33 years ago today, I started my career in IT. A year earlier I had moved to a new high school and had struggled to find my place. My parents said to me that if I choose to leave school, I needed to find something to study. I applied for a Certificate in Business Computing at the Manawatu Polytechnic, where I started learning. A few weeks after graduating in 1989, I was lucky enough to get my first role at Glaxo, who had a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Palmerston North.
I really couldn’t believe it. This self-conscious 17 year old who knew little about the world beyond our farm gate, was about to put on a tie and work in an office with people with big brains, and I would later discover, big hearts.
The role was called “Junior Programmer”, but really it was a bit of everything. I tried my hand a coding, installed PC’s, trained people, fixed printers, rolled out Quattro Pro and Harvard Graphics to our management and sales teams, and folded the end of month reports before hand delivering them to the managers desks around the site. I loved it!
I worked with people from sales, manufacturing, logistics, laboratory, and engineering. I hard some difficult challenges, balanced with plenty of fun. I even had the opportunity to rollout a bunch of Acorn A3000’s donated by Glaxo to a nearby school, when many of the factory workers children went.
The most important work I did was working on our Rep Information System. I was part of a small person team, developing a system that would allow sales reps to take orders and look up product info remotely! They system had a DBXL (later Foxpro) client, a custom C (not C++) Comms Driver to send data over PacNet at 1200 Baud and an HP 3000 Minicomputer hosting the database layer. Amazing for its time! It was rolled out to approximately 80 sales reps, who needed training, help with technology (how do I connect the modem to a fax line at the hotel?) and in somecases, human contact. Back then, people called the IT Help number, just to chat! It’s lonely on the road.
I had two significant life events during my time at Glaxo. One of my best friends from primary school was killed in a light aircraft accident. The grief still hits me today when I think about it and his birthday comes around. A short while later I suffered an Epileptic Seizure that turned my life upside down. This is where I discovered the HEART I mentioned above. The team really cared about me and supported me. I honestly wasn’t expecting them to be so amazing.
I was fortunate to have a great boss, who took time to work on me, the rough around the edges farm kid. He tolerated my mistakes, guided me and helped me to understand the value of soft skills. He pushed me when I needed it and stopped me when I was about to take a step to far!
I left Glaxo to study Computer Science full time at Massey University.
To this day, I am grateful for the support I had from my parents and my first boss (Peter Ellery), and the opportunity given to me all those years ago.
I went on to work with Peter again after I graduated with a B.Sc. My Dad still doesn’t understand why I am not a farmer. My Mum will say I get my brains from her. Get out there and grab life.