British ex-pat, Andy Pattinson, has built an array of knowledge having worked at several dot coms both during and following the bubble, providing him with a solid base that has led him today to social media darlings, Carnival. Now heading up IT at the cruise ship giant, Pattinson talks to Computerworld Australia about the challenges he has faced at dot comes and established companies, as well as the importance of mixing ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ methodologies to get the best of both worlds.
Can you provide a brief history of your career in IT?
I’ve been in IT since the mid-90s, but my career proper probably started in early 2000. I worked with Buy.com, we were setting up Buy.com UK so I spent some time out in California with Buy.com. We built it from the ground up during the bubble. I had a great time over there.
I moved back to the UK to transfer that built environment, we moved it to a mirror environment in London and set up Buy.com UK. The bubble burst after 12 months and we sold Buy.com to John Lewis (UK department store chain) and that business is still going amazingly well; it’s one of the biggest .coms in the UK.
That senior management team that I started working with at Buy.com then moved to Avis Europe, so I went and did some work with them there. I did my first head of IT role with Asos.com - now the largest fashion online retailer in the UK - for a couple of years and from there went back to Avis to do a big mainframe change for them there.
From there, the CEO at Avis moved over to the Trainline.com and I did a short contract there before I moved to Australia, at which point I was head of IT for RedBalloon, a gift voucher .com. I did that for a year and recently moved to Carnival.
What got you into IT in the first place?
I was at a crossroads before I went to university as to what I really wanted to do. It occurred to me that I was playing on computers since I was five years old, and was one of the first kids at primary school to get involved with BBC’s [microcomputers] and start coding on those. Rather than go down a more commercial route, I decided to do computing at university, and absolutely fell in love with it there.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced throughout your career?
There have been plenty of challenging projects, but I guess the biggest challenge was the mainframe change program at Avis. It was very similar to Y2K, an 18-month program with a $US20 million budget across 12 countries and 115 licensee countries. I was program manager for that and together with the program manager in the US we delivered it on-time and $6 million under budget. It was a huge challenge logistically and with communication to get that done.
I guess the difference between old school IT and e-commerce and dot com IT has been challenging, particularly migrating from a lot of the dot com work that I had done on to a mainframe program. There’s a perception that the new guys don’t really know what they’re doing, and for the new school programmers, the old school guys don’t know anything about Agile. So breaking down those misconceptions opened my eyes. We worked with the mainframe guys to work in a more Agile way, which they found eye-opening and we worked with the dot com guys to show the value of doing things in a ‘proper’ way, as in very rigid documentation, making sure you can expand out properly.
Those two stages of my career have really helped me understand the fast, ‘proper’ way of doing things. At Carnival, we’re in the process of a B2B project which is due to launch by the end of the year, and that’s about a marriage of those things as well, making sure we can deliver those things at high speed.
How have you found the transition from another dot com at RedBalloon to Carnival?
Carnival as a business is quite similar to Avis so it’s something I’m quite familiar with. But dot com is now an aspect of every business so you walk into any organisation and they have an e-commerce team which is part-marketing and part-IT. It’s about showing the best ways of bringing dot com technology processes and procedures and ways of working into any traditional organisation like Avis or Carnival.
Do you feel you have gained your knowledge through experience or by aligning yourself with mentors?
Both. There’s no substitute for having been there and done that; you learn so much along the way, but I wouldn’t be where I am with some of the mentors I’ve had. I can think of a few that have been absolutely amazing.
Any advice for those looking to get into the IT industry?
I firmly believe that it starts at the help desk or junior programmer level, so targeting either side of that: Do you want to be in the support environment or do you want to be in the development arena?
Work hard at your degree, learn as broadly as possible but there’s not substitute for walking in on the ground and learning on the job.