How I got started in IT

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How did you get started in IT? This is my favourite and most hated question to ask or be asked in this industry. This is because it is never a simple question but always a fascinating one. This primarily stems from the fact that the IT industry itself is only young. While the first personal computer, the Programma 101, was launched in 1965 it was the Apple II and the Commodore in 1977 that really kicked off the computer industry. If we consider Windows 1.0 was launched in 1985 and the internet reached Australia in the late 80s before becoming mainstream in the mid 90s then it really is apparent how young this industry is.

This all came back to me after reading Okepi's blog recently on how he became a programmer by googling well and highlights my 8th golden troubleshooting rule, you don't need to know the answer to everything, you need to know how to find the answer to anything and reminded me how I got started in this industry.

I remember our first family computer the Apple II in the early 80s but it was the IBM XT (8086) and GW-Basic that got me into programming when I realised I could make this machine do something cool (At this stage cool was play happy birthday in really bad pc speaker sound with flashing colored boxes). I taught myself this painstakingly from the original Microsoft manual. By 1990 I was the fixing the classroom computer because I knew more than the teacher. I always liked knowing how things work and through this I developed my own logical approach to troubleshooting.

Around this time I began dialling into BBS servers on my now high speed 2400bps modem (it was faster than the 1200bps in the business) and in the mid 90s my father's business replaced their Xenix system and Wyse-80 green screen terminals with Windows 95 and it was a whole new world. By the time I left school in 1996 netscape navigator was my browser and my internet connection was 14.4Kbps using a dial up modem and those familiar sounds.

At university I started a degree in Electrical Engineering which meant I did the same first two years as computer science and that got me doing some C and Haskell but neither really fascinated me. By 1997 I had setup my first website on Angelfire and my house had a 10mbps coaxial home network and a 56Kbps modem.

Electrical Engineering reached the point where I had to choose between electronics and power generation and neither interested me. This led me to change to a degree in Science Communications which was due to begin a year later. This allowed me to take advantage of my communications and technical skills. This also helped me decide what I wanted to do. I didn't want to be building electronics and designing technology, I wanted to be using and training technology to make a difference. 

My father and a friend had written a few of their business applications in VB5. This got me playing with VB and by 2000 I was writing and upgrading applications in VB6 and building databases. I started performing some clerical work at the University Union in 2001 and this led me to strike up a friendship with the owner of the company contracted to manage IT where I volunteered any additional time I had to gain experience. During my time at the union I taught myself ASP, built databases and learned a lot about large scale computer networking as well as developing a number of applications to assist in managing the internet cafe and labs.

It was the application of technology that fascinated me and this got me into many disagreements with the head of my school as Science Communications was designed to support pure science and was focussed on those who wanted to communicate science as a career in education or science journalism. I wanted to communicate the science of information technology. Undeterred I majored in Geographical Information Systems (computer mapping) and graduated in 2003 as one of the first graduates in the new degree.

As part of my degree in 2002 I took an internship at a clinic at the Prince of Wales Hospital and helped develop their website and for my school I ran an HTML course for Science Communicators. On the side I fixed people's computers, built websites and designed databases either paid or voluntary and I spent a few years working for myself consulting and was involved in a new startup with the former Union IT Manager.

In 2005 I got my first job as an official IT trainer for a health service training doctors and nurses in using a patient administration system (CRM) and following the completion of this project I had the experience to get a job as a support consultant with StayinFront. From this point forward I have worked in hardware and software as a trainer, support consultant, business analyst, presales engineer and solution architect. Since this time I have taught myself StayinFront CRM, C#, VB.net, Foxpro, CGI, PHP, every version of Windows and hundreds of applications.

Today as a Client Support Services Manager I see myself more as a senior trainer and consultant ensuring my team have the processes and methodology to troubleshoot complex issues and develop their skills.

When I look back at how I got here I can see that no-one taught me information technology. While I did do basic computer science I saw this more as training in the concepts but it was my own personal learning, my volunteer work and my hobbies that helped me develop the skills that I rely on the most. I made my own degree to suit the direction I wanted to go and I did it all by learning the best way for me to learn what I wanted and needed to know. I learnt most of my software languages by example, not knowing everything I worked out how to find anything and then figured out how it worked and made it my own. I would still say I have never been a good developer instead I have been a great troubleshooter, problem solver and analyst and I wouldn't have had it any other way. So how did you get started?

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