‘Back in My Day’ is an Information Age series profiling some of our older ACS members and Information Age readers speaking about their early days in IT.
This week, we speak with John Anthony, aged 78, from Wantirna South, Victoria.
When did you begin working in the tech sector?
It was in 1967. I had been working for Norcross Greeting Cards since 1964, and they were putting in a computer system. I did an aptitude test in 1967 and then started working with an experienced analyst programmer and we developed the system. The system went live in 1969, and it ran very well for many years after.
Norcross Greeting Cards was part of the Valentine Publishing Company, who ventured in computer typesetting. Part of this work involved extracting data from computer files and arranging them into typesetting format ready for a photo typesetting system.
I became involved with one of their applications which involved taking product information that customers sold, and arranging the data in grid format so that it could phototypeset.
I also was involved in phototypesetting government electoral rolls.
In the mid-70s I joined Treanor, Clarke and Associates as an analyst programmer and became involved in many industries.
Later on, we installed an ICL 2903 system for a pathologist. We developed an online system to capture test results from the labs. Each test result was compared with the test’s normal or standard value and a report was prepared for medical staff highlighting abnormalities.
Were you interested in computers when you were younger?
I didn’t think about going into computers earlier on. I thought about joining the air force, then I was going to be a pharmacist. I started an accounting course but not being a great reader, commercial law didn’t suit me. I was doing sales analysis for Norcross customers’ stock control systems when my employer decided to put in a system, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
It was something new and I liked delving into technical stuff, I love maths. I was learning programming and learning how an operating system loads itself into a computer.
Once I got into it, I felt like it was for me. It was a challenge but I always liked a challenge.
What sort of tech and equipment were you using back then?
The Norcross system was developed on an IBM 34 Model 20 with a multifunction card machine (MFCM), line printer and two disk drives each capable of storing a removal disk pack that could hold 5Mb of data.
The MFCM had two programmable card hoppers for reading punched cards and five programmable card stackers. This allowed a program to read a customer’s punch card ordering a certain type of greeting card, process the order and produce a punched card with printed information on it.
Each card was used to pick stock from the warehouse and sent to the customer with the stock. The card was then returned to Norcross when stock was running low and used as the input document for new stock to be ordered.
The typesetting work was performed on a Burroughs B2500 machine with mag tapes and the programs were written in Cobol.
What was it like going into consulting?
I enjoyed the different clients. My main role was an analyst/programmer and consultant. I was designing systems for different manufacturing companies, and I also became involved with modifying commercial software packages to suit customers’ requirements, running training classes, and pre and post-sale consultancies.
I covered the whole gambit of the business.
How did you stay up to date with tech changes?
My initial training of programming and system design was with IBM and later with Burroughs.
In 1977 I went to the UK to attend a course on the new ICL 2900 series equipment.
Our company held internal training courses highlighting new features in the software packages we were using to satisfy client’s requirements.
I went to JD Edwards in Denver to attend some training courses and attended a Dale Carnegie Course in effective speaking and human relations.
What are some of your career highlights?
The pathology system is one, and the manufacturing system I wrote for Maryborough Knitting Mills – that was used in a couple of other organisations and industries as well.
I was quite proud that it seemed to have the ability to solve a problem with a bit of software.
It took me from manufacturing to greeting cards to trucks. Being able to work across many industries with manufacturing systems and defining the requirements, I found challenging but rewarding.
Did you ever find it difficult to find a job?
I went from one company to another. I was always challenged enough to stay where I was, I didn’t need to look around for another job.
I became a contractor with Systems Support Group – later JD Edwards. The company I was working for progressed to higher levels and expanded into different areas of business. Taking that on was a whole lot of new learning. Once I got the hang of that, it was fine. We got in there and dabbled with code and adjusted things to do what was needed.
Later in the 1980s, Hallmark greeting cards were planning to install a computer system and I was assigned to assist them because of my knowledge of the greeting card industry which was still applicable 20 years later.
What did you love about working in tech?
If someone had a software problem, they’d come to me and I’d usually find a solution. I would delve into code to try to sort out what was going on. It was rewarding in so many ways.
Since my retirement, I have become involved with a woodwork group that makes equipment for cerebral palsy children, taken up lawn bowls, and enjoyed small ship cruises around Australia.
What advice do you have for someone just starting their career in tech?
When I left work, we didn’t have mobile phones and we had just started to get desktop computers. The whole suite of IT is vastly different now. My advice to people is to take the challenge on – the thing that always got me the most was sitting down and nutting out a problem, and figuring out what the hell is going on.