area, standardising all the time.

In a sense, splitting up Microsoft might work against common standards. I don't see it as a big issue right now.

As long as Microsoft is made to play fair from time to time (as fair as a huge, successful company can) I don't worry too much about it. I know other commentators would say the only way to make it play fair is to split it up - but I'm not sure we'd gain a lot in the end from that.

I guess I'd like to think there are other ways of getting the same result. It will be interesting to see what develops and I'll be watching along with everyone else, with interest.

CW: What's your dream holiday destination and why?

WH: Probably the US. I've seen some of it - and I love the Pacific Northwest - the Seattle - area of the States. But there's so much I haven't seen and the next destination would probably be Florida. Otherwise, a nice resort on one of the less touristy islands of Hawaii. Doing nothing for a week or two in a superb setting - now that sounds appealing.

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