At the start of year 12, Zac Hall dropped out of high school to pursue an apprenticeship in a foundry.
It was hot work melting aluminium. He soon left that apprenticeship.
“I then started working in different warehousing positions – driving cranes, loading trucks, forklifts and bending rebar,” Zac told Information Age.
“I sort of bounced between those jobs, and even ended up on the dole.”
In 2010, Zac’s life changed forever.
He was a keen dirt bike rider in Kwinana, 40km south of Perth. What happened next was a parent’s worst nightmare.
“It was a proper good smash into a tree,” Zac said.
“I fractured my neck in three places and ended up in an induced coma for a couple of days.
Zac woke up in a hospital bed two days later.
“The only thing I remember is coming home to fuel up, but that’s it,” he said.
“They gave me a drug to wipe my memory because it would have been too traumatic.”
Upon regaining consciousness, Zac was filled with regret.
“I was 19 at the time, and I sort of thought to myself, ‘I should be a quadriplegic or dead right now’,” he said.
“I could have achieved so much more, and I was really disappointed in what I didn't do.
“You know, you never hear of people on their deathbed going ‘I wish I made more money’.
“It's always, ‘I wish I spent more time with my family’ or ‘I wish I did this with my career’ – that was really one of those moments for me.”
A new beginning
Although he was always used to working with his hands, Zac had not finished trade school. He had grown up with virtually no experience using computers.
“At that point, I hated computers, I couldn't stand them,” he said. “We never had a computer at home – I had to go down to the Art Center to use their local computer that was running like Windows 98 and never worked.
“Then, while I was bedridden, I had an opportunity to make an animation for a friend. So I learned how to make a cartoon and, for once in my life, I had control over the computer.
“I just fell in love and that was the turning point.”
After recovering from his life-changing accident, Zac took his newfound love from computers to TAFE where he completed a Diploma of Software Development and Database Design.
From there, he began a Bachelor of Commerce at Curtin University, majoring in business information systems and logistics and supply chain management.
“It was in that first semester that I met a fella at the business school and told him my story. And he goes, ‘I'm going to get you a job in the industry, and it's going to align perfectly with your degree’.
“He got me in contact with the transport company called Centurion that had a contract with Rio Tinto to move freight from around the world to mines in WA.”
Zac began doing admin work – following up on unpaid invoices and missing freight. Not one to pass on an opportunity, he decided to take some initiative.
“I built a dashboard that showed the inefficiencies in their processes and soon found myself in a different role as the contract coordinator for Rio Tinto,” he said.
“Then I found myself running more of the day-to-day aspects.
“If a machine or a dump truck went down somewhere in the Pilbara, and they need an engine from Germany, it was my problem in the middle of the night.
“It was constant – 24/7 – and I loved it.”
Still studying at university, Zac was already getting hands-on experience using the back end of enterprise planning software, SAP.
The work and Zac’s studies aligned perfectly.
At the same time, Zac began attending local ACS events which is where he met ACS WA vice chair George Coldham.
George became a mentor for Zac, helping him secure an internship with the ACS Foundation at a small consulting company where Zac started learning about automation.
After the nine-month internship, George set up Zac with Deloitte where he began a vacation program in 2016. A month later, he started a graduate position.
“I found myself going from driving cranes to working at Deloitte in just a couple of years,” Zac said.
“I got up to being a senior consultant working in the analytics and cognitive technology space, where I specialised in automation.”
Zac has now started his own consulting company called South West Consulting, helping organisations in the southwest region of WA create value with the strategic use of data.
He is also contracting to one of the world’s biggest iron ore producers, Fortescue, on their Anaplan rollout, as well as engaging closely with industry to producing thought-leadership white papers in strategic data management.
With his IT career on-track, Zac is already looking at ways he can give back by encouraging young Australians to pursue digital skills.
“The first cab off the rank for me is getting involved with the Coder Dojo organisation,” Zac said.
“I'll be working with the Bunbury branch, trying to teach kids how to find their own answers for their coding projects.
“But also, I think if you're able to show young people the value of these skills and how much they’re going to be needed moving forward, then that’s going to get them hooked.
“The other message I want to send is that you don't have to know what you want to do when you're in high school.
“Anybody can still turn it around – it's never too late.”