5 minutes with... Carrie Harrison, IS manager, Australian Volunteers International

Q: What were your childhood ambitions?

To travel and speak several languages. A careers adviser suggested the diplomatic service, which I briefly considered until I discovered (in the 60s) that if you were a woman you had to resign if you got married.

Q: What was your first job?

Student job — packing fish fingers in Grimsby. Post-student job — marketing statistics officer with Consumers Association (UK). In the pre-PC/spreadsheet era we did five-year projections using analysis paper, pencil, calculator and rubber. I can still add up on a numpad with my eyes closed.

Q: How did you get into IT?

Working for charity for the homeless in the UK setting up databases in the early 80s; the only technical help we could get was from people with zero understanding of the community sector. I thought the technical skills would be easy to acquire, so I left housing and did a postgraduate diploma in computing, funded by the Greater London Council which had a program to get more women into IT.

Q: What does your current position involve?

I’m IS manager, database administrator, systems analyst and designer, system integrator, programmer, helpdesk officer, trainer, network administrator. In a small IT team you have to multitask.

Q: What projects and issues are you working on now?

Implementing Citrix Nfuse so that our travelling staff can securely access the corporate network through a browser in an Internet cafe in Hanoi, Honiara or Harare. We moved over to Citrix Metaframe three years ago and now use old donated 486 DOS boxes (no local Windows) for most of our clients, which has considerably reduced both our support time and our hardware replacement budget. Fine-tuning the integration of our corporate database (Centura SQLBase) with Lotus Notes workflow applications and finance system (SunSystems).

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Juggling a not-for-profit budget with the need for an efficient streamlined, integrated, information system accessible whether you are working in the head office in Melbourne or from home in Perth or regional Victoria or from overseas on field trips mainly to Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

Q: How many IT professionals in your team?

There are four of us — we do everything in-house from application training to Lotus Notes development, database programming and fixing up hardware.

Q: Who do you report to, and who reports to you?

I report to the senior manager business support services. The three members of the IT team report to me — systems support officer, network and security administrator, trainer and applications support officer.

Q: What is the most pressing issue you face as IS manager?

Deciding what we need in terms of document or knowledge or content management tools, and then whether we can afford it, or get it donated. Deciding whether we need or can afford a SAN or NAS solution.

Q: What’s an estimate of your annual IT budget?

About $200,000 capital and the same in revenue.

Q:Where is your organisation’s Australian head office, and how many end users are there?

Head office in Melbourne with 100 staff, smaller offices in each mainland state capital plus Darwin with between three and six staff in each. Overall, 120 end users.

Q: What’s your average week like?

My working week starts on a Sunday with a quiet day in the office to catch up with the huge backlog of database programming changes requested by the staff. Monday to Thursday is everything else — taking my turn on the helpdesk, walking round finding out the real needs rather than the needs of people who talk the loudest, meetings, the usual, but never the average.

Q: If you could walk in the shoes of any other IT professional, who would it be and why?

I wouldn’t. I’d rather be a horticulturalist.

Q: What is your favourite IT gadget and why?

My Sony PLL Synthesized 15 preset radio — the original, and still the best, wireless device. I’m not a gadget girl. I’m probably the only IT manager in the world without a mobile phone.

Q: If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

Work one day a week less so I have more time for gardening and music.

Q: What is the most difficult IT decision you have had to make?

Implementing a restructure involving redundancy. The hardest decisions involve people not technology.

Q: List three likes and dislikes about your job:

Likes: the people I work with, the work the organisation does, the variety. Dislikes: other peoples’ software bugs, endless requests for telephone surveys, people trying to sell you things you don’t need.

Q: What is your company Web strategy?

Our Web site is undergoing a complete redesign now by our corporate affairs section. On the technical side, we are trying to move towards having an online application form for volunteers fully integrated with our corporate database instead of having to parse a text e-mail as we do at the moment.

Q: Name five people, living or not, you would invite for a dinner party and why?

Doris Lessing (for literary and feminist inspiration), Edna Walling (for gardening inspiration), Tony Benn (for political and historical inspiration), Nelson Mandela (for inspiration), my partner Malcolm, who can talk to anyone about anything and who makes me laugh.

Q: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you at work?

Early IT career days, pre-Windows, at a small client formatting a floppy to do a database backup (in the days when a database would fit on a floppy). FORMAT C: — of course I’m sure — Oops.

Q: What is the worst IT disaster you worry about?

Having been showered by the fallout of office debris 500m from the Bishopsgate IRA bomb in London I’m fully conscious of what a real disaster can be.

Q: What is your IT prediction for this year?

Worldcom type corporate collapse of Microsoft. There would be temporary chaos, but out of the ashes we might get affordable software that works rather than that which is most marketed and hyped.

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