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The more things change, the more they stay the same

September 30, 2016

faxToday ‘officially’ marks my 20th anniversary in the IT industry. I had been doing some freelance work for an IT company for a year or so already, but it was 30 September 1996 when I joined Com Tech Communications in Sydney as Online Marketing Manager.

My job involved looking after the website (my handiwork, c.1998, sans graphics), taking responsibility for PR, producing whatever collateral was needed for the business, putting together the content for events and even working as a billable resource – I remember being part of the team that built the first-ever intranet for one of Australia’s big four banks.

We’ve seen some incredible change over 20 years. Back then, Amazon just sold books. Google didn’t exist. I toggled between AltaVista, Yahoo! and infoseek, and got excited when Ask Jeeves launched. IMDB.com was one of my favourite sites – and it’s great to see it still going strong today. We could buy an entire encyclopaedia on disc (well, it was Microsoft Encarta) which at the time seemed incredible. Now, I can go to Wikipedia and check that I used the correct quote for this post’s title (and finding out that it’s actually a translation of an epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’).

For our website, I used to hand code the HTML, using Telnet to edit the live web pages and FTP to upload new files to the web server. To build an e-commerce website, you needed a six-figure budget at a minimum and, if you were using Netscape Enterprise Server, that was just for the software. Now you can set up your own site to sell stuff for a few hundred dollars.

In 1996, I was at the launch of Fairfax@Market, when the Australian media company launched its first online classifieds. Then part-owner Conrad Black beamed in live on the big screen to welcome the event guests via videoconference (back then, also something pretty amazing). However, within a couple of years, eBay pretty much gobbled up that market. And videoconferencing is an everyday occurrence. You can even do video from your mobile phone, a device I didn’t even have until 1998 or 1999.

So, what hasn’t changed? Client case studies are still one of the best ways to market your business. Back then, I was writing about rolling out Windows NT 4 and Windows 95 standard operating environments for some government department, upgrading Freehills’ network from Token Ring to Ethernet, and the University of Melbourne’s network to ATM. One of my early masterpieces was an in-depth study on Kellogg’s deployment of Lotus Notes, which unfortunately was never approved so never published. I poured my heart into it, and it still hurts to this day.

Back then, we got excited about technology and industry “firsts” – the first IP telephony deployment, the first surgery completed using videoconferencing (that was a bit scary). Now. people still want to know how technology is making a difference to their business, but the technology is no longer the headline.

As an industry, we are still talking about the ‘next big thing’. Back then, it was ‘IP on everything’, now it’s the ‘Internet of Things’. Everyone is talking about digital technology, which is odd. For my generation, ‘digital technology’ was all about digital watches, which had their heyday in the 1980s (my Pulsar quartz is tucked away somewhere, still in its original box). Now it’s all about cloud, mobility, IoT and analytics.

Twenty years on, there’s still plenty of room for innovation and creative thinking. The opportunities to promote your ideas are almost overwhelming. Everyone can publish their own blogs, post their opinions on social media and crowdfund their artistic projects, commercial products or business ideas.

It’s still an exciting industry to be a part of.

(Pictured above: my office fax machine, a relic from the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Still in – very occasional – operational use.)

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