Careers Q&A: Happen Business' Paul Berger

The man behind the Applix 1616 shares his thoughts on the IT industry, being self-employed and the importance of business skills

Happen Business technical director, Paul Berger

Happen Business technical director, Paul Berger

Happen Business' technical director, Paul Berger, has had a fairly meaty history in IT. Entering the industry with an electronic background, he is responsible for building a popular kit computer in the mid-1980s - the Applix 1616 - and the partner he built it with is now a co-maintainer of both the ext3 file system and the Linux kernel. His hardware business was responsible for most Netcomm repairs thanks to Berger's relationship with Netcomm managing director, David Stewart, and his Jim2 software is popular amongst IT shops handling multiple repairs.

We speak with Berger in the lead-up to Happen's 10th anniversary about the Applix 1616, gaining experience while self-employed and the key skills he looks for in up-and-coming IT workers.

Hi Paul, can you provide a brief history of your career in IT?

It literally goes back to the very late 70s and early 80s; back in the day when you really built your own computers. I came from an electronics background and at that point in time, the place to work was Dicksmith Electronics so my first job was there. After that I formed Applix with my business partner, Andrew Morton, where we used to build and design peripheral cards for Apple computers.

Back in those days - around 1986 - for some bizarre reason we decided we'd actually build a computer from scratch, designing the electronics as well as writing the software and the actual operating system. The Applix 1616 was quite popular – we sold about 500 of them – and we had it published in Electronics Today International over about eight months. My partner back then, Andrew Morton, is now the keeper of the Linux kernel.

I sold that company and then I started a very low-level hardware servicing company called P2 Computing, in about 1988. I had that company for about 12 to 13 years and had about 35 engineers. We used to do data recovery and hardware repairs. Back then we were managing 3000-4000 active service jobs at any one time, so it was a real handful.

I wrote some software to handle that. For no particular reason I called it Jim [Job Information Management] and we used that internally for 12 years for all our job tracking, invoice, workflow and business processes. Originally that was a DOS application.

Around 2000, Windows was really making strides, Y2K was about to hit so I had to rewrite the software as a Windows program. I decided to do it in a generic fashion, so it wasn't proprietary, and it really turned out well. I had an opportunity to sell off the hardware company, so I pulled Jim out, commercialised it as Jim2 and created Happen. The software was very service-oriented, good stock control, so we made it much more generic so it would suit different industries but it always had that business process and workflow mentality built in from day one.

We continued to develop the software, and it's become extremely popular in the IT industry, mainly because it handles all the things the IT guys do. A few years back we enabled it for e-business, so you can interface your website or get all the feeds from Ingram and Dicker Data in an ERP package. We had Leading Edge Computers adopt it as their standard platform with 80 computers using it.

Happen has had steady and reasonable growth, but especially in the last two or three years it's really gone through the roof and we're quite literally having trouble keeping up with it. We spend an awful lot of money developing the product, so at least once or twice a year we come out with a pretty significant update.

What caused you to get into IT in the first place?

I was into electronics back then. You couldn't go buy a computer then, but I met this guy who had one and it just kind of clicked – I just got it instantly. There was no motivation in terms of money or career, it's just what I wanted to do.

I guess it was just really a good combination of electronics and logic. It only took me a couple of weeks and I just got it.

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