Back in the Day… David Jones Looks Back on 25 Years of IT Changes

( Post 6 of 25 )

When we came up with the idea for CR 25, we knew that we wanted guest posts from South Wales bloggers who work in IT to make up some of the 25 posts. With that in mind, we’re really pleased that one of them is a former candidate and client of ours from over the years. Below, David Jones – who has worked in IT since the mid-1980s – gives his experiences on how computing technology from the 1990s differs from things today…

The IT world has changed so much in the last 25 years that looking back isn’t an exercise of recall, so much as a dip into ancient history or archaeology.

David Jones photoThe easiest way to put some perspective around how the industry has changed is to look at the technologies we used to use and compare them to today. The most obvious being mobile devices and the Internet. Intriguingly, these two represent extremes across the spectrum of tangibility. Both are now ubiquitous, but whereas mobile technology (principally phones) is always sitting a few inches from our hands, the cloud-based Internet is entirely intangible and remote. And that, for me, highlights the greatest example of how technology has changed our lives – because we, the human species, have become so comfortable with technology since the fledgling BMCS IT Recruitment Ltd. [the old name for Computer Recruiter] was set up 25 years ago.

We expect our technology to be so reliable, that when it fails it becomes headline news. And that’s not just amongst technology professionals, but by everyone. And, to emphasise the ubiquity of today’s technology, the place to go to register indignation when a service fails is that most immediate of services: Twitter.

But, back to 1991… how did all this look to me?

The job I was doing back then was CTO of a large Cardiff-based travel business – Aspro Travel – although, of course, the job title of CTO didn’t exist. I think the title I used was “IT manager,” although even that was slightly exotic, a lot of my contemporaries were still called “DP Manager” (and, for those under 30-years-old, DP stood for “Data Processing” – crikey… doesn’t that sound quaint)!

VAX-11 computers photoBack to Aspro… I was leading an IT department of about 25 people. We had very big computers living in their own office, similar to the ones in the photo on the right.

The booking of holidays was managed electronically, so IT was critical for Aspro. But IT was not central to the way that any part of the company, or indeed the industry, used to think.

Having an executive in, say, marketing who was uncomfortable with technology wasn’t just acceptable, it was commonplace. And that’s probably the biggest thing that has changed in 25 years.

Today, no aspect of a business can operate without technology woven into the fabric of the company.

Just one example is email. Back in 1991 Aspro didn’t have an email service as we would understand it today. The telephone and fax machine were preferred means of communication. Fax in particular was very important, not just for confirming transactional information, but also it played a big part in the narrative of day-to-day communications with suppliers.

The act of receiving a fax 25 years ago usually meant that a clerical member of staff would collect this newly-born A4 sheet of paper and breathlessly deliver it to the desk of a senior executive.

As an example, when there was a need to deal with suppliers, fax was the best way of calling to account a supplier-related problem. It was written and immediate – just like email today – but it wasn’t digital, it was a very tangible technology. The act of receiving a fax 25 years ago usually meant that a clerical member of staff (again, apologies if you’re under 30 – you may not know what “clerical” jobs are) would collect this newly-born A4 sheet of paper and breathlessly deliver it to the desk of a senior executive (almost always a man, something that’s changed only slightly). The tangibility of a paper document perhaps has more impact than the arrival of an email today.

So that’s a brief look back over the last 25 years. It’s tempting to now look forward and guess what changes we’ll see, so here’s just three suggestions.

  • The human / computer interface will blur. Back in 1991 computers were difficult and remote. Today they are natural. I’d guess that humans will increasingly work much closer with all manner of computational devices.
  • Cheaper and cheaper. Back in 1991 everything involving computers was expensive. In fact, today’s major cost is people. Back then it was hardware.
  • The Dark Side. At Aspro, our security provision involved unplugging the modem (again, apologies to the under 30s) from the phone line at night. There was no anti-virus, as they were no viruses. In the future, technology will fight cyber wars, replace conventional crime and increasingly replace money too.

David Jones is the Chairman of TigerBay and also a Director of Westgate Cyber Security. Follow David on Twitter: @djcardiff.

[VAX-11 computer image credit – Emiliano Russo – Wikimedia Commons]