25 Q&As: Calling the shots

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Warren McDonald, CIO, Proteome Systems, North Ryde, NSW, shares his experiences with Rodney Gedda.

Q: What has been the most challenging IT project(s) of your career?

A decision to implement a new mission-critical system in a Windows client/server environment had been made in an IT group that had traditionally worked in a VAX/Unix environment. Having just been promoted to IT manager, coming up through the ranks of network support, I was the only person in an IT group that had good experience and understanding of Windows networking and PCs and Intel/Windows servers.

We had also agreed to work with a new software development company that had good skills and product but also lacked experience in this environment.

The Computing Facilities unit I was managing was continually turned to for various aspects of the work that in previous projects were handled by software and Unix systems analysts. The lack of experience on the vendor side also meant that we were debugging far too many server and network issues.

One of the biggest challenges was that the small end of IT, the file server and network guys, were now faced with calling some of the shots on what was traditionally the turf of the big-end Unix systems and software guys. The project ran over time but was quite successful.

Q: What has been the most exciting experience of your IT career?

Becoming CIO at Proteome Systems was very exciting. At a time when many IT shops were contracting and the weight of the dotcom collapse had depressed almost all IT activity, I found myself faced with managing a very lively expanding area.

Q: What advice would you give to someone now entering IT?

I would recommend that a career in IT be combined with another core pursuit. A lot of the hard work done in the last 20 years has reduced the number of staff required to implement and manage systems.

What will never go away is the requirement for people who understand the business and the IT. I think this requirement is being pushed down from the CIO level to most IT positions and will become one of the critical differentiators in recruitment.

Q: What tertiary qualifications do you have?

None. I started teaching myself in 1977 and have never stopped learning.

Q: When did you start in IT and what job did you have before?

I have always been involved in IT in some way. My first experiences were through sales of computing equipment to enthusiasts and small businesses in the early 1980s working at Dick Smith Electronics.

Later, I naturally found myself enabling departmental recording of sales tracking, budgeting and forecasting on PCs through my responsibilities as a commercial account manager in the mid 80s. My first serious foray into IT was the installation and customisation of a complete Novell network system hosting financials and point of sales into a Sydney hi-fi store.

Q: What was the first computer technology you used (and when)?

SC/MP (aka MicroSCAMP) kit computer. Program input and output was via LEDs and toggle switches. That was in 1977. I moved to CPM-based Exidy Sorcerers in 1980 and shortly after that I actually sold some of the very first IBM PC clones in Australia.

Fast facts: Employees: 120. IT users: 140 (including external collaborators). IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: BioinformationIQ — Proteome Systems’ Integrated Protein Discovery LIMS and Analysis software. ImageIQ — Proteome Systems’ 2D Gel Image analysis software.GroupWise — E-mail and Groupware. Navision — Financials. AutoCad Inventor — CAD. Key infrastructure — hardware: IBM xSeries Intel Servers and FastT SAN for e-mail, file, business and finacial apps, IBM pSeries RS/6000 servers and FastT SAN storage for Protein Discovery research; networking: Gigabit Ethernet switches as core with 1000MHz to servers and 100MHz to desktops and instrumentation. Operating systems: AIX, Linux, Win2000.