A career in IT or Information Technology can be very exciting and rewarding because IT continues and will always continue to develop in new and innovative ways. Here is a look at where the industry has come from and where it might be headed.
Where IT was 40 years ago
Looking back over my almost 40-year career in IT, it’s useful to mark the milestones and ‘wow’ moments to get a sense of how fast things really do change.
When I enrolled at Monash University in 1966 for my BSc degree, there were no IT or Computer Science courses available anywhere in Australia. It was that new back then! I started computer programming in a 3rd year Chemistry prac class, using the Fortran language on punch cards on a Burroughs mainframe computer. Turnaround time for any edit was about one day! Interestingly a very modern version of Fortran is still being using in high performance computing where massive parallelisation is required, such as weather modelling or DNA sequencing.
The rise of the ‘mini computer’
When I started my PhD at LaTrobe University in 1970, the university had only one computer, a DEC PDP9 with 8 KB of memory (i.e. 0.008 MB or 0.000008 GB). We booked it for half an hour, switched it on, ran our programs, which produced paper tape output and then switched it off for the next person. I rewrote “IF” statement to save one byte! But our illustrious head of Chemistry, Professor Jim Morrison, bought an extra 8 KB of memory at the Salt Lake City Army Disposal centre for $8000 (half price then!) and brought it back in a suitcase on the plane from the US. Double the memory was sheer bliss.
Another memorable moment was the first removable hard disk system we used on a DEC PDP11 in the Physiology Department at Melbourne University – they were 5 MB each and the size of a king-size pizza box. They were so useful in 1985. The first hard disk Macintosh with a 3 MB hard disk just after it was released in 1990, a giant leap forward for Apple Computers.
Universities can be innovative and cutting edge
Universities have always been quick to adapt to new technologies as they are not bound by the bottom line economics of corporates and universities also have a ‘learning and education’ brief, so it is natural that they try out new technologies. I remember when Scott Sandars (who worked for me at the Melbourne College of Advanced Education) asked me if he could try out a new program called ‘MOSIAC’, which did something like ‘access the Internet’, whatever that was. This was the first web browser and the start of the global information network we now call the World Wide Web, which we all take so much for granted. The year was 1993!
I ‘invent’ the Webpad
From 1999-2002 I worked at a very progressive university, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Toowoomba. USQ was awarded University of the Year in 2001 for the e‑University. A lot of our course material was online for our distance students, but our on-campus students only had limited access to computer labs back then as personal ownership of PCs was not common, due to the high cost. So in 2000 we started rolling out a wireless network across the campus and I investigated a simple low cost device that all our students could afford. I made a mock up of a device called a webpad, which was designed to work as a touch screen web browser. I visited many Silicon Valley companies in California at the time to try and convince them to make them, but unfortunately the hardware was far too expensive at the time. Remember this was 10 years before Apple released the iPad! I even argued with and tried to convince Michael Dell (CEO of Dell Computers) to make them, but Michael ran a large business and wasn’t going to lose money on a good idea before its time, which would have lost his company a lot of money. Smart guy Michael.
The Exciting Future for IT
There are so many exciting areas in IT today, covering a diverse field such as cloud computing, online sales, smart phones, animation, social media, robots, driverless cars, computer modelling, artificial intelligence, mobile apps, health apps, smart watches, etc.
And technology will never slow down its rapid development, as the nexus between hardware and software continues. For example smart watches with become very sophisticated and so will the apps that are specially developed to run on them. The future is an amazing place.