Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Once upon a time in the IT world...

During an office tidy up today we came across my feature published in Irish Computer magazine in 2002. It was to mark 25 years since the magazine was founded by the late Don McDonald and it was a brief mixture of how the ICT landscape had changed for me in that time and references to Don himself. 1977 is not exactly ancient history, but it was in ICT terms. I must write again on similar telecom outrages of the 1970s. Anyway here is my Irish Computer piece as written three years ago, I'm not all that proud of it....

Don McDonald launched Irish Computer Magazine in the same year as my career started. In 1977 I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and joined the Data HQ section of the Dept of Posts and Telegraphs – now Eircom. I worked there for over 4 years on many interesting projects – launching X25 services, designing data test centres and data leased line equipment, latest modem evaluations etc. Cutting edge stuff at the time. However it was long before PCs were invented and I used pen and paper to write tender specifications and posted them over to the Typing Section. Days later the typed work returned with mistakes – everything so slow!

Dial-up modems in those days had to be rented from the Dept of Posts and Telegraphs. Most popular speed was 300bits/sec and if you could afford it there were the dangerously faster 1200 or 2400bits/sec modems! We had hundreds of modems in stock but the process whereby the poor customers got their rental modem took about eight weeks of paperwork and post between many different sections involved. This was civil service bureaucracy at it’s most extreme and the lack of IT infrastructure didn’t help.

I joined Technico in 1982 and later headed their datacoms division. I remember an accountant there using one of the first IBM PCs. It had no hard disk – so the DOS operating system was always loaded by floppy! The first PC I used in 1984 was the then powerful IBM AT with a massive 20MB hard disk. The accountant with the IBM PC was jealous!

I enjoyed working with Don McDonald and I particularly recall him persuading Technico to take a stand at the very first Comms Show in 1993. Before the show Don kindly offered to play tennis with me at his club in Kilternan – at the time I was struggling to improve my tennis and looking to join a club. So one Sunday morning, Don – old enough to be my father – spent the first set battering me around for a 6-2 win! Before the second set – whilst I drank a gallon of water – he asked me how many people I thought would visit the new Comms Show. Following my estimate Don looked at me in genuine horror and told me it would be double that figure! He then polished me off even more in the second set at 6-0! After the Comms show Don came to our stand to tell me the visitor count. The figure was much closer to his estimate than mine – all I could do was congratulate him and admire his vision.

I started up Multinet Systems Ltd. in 2000 and we are involved in advancing areas like VPNs, VOIPs etc. So much has improved in the last 25 years. I recently read Bill Cullen’s excellent book on the changes through his life - “It’s a long way from Penny Apples”. In my case, from the 1977 Dept of Posts and Telegraphs days – “It’s a long way from pens and paper!”

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