25 Q&As: Navigate the rough seas

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Nick Tate IT and AusCert director, University of Qld, Brisbane, shares his experiences with Sandra Rossi.

Q: What would you put on a wishlist for IT vendor performance?

Excellent support and maintenance, good design, an ability to listen to customers here in Australia as opposed to telling me why I should want a product which has been designed for the US market, software licensing that is straightforward with at least a minimum application of common sense, and contracts that don’t require me to be an expert in Californian law.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing IT managers now?

Management of IT security — the explosion in the use of the Internet has rightly fuelled expectations for the benefits that can be delivered from collaboration. Unfortunately not all organisations have got the message that there is a cost involved in meeting the security requirements of these expectations. There can be a number of reasons for this, such as lack of awareness, underestimation of the threat, resistance to central control or simply inappropriate prioritisation.

Q: What has been the most exciting experience of your IT career?

I was working in London for the United Bank of Kuwait when Iraq invaded Kuwait at the start of the first Gulf War. We had a run on the bank and, overnight, the currency in which we measured limits and risk was abolished. Having to respond quickly to very real business demands from my senior colleagues was both exciting and challenging and taught me a great deal about management and the use of technology.

Q: What advice would you give to someone now entering IT?

Don’t be discouraged by the current downturn in the market; these things are cyclical. There is likely to be room in the future for well-grounded IT professionals who have degrees and have taken the trouble to obtain industry-based qualifications along the way. It seems to me to be unlikely, however, that we will return to the sort of market for IT professionals where people with only industry-based qualifications found it very easy to get jobs.

Q: What tertiary qualifications do you have?

BSc (Hons) degree in Physics; MSc degree in Computing for Commerce and Industry; CEng (Chartered Engineer).

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

I started in IT while I took my Physics degree in Scotland and I have been in the industry since then. My first job after leaving university was in 1974 as a weapons systems engineer working on the computers, which were an integral part of an antimissile system. The computers ran their entire system in memory and were programmed and debugged in both assembler and machine code. This was a particular challenge whilst testing them on Royal Navy warships in rough seas!

Fast facts: Annual budget: about $650 million. Employees: 6000. IT users: 50,000. IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: Directory, E-mail, Calendar (Sun One), in-house developed Portal. Student Administration: (PeopleSoft), HR: (Aurio), Finance: (Masterpiece), E-Learning: (WebCT), in-house developed ISP management. Key infrastructure — hardware: Sun, HP, Dell, SGI, Acer, Ipex, Apple, Toshiba (Approx. 18,000 systems); networking: On campus Gigabit Ethernet backbone, Cisco and HP; WAN largely Broadband network with gigabit or 155Mbps links to core sites, Cisco; operating systems: Solaris, True64, IRIX, Linux, FreeBSD, MAC OS, Windows (all flavours).

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