Recently I had reason to re-consider my youthful computing experiences when I was asked the question “what was your first computer?”. I thought it would make a very interesting article to briefly sketch my background and the technology I’ve grown up with.
In my early teens, my brother bought a Commodore 64 computer! It’s frightening to read the specifications of that old dinosaur now! However, it was a beautiful machine back then and provided my three brothers and I, hours of fun. We would spend weeks writing Visual Basic code, just to get the thing to display rude words when you typed in your name!
The Comodore went head to head with another computer manufacturer: Sinclair – who introduced the ZX81 to the market. My poor, hard working mum must have regretted the day we first got a computer, because from that day on, we were hooked!
I received from my mum (perhaps the best present ever!) my Sinclair ZX81 on Christmas day, 1984 (I think George Orwell was still alive then, his dark-vision of the future certainly was and perhaps still is!). It had two games with it which I confess I don’t recall, suffice it to say, I do remember how addictive they were. My mum had to ration the thing, and let me tell you, I was not best pleased!
At school in the mid – late ’80s in the UK, things were quite different to how they are today. The internet didn’t exist, for a start. We had one or two BBC computers (yes, it was actually named after the British Broadcasting Corporation) that served as – well, I’m not exactly sure, because I can’t recall more than a dozen lessons on them – which goes to show how behind the times schools were back then, when it came to technology.
It was at university that I first discovered the true extent of computer technology. It was 1990 and although there was not really any internet, there was a crude academic network of Amstrad 486’s, linked via some dodgy WAN technology (probably NSFNET, USENET ) to other academic institutions. We did also have some Macintosh Classics in the library which were really something special. Even though photoshop didn’t exist, I remember messing around with photo enhancement technology for one of my projects.
Email was just emerging as was the internet itself. Along with a few thousand others, I was one of the pioneers that led the charge, spending days, weeks, months and many hours helping to develop the systems and networks, by using them to their full extent (especially chat rooms, which were not anything like as weird or dodgy as they are today).
I also discovered the absolute horror and devastation that can only be experienced when technology fails at a crucial moment. My 40,000 word thesis “evaporated” just on the last revision and how my heart sank when the backup disk was faulty. Fortunately, my friend and fellow lecturer saved the day (and quite possibly my life!) brought over a box of beer and we got drunk way into the night, re-typing it from hard-copy.
I joined British Telecom UK in 1994 and by then, technology had been racing ahead. At the forefront of the internet revolution, ISDN and other digital technologies began to emerge. I was one of a few hundred in the country to test ISDN at home, with a great big modem box and an Windows 95 machine. I also received a laptop from BT to “further the aims of technological advances”. I can honestly say that working from home was certainly a bonus.
In 1996 I assisted National Westminster Bank PLC with the launch of their internet online banking programme. I was again, one of a handful of people selected for the trial. I received my “Secure Floppy Disks”, installed the software and logged on. You couldn’t actually do anything with your bank account, as you can now, but it was fun to be able to log in and see my statements.
From 1994 – 2001 whilst I worked at BT, I watched and learned and sold many of the latest technologies to large corporates as well as small businesses. Perhaps the most interesting lesson from all of those years was the number of companies that came and went and especially observing my customers, many of whom were the early adopters of new technologies – and watching how their business changed and grew to accommodate new ways of working.
What is also obvious to me now is how often we embrace things without really having any clear, specific reason or goals – we just “do” because others do, and we just need or have because of trends.
Whilst trends are clearly important to understand, it is vital that as a business, we integrate new technologies and methods of working that will actually have a beneficial impact.
From 2001 to the present day, my experience with technology, computers and the internet has enabled me to assist all manner of businesses with their communications and in the way they conduct business.
While being brought up with this technology does not automatically make me an expert (I’m, after-all, one of millions brought up in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s), my involvement with it has shaped my experiences and enabled me to develop specific skills. All of which you can benefit from!