Humans of UNSW - James

By Carla Fischer and Jelynne Go

James, from Broken Hill has been working at UNSW for 31 years. From an early age he says he was interested in engineering. At 18 he began to work as a computer operator, working his way up to senior operator.

"I didn’t actually do a degree in engineering but I’ve worked with computers right from the start after I left school at 18. I learned how they all came together then, I even had to do all this cabling stuff, and that was all pretty boring. Now it’s much more sophisticated and much more complex... It does give you a logical brain. My wife says I come from a different galaxy. If you think of the big issues and break them down to parts, then you can work things out. Something I was taught, say you’re an expert in one area, listen to their opinion and ask a few intelligent questions, you don’t harass them."

It does give you a logical brain. My wife says I come from a different galaxy. If you think of the big issues and break them down to parts, then you can work things out

James at UNSW

He came to UNSW in 1989 and conducted his first project the year after; setting up the enrolment system for students at the university.

"They used to have enrolments down a place called Unisearch House down along ANZAC parade. Every young person would line up to log in to do Economics, History or Arts that sort of stuff. We used to use what we called ‘dumb terminals’. So you came and sat next to me, I typed in your details, you printed it off, and walked away to go and pay it (tuition) off. But in those days there were no Mastercards or businesses like those. You gave $500 cash to the cashier, he had a couple thousand dollars, he’d walk down to the local bank and never got mugged - so it was a pretty friendly area. 

It was easy because they were just terminals to log into. You had a big central computer that was programmed by the programmers and these ‘terminals’ just hung off the central computer. It was really fascinating. So we’d be there for 4 weeks, then we’d pull it apart, hide it away for a year then do it again. Then we went to windows 3.1... then windows 95 & 99. The technology is improving dramatically and becoming smaller and smaller. You don't need the big steel cabinets anymore. You’ve got the smaller ones. You might know about little USB chips. The memory sticks. The old days we had four megabytes. Now people want 32 gigabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM)... Fantastic.”

You might know about little USB chips. The memory sticks. The old days we had four megabytes. Now people want 32 gigabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM)... Fantastic.”

He tells us about a fire that happened at UNSW in 2010. 

“On the other side of the ANZAC parade they had a building with a lot of IT equipment, it was called SPRC (Social Policy Research Centre). It was a nice building. I always enjoyed going there to fix the IT issues or run the weekly system backup. One weekend, it burnt down. It was a bit crazy... I was at home when the fire happened. They had some tall grass outside of it, and an electrical cord sparked. They put it out very quickly but the outside of the building was burnt badly. The SRPC had been part of the university for a long time. I think the fire caused the university to become very aware of how good it is to have a backup for all computer data."

Today, at 63 he works as an IT ‘E-procurer’ for UNSW. You can still see in his eyes that sense of excitement and curiosity about the world.

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