Back in the Day… Nathan Sivapatham: “How Things Have Changed”

( Post 21 of 25 )

Following on from a couple of posts earlier in the month looking back at how IT has evolved over the last 25 years (the first one from our friend David Jones; the second one from us), we finish off our ‘Back in the Day…’ series of posts with this guest blog contribution from Nathan Sivapatham, who has been working in IT – mostly as a DBA (Database Administrator) – since the 1980s.

By gum. How things have changed.

Nathan Sivapatham 1990 image

Nathan in 1979

Back in the spring of 1979 I had this thought: I needed to plan for my future. I did a lot research in the local library in Windsor. I also talked to many friends who were working in various industries. Some of them worked for multinational companies whilst others worked for the local health authority.

I came to the conclusion that I wanted to study Accountancy. It was a big decision and I managed to secure a place at a local Technical College – it was popular and attracted students from the wealthy and well connected to those in the Middle Eastern oil industry. After the end of the first year, I decided it was not for me. Time to start all over again. After a lot of soul searching, I decided my future was in IT. I had a tough time convincing the Head of IT faculty that I was committed to the next 3 years of the course. Somehow I succeeded.

I had to finance my own education because I was an overseas student from the old Commonwealth. I worked hard, working nearly 50 weekends in the first year to pay for my lodging and tuition fees.

Only two [Harris computers] existed in the whole of the UK. Neither the ICL nor the Harris computers exist now apart from in a museum.

The college was busy replacing the old ICL mainframe computer with an unknown brand computer: Harris. Only two of them existed in the whole of the UK. I did not realise until later that it was a good omen for me. Neither the ICL nor the Harris computers exist now apart from in a museum.

I did well to find a work placement with the RAF where the other Harris computer system was in use. I developed a unique database application in COBOL language based on an academic white paper from an unknown research engineer. It was almost certainly the first working database within the RAF that focused on saving the Harrier jump jet pilots.

You can actually find an old sales brochure for the Harris 500 online. According to the PDF’s title, it’s from January 1980:

Harris 500 brochure snippet screenshot

Screenshot of part of the first page of the Harris 500 sales brochure
(Click to enlarge)

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Out of Office: Why Are IT Professionals Leaving the Office to Work From Home?

( Post 20 of 25 )

This is a post by Holly, who sometimes writes for us at Computer Recruiter.

ONS figures chart

(Click to enlarge)

Teleworking, remote working, homeworking – whatever you call it, one thing is true: working from home is on the rise in the UK. In Q1 2014, 13.9% of the UK’s total workforce were working remotely. That’s 4.2 million British home workers across the country.

The number of Brits now working from home isn’t just rising, it’s now hitting record figures. Today the UK has more teleworkers than ever before – a rise of 1.9 million since 1998. Although a rise in the number of people in employment plays a part in the surge, the advent of ever-better technology has played a very significant role.

Technology & Remote Working

Increasingly fast and dependable broadband access has made working from home a viable alternative to working in the office. Meanwhile, the development of cloud computing has rendered “the office more accessible than ever before – from any location. Tools, documents, collaborative platforms, SaaS – these crucial tools of the trade can be used from virtually anywhere, at any time, making taking work out of the office easier than ever before.
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Running Tech Events in South Wales – An Interview with Joel Hughes

( Post 19 of 25 )

The inspiration for this post came about after I attended Port80 Localhost in August 2014. Joel Hughes – who runs the event – was talking to an attendee about how South Wales has come along in terms of IT-related events, whether they be one-offs, regular meet-ups or annual conferences. Given that Joel is very active on the event organising front, I wanted to ask him some questions about his events as well as his experiences running those type of events within the region…

Joel Hughes photoFirst thing’s first, please introduce yourself! If someone asked you what you do, but only gave you 60 seconds / a few sentences to do so, what would you say?

My name is Joel Hughes and I run a web design company based in Newport, South Wales. We focus on helping busy business owners make sense of all things digital. Working with them to create online presences which really add value to their businesses.

What events do you run in South Wales?

I run two bigger conferences – Port80 and The Business of Web Design (a.k.a. tboWD) – plus some quarterly Port80 events called Localhost.

How does the Port80 conference and the Port80 Localhosts differ to tboWD?

Port80 has a broader remit than tboWD. tboWD is specifically about the business side of freelancing in the web industry or running a web agency. Port80 is more about design & development skills; less business-focused.

I was at a recent event of yours when you said that you ran the first proper web/tech event in South Wales, a few years ago. Is that true? What was the event and how did it go?

Ah, ok, in which case, I didn’t really mean that the way that came across. What I meant to say is that I was surprised that there were no web conferences in South Wales and, therefore, I decided to put one on myself. Now we have a much more vibrant scene, which is cool.

Have you found that turn-outs at your events have improved over the years? If so, do you think it’s because more people are entering the web/tech industry in South Wales, or that more people are willing to head out to hear and learn about things related to the industry (or perhaps a combination of the two)? Or another reason?

Hmm… Turn out has always been pretty good and has not changed much, to be honest. I think getting your name established as an event does help though.

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A Look Inside… PayZip, a Payment Management Startup in Cardiff

( Post 18 of 25 )

Jaymie Thomas of PayZipFollowing on from our post taking a look inside of Nudjed, I spoke to the CTO – Jaymie Thomas (@jaymiethomas) – of another South Wales-based startup: PayZip, which is based in the heart of Cardiff’s city centre. Jaymie’s previous company – Red Apple Software – recently announced that they had merged with PayZip, which had previously developed the platform. In addition to talking about the reasons behind the merge, Jaymie kindly talked us through their preference on location, tools and more…

Firstly, what is PayZip and why would people use it?

It’s an easy way for community-based clubs to manage member payments.

Running any club or society involves volunteers’ time and dedication. From our own experience, we understand the challenges faced by those collecting money from members. Using PayZip, club organisers and treasurers can easily request money by email and the club’s members can pay securely online or by cash or cheque if they prefer. Because PayZip supports both desktop and mobile devices, payments can be taken in-the-field – literally!

PayZip MacBook Pro screenshot

PayZip’s dashboard on a MacBook Pro
(Click to enlarge)

Because PayZip’s dashboard is always completely up-to-date, organisers can take the financial pulse of their club – and can send payment reminders to everyone who owes money – with just a click of a button, saving them valuable time each month.

How did you develop PayZip?

It was originally an idea to help bodies like The Scout Association manage their memberships as a whole. It had a different name back then, but we had everything in there: next of kin, medical information, dietary requirements, as well as the ability to make member payments. After iterating on this idea through a couple of versions, we learned that most clubs already handle the personal information another way and that the payment element was the one that they struggled with – and not just the scouts, but every club, society or charity. PayZip was born.

Why is PayZip based in the centre of Cardiff, and in FoundersHub (a coworking space) in particular? What are the benefits of being in such a space?

We used to have our own offices on the outskirts of the city and whilst we had plenty of room, there was very little there to inspire us, and contact with other on-site teams was limited. Working from FoundersHub means that we’re right in the city centre, which is easy for holding meetings, plus with the varied crowd working from FoundersHub from day-to-day, we’ve met some great people – indeed, this is how we met and hired Luke, our Lead Developer.

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The Cool ICT Things Going On in Welsh Schools – 3 Interviews

( Post 17 of 25 )

ICT Steering Group report photoThe inspiration for this post comes from my last job. My boss at my last agency role was really passionate about improving the way that ICT (an extended synonym of IT to include Communications) is taught in the Welsh education sector, in primary and secondary schools. In fact, he co-chaired a Steering Group tasked with “[considering] the future of computer science and ICT in schools in Wales” – you can read their report here.

Inspired by this, I spoke to three sets of people who are closely involved with ICT in schools – two projects tasked with running workshops for pupils and a company that provides tech training for teachers. IT/ICT has come a long way since many of us reading this were in school, and some really cool things are going on these days…

Technocamps

Faron & Stewart of Technocamps photoTechnocamps is a project led by Swansea University – but also in partnership with Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and the University of South Wales – aimed at delivering workshops across Wales on programming, app development, games development, robotics and other computing-related subjects. I spoke to Professor Faron Moller (Director of Technocamps) and Stewart Powell (Workshop Developer) about the work that they do…

What is Technocamps?

Technocamps is a schools outreach programme based in the Computer Science Department at Swansea University. It was established in 2003, and through the years has received financial support from a variety of companies and organisations including Welsh Government (WG), European Social Fund (ESF), National Science Academy (NSA) and NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). In 2010 Technocamps established hubs at Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and the University of South Wales Glamorgan; and in 2014 added hubs at Glyndŵr University Wrexham and Cardiff Metropolitan University.

When and why was it conceived?

In the early 1980s, the BBC Micro was introduced to schools throughout Britain, and before long they were in 80% of UK classrooms. By encouraging young learners to experiment with computers, a generation of creative talent was spawned. Applications to study computer science at university hit a peak, and computer science graduates changed the world as they helped computers come to dominate every aspect of our lives.

65% of IT teachers in the UK do not have a relevant qualification but have slipped into the role of IT teacher simply by being digitally literate.

Fast forward 30 years and the situation could not be any more different. The computer is no longer a novelty. Children spend more time at home in front of a computer screen than a TV screen, but like the TV, their interest is restricted to using the computer, not in experimenting with it. Digital literacy is rightly emphasised throughout the school curriculum, but computer studies itself has evolved into IT studies with an emphasis on office skills – much duller than the social networking and gaming for which the pupils use their home computers. 65% of IT teachers in the UK do not have a relevant qualification but have slipped into the role of IT teacher simply by being digitally literate. Applications to study computer science at university slumped – especially amongst females – with a 40% drop in applicants over the first five years of the 21st century, and many of those who start a university computer science course drop out during the first year as they are unaware of what computer science is.

To address this dire situation, Technocamps was started in 2003 at Swansea University as an outreach programme for schools and colleges, with a grand political ambition of getting computer studies in schools back on track. As an active voluntary activity, it enjoyed great success, but only on a very small and very local scale. In order to expand its operation in scale and reach, a European Social Fund (ESF) project was created in partnership with the Universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor and the University of South Wales in Glamorgan. (The ambition was to include all of Wales, with hubs also in Wrexham and Cardiff, but ESF funding restrictions meant that this project could only be delivered in the Convergence area of Wales, as well as only to secondary school children.) This 4-year project ended in September 2014, having engaged with some 10,000 young people. During this period, various other Technocamps initiatives were started through other funding bodies, including Playground Computing (for primary schools) and Technoteach (for teachers at all levels).

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