5 minutes with. . .Barbara Teasdale group technology manager, Corrs Chamber Westgarth

Computerworld: How did your career in IT begin?

Barbara Teasdale: I started my career in accounting and progressed into technology when organisations began to computerise their accounting systems. It was an area that interested me so rather than pursuing an accounting career I made the move into technology and then for some years worked in hospitality on computer-based ‘backoffice' systems.

From there I moved into legal where I have worked for some 16 years in two states, for a number of national law firms. Over this period I have seen huge changes in the importance that technology plays in the legal industry. In those ‘early days' IT was very much the ‘poor cousin' fulfilling an important role in accounting and word processing, but it certainly wasn't regarded as invaluable. Today, with IT providing services in knowledge sharing, e-business and e-commerce, the partners at Corrs Chambers Westgarth will tell you it's ‘mission critical'.

CW: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

BT: I always wanted to be a dancer. I loved jazz ballet and modern dance. We lived in the country at the time and there weren't the opportunities. When I progressed to senior school as a boarder in Adelaide, changing times and a different perspective altered my priorities. I was encouraged to place an emphasis on pursuing a career that offered so-called ‘meaningful' job prospects.

CW: What is the most interesting task you have undertaken in your career?

BT: It's a bit hard to pin down a single task. There's nothing quite so challenging as helping a new employer re-focus on the value of technology, but there's nothing that gets the adrenalin pumping as much as a major logistical exercise. On one occasion we relocated 350 people from one end of town to another in a single weekend. This meant moving the data centre, all of the computer systems, servers and phones, and ensuring that everything was up and working for the start of business on the Monday. It took a huge amount of planning with everyone working around the clock. It's a great feeling to achieve the objective of ‘business as usual' in just 60 hours.

But rather than looking to the past, I expect my most interesting tasks lie in front of me with the advent of e-business. Who's got time to sleep?!

CW: As a female, how hard has it been to succeed in what was, and still is, a male-dominated industry?

BT: It is a male-dominated industry and certainly in senior management there are very few women. There is no question that it is difficult for most women to progress in a career in technology because they generally have a break from their careers to have a family. I only had a short break when I had my children and that was because I have always been very career focused. You have to be prepared to put in long hours and have an understanding husband and family. For me my husband gave me the support and freedom to pursue my career. Today I work extremely long hours and travel nearly every week. This means I'm often not home to prepare dinner but we have taken a modern approach to both partners working and sharing responsibilities.

The family issue aside, I have to say the subject of gender has never really affected my career.

CW: What does a ‘regular day at work' involve for you?

BT: The days are varied as my position covers activities across a number of interstate offices. We are in the process of an extensive upgrade to the wide area network at Corrs . . . and then there's the upgrade to our videoconferencing systems. A large part of my day is spent in contact with the managers in each office . . . and then there are staff issues that always need to be addressed. I take a great deal of pride in providing a fulfilling and challenging work environment for my team members, and as a result I've always been able to gather a fairly stable workforce around me. You can't achieve workforce stability without a lot of effort and leadership.

Then there are the normal day-to-day tasks of e-mails, phones calls, voicemail and meetings that seem to be never-ending.

And when the phone finally stops ringing, that's when I get down to the real meat; planning the future IT directions that we need to pursue at Corrs to facilitate the firm's business directions.

I work a long day, not because I want to, but because I need to. I have to admit though that I enjoy my work, so the hours aren't quite as tough as they seem.

CW: Do you envisage undertaking additional training courses to further boost your career?

BT: I'm particularly interested in the constant process of improving my skills through development and leadership courses. Training for me is to keep abreast of the new trends in technology and understanding new business processes, and reading everything IT that I can lay my hands on. That's my training!

CW: How do you want your career to further develop in the future?

BT: I have set challenges and goals to achieve in the short term. Among those are setting up an e-business group within Corrs Chambers Westgarth, and moving our legal information to be Web centric. I like to be future-focused, but there's no point in planning too far ahead in this industry; spend too long in the planning and the technology passes you by. I don't suppose this has really answered the question, but for me my aspirations and those that I seek for my employer are synonymous. I'm always looking for new challenges and it's great when an employer has the commitment to enable you to bring those challenges to fruition. What other things would I like to do? I'd probably like to take a higher profile on the IT speaker circuit, and I'd like to work for a short time overseas.

CW: Do you think Microsoft should be split?

BT: Yes. I have the greatest admiration for the achievements of Bill Gates but there is a point where a company can be too large and therefore stifle competition. Microsoft has become all-consuming. I think it will be in the best interests of our industry if there are more opportunities for other players. And I think it will be good for Microsoft as well, it is already showing their capability to diversify with its joint venture with Andersen Consulting.

CW: What do you like to do in your spare time?

BT: I enjoy sports, both playing and being a spectator. I play and coach netball and follow AFL. Other activities I enjoy are catching up with friends, going out to dinner and movies, and when the mood takes me I enjoy working in the garden. And then there are those glorious weekends at our beach house where no one knows the phone number!

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