Saturday, 27 March 2010

Funny How Things Turn Out

How I got into IT is quite funny, and I start by apologising to all those of you who studied hard, took exams and earned a computing degree; I got there by accident.

I went to an awful lot of schools, my father was in the army and we travelled a lot. I did OK, my final school was a good grammar school in Surrey. I did OK in my exams at 16, my best subject being physics, but even that was not by design, I had a friend I sat with in class and it rubbed off on me, I should have sat with her for more subjects she is now CFO for one of UK's biggest banks. However I did not enjoy school and really wanted to leave home as well, which is very difficult if you are at school. So I left, the school were not impressed and sent me a letter saying I had wasted a grammar school education that someone less academically suited could have benefited from.

I thought I wanted to be a laboratory assistant in a pathology lab, but between deciding that and taking my exams they changed the qualifications. You needed Maths (we have a 'S' after Math in UK), English, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. I had 8 subjects but combined science rather than Biology and Chemistry as separate exams. Rather than stay at school I decided to go into the public sector where they would let me go to college part time and get those 2 exams.

This was in the late 70's and jobs were not as difficult to find. I actually got 3 job offers and selected my first employer by throwing a dart. Crown Agents was a quasi government department based in London at No 4 Millbank, and I started work in the procurement department but soon moved to the International Banking department which I loved. Small deviation from the story but I had to send a lot of legal information by telex and the telex operator worked as a manager for a band, went to see them a few times and liked them, he left soon after and the band Squeeze made the big time.

Anyway I loved the job, and did get my extra two subjects, but by then was enjoying working in London and had left home. I stayed in the job for 3 years and moved into a tiny bedsit in central London. I carried on at college part time and did the next level of education in Business Studies which would lead to Institute of Banking exams eventually.

Then I was successful in my Civil Service Exams and was offered promotion, however Crown Agents had changed their status by then and I could not have promotion and stay so I decided to move. Then you were given the opportunity to give preferences and I selected Ministry of Defence, London and Accounts. They sent me to Admiralty Buildings in Whitehall London for an interview and I really thought I was getting what I wanted. But it was 1981 and computers were just hitting mainstream and there was a real shortage of programmers (the old name for developers), and what I had really been sent for was a computer aptitude test.

I was asked to draw a flow chart for making a cup of tea, and I can't remember what I actually included but I did OK, apparently the more boxes the more analytical your mind. I have had a quick go in this picture but got fed up very quickly. I was offered a job as a trainee Cobol developer with the Ministry of Agriculture in Guildford which is a fair way out from London and at first was not impressed. I found the work OK but you worked in very defined silos and I never saw the final product. We used a methodology called Michael Jackson - I am not kidding, but programs worked first or second time, you only had one chance a day to make a change and that involved punching a card to change a line of code.

I am not actually as old as this makes me sound, remember I was only 19 and the government was quite far behind. In fact one of my jobs read data in from paper tape, it came from Nimrod Aircraft collecting data on fishing activity after what was then known as the Icelandic Cod Wars.

My first program created the layout for a booklet that was produced for farmers, showing 'fatstock' prices (what animals fetch at market). It was one of the first that included both upper and lower case so when I wanted to print it I had to go to the computer room and change the print band to a 96 character set. We used ICL 1904 machines which is quite ironic as I have now worked for them most of my life (ICL was later acquired by Fujitsu).

I hated the way we worked and I felt quite blinkered, so after a few years moved into Operations and was responsible for the shifts in the computer room. If any of you remember them I had all the power, I decided which job got run when and people were always very nice to me to get their job processed. A job consisted of a tin tray that contained a spring loaded divider that kept all the punch cards together, once the cards were fed into the computer and the job run, the output on that beautiful green paper was placed in the tin tray . What ever happened to all the trays?

By this time I had met my husband to be and he was also in the army and had just been posted to Berlin. The week he went there was a job advertised in Computer Weekly for an Analyst Programmer and I applied, and got the job. I loved every minute of it, and moved on from Cobol to FoxPro, I was responsible for the entire process and really had fun. The job was for the Military but I actually worked via ICL for the first time.
After 3 years and just before the wall came down we moved to another posting in Germany and I had my daughter. On returning to the UK (Gloucester) I got a temporary job working in an insurance company, I thought that I would be too outdated to go back to computers, they move on so quickly, but the local council, had a recruitment drive for women called 'Women Hold Up Half The Sky' and were looking for those like me who wanted to juggle an IT career with parenting. 6 months after I started we were outsourced, and a few months later that company was bought by ICL and I was back.

By now UNIX was prevalent and I trained in Ingres, it was good although lacked the Oracle 'Alter Table' command (how technical did that sentence sound?). I also did a lot more analysis and design. Life was good. After a while I was offered another promotion but that was nothing going in Gloucester, they wanted me to move nearer to London but we didn't want to, and then I was offered a role running the ICL Oracle Support Desk in Belfast. They needed someone who had a foot in both technical and functional camps,and I fitted the bill. My then husband was from N Ireland so we were actually quite pleased to move.

I ran support for 5 years during which customers moved from Oracle Financials 9.4.1 through to 11i, the move from character to smart client to what we have now. Then as my daughter moved to High School I moved into consultancy as a Financials Consultant implementing and updating systems. Over Christmas 1999 I did 9 upgrades in time for Y2K. I got really interested in reporting and put together our first discoverer training classes and even persuaded ICL to open a classroom here in N Ireland.

When Oracle started their acquisitions two things happened, one reporting really did become BI and I had the chance to build a capability from scratch for which I am very proud and Fusion Apps were conceived and you all know how much I look forward to working with them.

So that is how I ended up in IT. Perhaps next time I will tell you how I got into user groups.


Mohan Dutt said...

What a fascinating story!
Looking forward to your story about joining Oracle user groups!
Then your story how you became Oracle ACE Director!

Momenator1 said...

I wonder if you may know how I can add strikethroughs and other punctuation to Primavera Contract manager. When I cut and paste items, it removes the strikethroughs and it doesn't print out with them either. Is there an easy way? Thanks

Debra Lilley said...

Momenator1, sorry I am not a Prmavera expert. I don't know where you are from so I can't advise which user group can help you. Please reach out to the most suitable for you. Try looking at

Simon said...

...and you say you're not technical!!!

Dean said...

You may like to read and Emma McGrattan's (Senior Vice President of Engineering) blog at

You may have something in common.

Good blog !