How I got into IT

Written by James McDonald

July 7, 2007

As a teenager I had no interest in computers. I was interested in how things worked. So when I finished year 10 at Moss Vale High School my mother said “If you’re not going to go back to do year 11 and 12 you have to get an apprenticeship”. So I got an apprenticeship as a Fitter & Machinist at Vale Engineering in Moss Vale, a company that serviced and repaired Coal Mining equipment. I remained a Fitter for about 10yrs, from the ages of 16 till I was 26.

Both my Father and my Grandfather had done manual jobs for much of their lives. Grandad spent the last of his working years as a Mechanic for the local Council and then retired to potter around the shed and keep the farms pumps, mowers and equipment running. My father however, after many years of working in Timber and saw-milling related industries became a Weighbridge Clerk for Southern Limestone, and eventually went into Naturopathy, and did that until he retired.

So I suppose, knowing that my Father could change from one thing to something else totally planted the seed of possibility in my own case. His example helped me to see that personal drive, and the ability to harness ones inate intelligence are key factors in doing whatever we want to do.

If you ask an older person what sort of employment they have had through their lives, you may find it interesting and informative. If you are unhappy doing what you are doing now you may be able to leverage their experience and encouragement and take a leap to do something new. But I digress.

After about 10yrs in Fitting & Machining I started to notice that every piece of equipment I worked on was becoming a variation on a theme. Each time I was asked to work on something new I got to the point where I could say “No I haven’t worked on an X before but I have worked on something similar”. Put another way I was bored and frustrated in my profession.

So at 26 yrs of age I started to ask myself alot of different questions.

  • Why do some people appear to be so much more successful than others?
  • How do I structure my life so that I’m not working so hard physically and for long hours all the time?
  • What job can I do that wont become just more of the same ol same ol?
  • Are there jobs that don’t require one to hit one’s left thumb with a hammer in ones right hand?

At the time I was asking these questions I was also living with a Graphic Artist who had a Mac. So finally, after never using a computer, I got onto his Mac and discovered the internet… Amazing!

I had finally, however belatedly discovered Computers. At the same time, I was looking for another form of work so the small seed of an idea was forming. Perhaps I could do something with computers.

After this minor epiphany I decided to travel to London to see my Brother, who incidentally was contracting to different organizations in London designing and implementing IT infrastructures. I got to London, and as any good Australian does when he reaches London I mapped out a section of my brothers Lounge Room floor as my Bedroom. So we had a chance to talk about what my plans were. I said “I don’t want to be a Fitter anymore, do you think I can get into IT?”. He went into his room and came out with the first training volume from Sybex books of the MCSE qualification.

I moved from my Brothers lounge room floor in Hampstead to a rented room in a run-down house in Archway. From that point I spent every moment I could studying each Sybex MCSE training volume. I purchased 2 computers so I could network them together and studied my butt off. This was in the days of NT4.

When I first arrived in London I got a job doing building maintenance, but wanting to get into IT I went for, and got a job as an Applications Trainer with Key Training in London. I don’t mind telling you that I hated training. All my insecurities about how little I knew came welling to the top of my mind and I spent each day in perpetual fright of being discovered as a sharlatan. I eventually pulled the pin on it. I was spending several hours before work studying the days course material and again the same in the evenings and quite frankly I was burning out.

So when I gave up the Training job I threw myself into taking MCSE exams. In around 3 months I studied for and passed all the required exams for the MCSE. By then my year in London was coming to a close. I went for a few jobs in IT with my newly minted MCSE qualification but in hindsight a piece of paper doth not maketh the IT person and my inexperience was obvious to interviewers. So for the remainder of my stay in London I went back to building maintenance.

Returning home to Australia in late ’99 if I recall correctly. I went for a job as a 1st level support tech with JDS Uniphase in North Ryde and so began my blooding in the real world of IT. At that time the Fibre Optics required for deep sea links was much in demand and the company was growing rapidly. I was their second IT person we eventually became a team of 4 and I was Team Leader of Desktop Support. The environment was Windows 95 and under 100 people and it grew to Windows 2000 and approx 300 people. Again I discovered my limitations and being a Team Leader again seemed to make me leak insecurities. I resigned and went back to 3 days a week as a contractor for them. Eventually I left entirely.

And then the dot com crash happened. JDSU closed it’s operations in Australia. I having already left wasn’t affected by the closure. Meanwhile my father had gone into hospital for a Quadruple Bypass and I was back on the Farm looking after things for Mum and Dad.

At this point I still didn’t feel I had enough experience to really call myself an IT Professional.

This was when I also got the urge to get totally out of Sydney. I wanted to buy a house and Sydney is poisonously dear for first home buyers. So I called a recruitment agency in North Sydney. Specifying I wanted to work outside of Sydney, they hooked me up with a job with Mincom who had a division called Mincom Managed Services which was doing IT for Coal and Allied a division of Riotinto in the Hunter Valley. Ironically I was back in the Coal Industry only this time not in a workshop.

I moved to Singleton.

Working in the Mines on IT was a good experience because it was a big environment with hundreds of users and many sites. The mines being what they are have some rather heavy IT needs so it was a good place to pick up many different facets of IT. During my time at Mincom I finally started thinking of myself as an IT Professional. I began to fit my qualifications (MCSE, CCNA, CCA).

So from the First job in IT with Key Training in March 1999 till finishing up with Mincom in March 2004 was approx 5 yrs. My ‘IT Apprenticeship’ was over.

Those of us who have experienced Singleton will possibly agree that Singleton isn’t the best place for a Single Guy who is kinda sensitive. So I was chafing to get out of the place. That was when an IT Contractor for the mines I had met through work, asked me if I wanted to go work for a food company in Maitland. I said yes and that brings us to the present day.

So from March ’04 till the present I’ve been working as the one and only IT guy for a food company. Each industry has it’s own area’s of expertise and the food industry is no exception. Barcoding, product labelling and printing are notable examples. Since working for this company we have put in an ERP system, networked 3 sites together and installed new servers.

The advantages to being the only IT guy for a company is that you can decide what you want to do. Which at the same time is a disadvantage because the buck stops with you also.

It’s been 8 yrs since I got into IT. In that time I haven’t met the edges of what I can learn. It’s a field that is so big that specialization is possible and actually necessary so that you can be good at it.

A good analogy of what I do would be to say I’m like a General Practitioner. I can fix all the everyday problems you would get with your network and computers. But if you need something really specific you may need to call the Specialist. But a very experienced GP can probably save you a fortune by knowing who or what to call when needed. I hope I’m that sort of IT Guy.

I have my days when I want to do something else but overall I’m happy I made the switch from Fitting to IT.

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