25 Q&As: British Rail to Hume Highway

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Howard Malyon, IT manager, Grace Removals Group, Seven Hills, NSW, shares her experiences with David Beynon.

Q: What has been the most challenging IT project of your career?

In the early 80s I was working for Citibank as a young programmer on the development of a new credit card authorisation system. During the development of this system the Eftpos device was introduced to the unsuspecting public. I was assigned to the team working on integrating the authorisation system with the new Eftpos devices, which meant getting involved in data encryption — a totally new experience for me. The project was a great success for Citibank and the application was installed in a number of European countries and subsequently around the world.

Q: When did you start in IT and what job did you have before moving into IT?

When I left school, in 1977, I knew I wanted to work with computers but had no idea how to get involved in the industry. By chance I heard that British Railways, in England, was offering traineeships to school leavers wanting to be computer operators. My true objective was to be a programmer but nonetheless tried out and won one of the traineeships. For the next 12 months I was a trainee computer operator for British Railways working on a Honeywell HS4200 mainframe computer with 256K of core memory. While working the night shifts, and between doing “real” work, we were allowed to write our own computer programs, using COBOL, and run them on the computer system. This was my introduction to the real world of computers.

Q: What has been most disappointing for you during your IT career?

I was introduced to a NeXT Cube in the early 90s. This was a piece of technology which, at the time, was years ahead of anything else. Windows was still in the 3.11 phase when Steve Jobs came out with the NeXT Cube. The only other thing similar was the Apple Macintosh. The NeXT operating system was then migrated to an Intel PC increasing its availability even more. Like all good things, though, it did not have that Windows logo on it and when Windows 95 became available software for the NeXT system gradually disappeared from the shelves. Here was a great PC operating system, years ahead of anything else available at the time and it, too, faded into oblivion due to poor marketing.

Q: Describe the most exciting experience of your IT career?

During the mid 80s, while working for Citibank in the UK, I was introduced to a fault tolerant computer system made by Stratus. This was a computer from which you could remove parts and the computer would continue to function without any interruption to any of the services it was providing. Having seen one of these computer systems I decided I wanted to work for the company that made them. It took a few more years of trying but eventually I was able to secure a job with Stratus in Australia, just as it was opening an office in Sydney. Not only was I now working for the computer company I had been trying to join for some time I was also in at the ground level with its Australian business. My initial assignment was to build its customer support structure for its operations in Australia and New Zealand. This was one of the most exciting times in my career.

Q: What was the first computer technology you used (and when)?

In 1974 my interest in computers was sparked when our school received an ICL 1901 computer from one of the UK banks. The only problem was the computer came to the school in a number of boxes and I was fortunate to be involved in the team putting it back together again. The next year was spent building a 16K core memory computer, complete with two magnetic tape drives and a paper tape punch and reader. Input to the computer was either via paper tape, often hand punched, or through the teletype console. The computer took about 30 minutes to boot as the whole procedure had to be done from paper tape. Unfortunately we were never able to get the computer to load from magnetic tape during my time at school.

Fast facts: Annual turnover: $100 million. Employees: 700 in Australia. IT users: about 350. IT budget: $1 million to $2 million. Key applications: GCS — Grace customer service application, Lotus Domino. Key infrastructure — hardware: Compaq Intel Servers, Alpha Server; networking: WAN managed by Telstra linking all Grace branches within Australia. Operating systems: DEC Unix, Windows NT and Windows 2000 on the servers, Windows 98, and Windows 2000 on the desktops.

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