13 May 2013


When I first started working at the University in computer support, in December, 1985, there were  no departmental computer support staff.  Although my work principally revolved around making the network function (we had a single server - an IBM PC AT with a 16-bit Intel 80286 running at a blazing 6MHz, 1 full MB of memory, and 20MB of hard disc; a 'server' because it was the only hard disc machine we had and shared its disc space and printer), about ten or twelve 5.25" floppy IBM PCs (4.77MHz Intel 8086) - and each machine with an IBM PC Network card (2Mb/sec).  Occasionally I wrote programmes in C for lecturers for various purposes.

But my title was Research Assistant.  My boss was the Head of Department (Accountancy).  I remember the incident that really made my begin to feel that the job wasn't really much to my liking.  Sometime in early 1987 he had me spend some hours in the library looking up information about the economic history of Fiji for some article he was writing.  It was not at all what I had liked to do.

There were, in fact, long periods of time when there was really nothing for me to do - I spent them writing astronomical programmes in C for my own interest, that sort of thing.  (There were other, briefer times - mostly connect with enrolment - when I was working frantically to get things done in time).

Ian Hardcastle and other friends from my IAL days had started a company of their own, writing business software for Unix computers (Linux didn't exist yet).  In June or July - just about the time the car crashed through our fence! - of 1987 they offered me a job.

I was tempted.  I was, as I have said, frustrated with my current job as Research Assistant.  My pay was barely keeping us going.  The new job would have been at a very large pay rise.

I was tempted, but after talking with Susan, I declined.  For one thing, I was in my second year of a six-year course leading to a Diploma in Computer Science (I had had no formal training in computing).  The University was paying for it.  It is true that the cost of the course was not high, but I was sure that keeping up the motivation would be more difficult if I was not working at the University.

More fundamental, though, was the fact of my working situation.  It was, in fact, a low-pressure job - still is, in fact.  I had no contractual requirement - nor any un-contracted understanding - to work extra hours.  I was able to go home at the normal time, start work at the normal time, was not expected to work on week-ends.  My family, I said to Sue, was my primary focus.  This other company, I was sure, was one in which one would, of necessity, find oneself having to pitch in to work late hours; be on call to support customers; travel around to customer sites; and generally change one's lifestyle.  I don't know if the accident that marked the point at which I returned to riding the 'bus had happened yet or not, but I would certainly not be able to work at the new company on the 'bus.

And at the University I had greater job security.  At the time, University layoffs were unthinkable.  Since then they have not been quite so out of the question.  There have been at least two rounds of significant redundancies in the last ten years, and the possibility of one that could affect my job looms sometime in the next year or so.  But in 1987, a university job was a sinecure.

So I turned the offer down.  By the end of October, I was congratulating myself for having done so.  Black Monday was 19 October, 1987.  First-on-first-off for small companies like my friends' was the rule.

Nevertheless, late 1987 saw me and my friend Paul Brown contemplating significant changes right at the University.  As a result, on 1 February, 1988, CSU was started.

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