Tag Archives: software

Any Questions? No, I Know It All

It is fair to say that these days a company usually knows that they have to be a lot better equipped at bringing young people into the company with on-boarding programs, training and mentoring programs.

When I started my software development career it wasn’t quite that way.

I was one of two people hired as a trainee programmer many years ago. We had both very young and had graduated from the Control Data Institute with a Diploma in Computer Programming.

The software language we were hired to develop in was Pick (or D3 as it was later renamed), a multi-dimensional database language and a world away from the language we had learnt in our course, Cobol.

So for the first few days we were given Pick book and green screen access to a Pick system to “play around”. After a few days our manager said to the both of us “I want you to take the book home tonight and come back with any questions”.

The next morning I arrived at work with a whole list of questions which I was eager to ask about.

My new colleague was asked if she had any questions. “No”, she said. “You have no questions at all?”, our manager asked. “No, I know it all”.

We all know the person that actually thinks they know it all. When someone says or acts like they know it all, one of two things is at play: they are either over self confident or they have no confidence at all.

In this case I believe the latter was true; this person was no over confident. It was obvious she was a young girl lacking in the self confidence to be able to show that she needed some help combined with the fact that equality in the workplace wasn’t quite around in 1988.

I think back now with the benefit of hindsight, empathy, a greater appreciation of equality and wonder just how uncomfortable it would have been for her. I’m sure it hindered the experience of her entry into software development and the work force in general.

It wasn’t helped a few weeks alter when we were both mocked by a more senior software developer as I described in another post I wrote “I Think I Was Bullied“. I still wonder where that guy ended up.

Today we have much better understanding and appreciation for all types in the work environment to ensure they have all the help and tools to be successful. At carsales not only are we being proactive with a diversity programs, our mentoring program is fantastic for allowing all levels the opportunity to learn from more experienced people within the business.

Mentoring is a great initiative. As long as the mentor doesn’t think they know it all….

carsales – if it was easy, everyone would do it

The carsales story is a tale of many things coming together to create the business it is today.

One of those things is foresight; fundamental to building a successful dot com into an ASX Top100 company.

I have watched the business start and grow from near and at times little further away. Right at the very start my first business trip overseas was July 1997 to the US to review two new technology products with a view to make a recommendation on which path to take.

I was working with Reynolds & Reynolds Pty Ltd (R&R) and had just been giving the job of getting their E-Commerce business going.

Over the previous 3-4 years I had been designing and developing software to that utilizes the new DealerLink private network that would revolutionize the dealer management software services in Australia.

The software products I were to review were touch screen kiosks; a new technology showcased by a few vendors at the NADA convention earlier that year in San Francisco.

A dealer had seen the technology at NADA, immediately saw some benefit in helping his dealership and grabbed the CEO of R&R to show him.

The value he saw was the ability to have his inventory from all three locations available to be viewed at each location complete with photos. At the time, this was ground breaking.

The first place I had to visit was the Reynolds & Reynolds Inc head office in Dayton, Ohio. As they still had a small strategic stake in R&R and had a kiosk solution, it seemed prudent that we considered their software.

Their kiosk software was slick and worked well with the only downside being that each kiosk was standalone meaning the only way to update each kiosk was to load the inventory by disc each time.

The second stop was to Austin, Texas where Digital Motorworks Inc (DMi) had built the kiosk software our Australian dealer had been wowed by earlier in the year.

Whereas the Reynolds kiosk solution was standalone, the DMi solution utilized the Internet to update its inventory automatically.

Remember this was 1997; using the Internet to drive your business solution was somewhat new and deemed to be somewhat risky.

What this did was not only fed the kiosk solution, it also immediately enabled an internet strategy for the dealer – their inventory could be searched online within the dealer web site and it enabled individual dealer inventory to be aggregated together.

This was groundbreaking stuff back in 1997, especially in Australia and my mind was made up so I started preparing my recommendation paper.

The one hurdle was the cost of each – the DMi solution was over 4x the Reynolds solution up front and considerably more ongoing. I didn’t know how this would work as I put together my findings and recommendation.

Well on my return the decision ended up being clear cut – the Internet driven DMi solution, despite the relative cost, was chosen very quickly without too much debate – The leaders at R&R had bigger plans.

The last software piece I had developed before heading over to look at the kiosk software was the automated aggregation of dealer inventory direct form their dealer management system to a centralized database with a view to creating a wholesale vehicle sourcing system we called StockLink.

We used this software to populate the kiosk inventory database automatically and within months had kiosk systems running in each of the dealer’s three locations and searchable on the dealer’s new website.

Little did we know (or maybe we did) what this was the start of what would become carsales.

We thought touch screen kiosks would be a big hit, be in every dealership, shopping centers, airports, etc so people could find the car they were after, wherever they were at the touch of their fingertips.

Well the touch screen kiosks didn’t last but the Internet did, carsales was born through this technology and we are where we are today.

So, who had the greater foresight here?

Was it me for creating the software to automatically aggregate inventory and recommend the internet based solution? Hell no, I was merely following directions from my esteemed leaders at the time although I can take solace in that I didn’t hesitate in recommending the Internet based DMi solution.

Was it the car dealer who had the foresight to see the value of a networked solution? Yes he has to have some of the credit as he had a vision and whilst it ended up a little different to what was originally envisaged, he saw some value at the start.

Was it the leaders of R&R? Yes most definitely. They saw the vision of what this could bring to R&R, dealers and consumers.

It would have been much easier taking the Reynolds solution to fill a need. It was far cheaper and developed by trusted partners but it didn’t provide a platform for the future.

The fact that they took the harder, more expensive option was not the first time they would a similar road. They had the foresight to be brave in their business decision making.

If it was easy, everyone would do it. Amen.

Careers – Why did you leave?

9 January 1986 marked an important day for me – it was my first day of my working life after leaving school.

Just recently I “relived” my journey from that day and the decisions I made along the way; holidays are good for that (sometimes). More on these decisions further on.

It just happened to be exactly 31 years later on 9 January 2017 when I was sitting in a restaurant with friends including three 17 year old boys (including one of my own) while on holiday in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast when talk turned to what these kids were going to do in life.

With the three of them heading into their final year of high school this year, the discussion turned to how big a year it is for them, that they get a decent VCE score that will enable to have more choices in what they can do at university and/or in the work force, etc.

They asked me how my final year in high school was, what I studied at university, what my first job was and finally how did I get to where I am today.

Immediately I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t do my final year in high school and didn’t go to university (until much later anyway). Why? Simply for me, I believe the professional world has changed and finishing high school with an eye to further education is much more important for these kids; I didn’t want to give them an out.

I didn’t want them thinking “if you didn’t do it and have done ok then it can’t be that important”. So what did I do? I preceded to tell them the whole story – why I left school, why it was different then, what I did, what steps I took and what chances I took.

Did it help them? I hope so. Did it help me? Yep. I actually found it very therapeutic to trace back my steps from my last days in high school, exactly 31 years to the day.

Today with LinkedIn it’s pretty easy to get a quick overview of someone’s work experience path but what we don’t always see and appreciate is the decisions or reasons each takes in each “fork in the road”.

Here’s a quick snippet of some of my big decision points:

Leaving school
I didn’t mind school, my marks were good and wasn’t looking to leave after Year 11 but dad thought that since he left aft Year 11 and had done ok then maybe I should. A job as a trainee computer operator was up at a company a friend of his was at and he “strongly” encouraged me to apply.

I got the job at Idaps Australia and started 9 January 1986 when I was 17 years 42 days old. As a comparison, my son was 17 years 75 days old for the chat described earlier (my older boy was 20 years 44 days old on this day, has completed high school and two years at university).

I must point out that although I started as a trainee computer operator my interest level and/proficiency in computers and technology was very close to zero.

Leaving Idaps
Life as a trainee computer operator (on IBM mainframes) at Idaps was great – 3 weeks of shift work, 2×12 hour shifts every 4th weekend and then 7 days off, again every 4th week. It was during 1986 however, that I found myself at Richmond Football Club at about Round 9 playing in the U19s which then led to me being appointed Captain in 1987. Juggling shift work with U19’s football was ok but as I entered the Richmond senior pre-season I had to make a decision.

I left Idaps (or more to the point I left shift work) after nearly 2 years so I could train properly for football and during 1988 I undertook a Diploma in Computer Programming at the Control Data Institute. This was a 6 month “intensive” course which I finished in August 1988.

On 10 October 1988 I started life as a computer programmer with Reynolds & Reynolds under the tutelage of Greg Roebuck. I was still only 19 years 316 days of age.

Leaving Reynolds
I spent over 10 1/2 years at Reynolds helping to develop, support and grow the best Dealer Management System in Asia Pacific. I got to spearhead some of defining products for the company including parts priority orders which became the building block for us to build CLERA, real time automated parts ordering between dealers. The technology used here then led to real time automated vehicle uploading and not long after that, carsales.

This was around me turning 30 though (this was significant to me for whatever reason) and I was fighting with two lessons from my dad – 1) keep loyal and you will get looked after and 2) if you want get anywhere do it yourself.

It was at this time that a colleague probably saw that our skills matched to do something ourselves. He didn’t talk me into leaving but I highly doubt I would have left without his influence. During May 1999 we started Digital Motorworks in Australia (DMi as it was known) and left Reynolds.

Leaving DMi
Like Reynolds I learnt an enormous amount running DMi from startup. The first 4 years saw me looking primarily after the technology side but with high interaction in deal making. We were acquired by ADP and then my partner left the business meaning I was CEO from July 2003 through May 2009.

DMi grew top and bottom line healthily each year but investment was drying up and we were servicing primarily a legacy environment so I completed a Masters in Business Systems as “personal insurance”. During 2008 I started talking with Greg Roebuck about a range of opportunities at carsales including partnerships, JV’s, etc and finally he said “come and work for carsales”.

I started at carsales on 9 June 2009. Greg Roebuck has announced his retirement this week and Cam McIntyre steps into the chair. I’ve worked directly for Greg for over 18 years so it feels like the start of a new journey and I have lots of unfinished business with carsales under Cam.

In reality, the decisions I’ve had to make in relation to may career have been pretty straight forward compared to many. I’ve never jumped around for more money, there’s always been much more to it. I like it that way.

NB Please don’t associate this post as anything predicating me leaving carsales.

1 Massive Difference From The 90’s


Who’s more annoying for the product & technology team in a tech/online company like carsales.com – a member of the executive team who knows little to nothing about developing product or one that knows something about it (or thinks they do)?

I’m in the latter group of this question having started as a software developer at the end of 1988 moving into the 90’s. I look at changes we need to make and get impatient on delivery times. I can’t help it. I think back to when I was developing and if I had something in front of me that could make a difference in the product, we just seemed to make it happen, “from go to whoa“.

The software life cycle for me went like this as I would:
— Scope the product;
— Develop the product;
— Test it;
— Document (in the code and for users, sometimes);
— Deploy the product into the release cycle; and
— Then support it (when a software release was made available).
I was in total control. We had over a dozen developers all with the same life cycle for changes big and small. We would do a new software release containing hundreds of changes twice a year. The end product was used by hundreds of dealers and thousands of users around Australia.

There are quite a few differences from the 90’s to now in software development but the number 1 difference has to be plainly and simply 1 thing:

The Internet

The rate of change, always available and number of users make the processes of the 90’s obsolete. Like today, we had thousands of features as well as integrations and dependencies throughout many products but 3 things we didn’t have to factor in were:

1. Code being pushed live multiple times per day – the quarterly release schedule that regularly got pushed to half yearly is long gone

2. 99.9% plus availability for users – we always had windows where we could bring the system down for a number of hours to fix or upgrade something

3. Having a scalable and reliable system and code base to handle millions of users and millions of actions per second not to mention hosting in “the cloud” – this adds complexity and cost, especially for disaster recovery which has to be a staple

We all take the Internet for granted and the change it has had on our lives.

Oh for the good old days of software development….

Work was great today, I did nothing

I feel I’ve been lucky in my professional career in that I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done. I say lucky because not everyone enjoys their work.

It was always funny going to football training with guys from all walks of life to hear things like “work was great today, I did nothing” and “who wants to go out tonight, I’m taking a sickie tomorrow”. Gee I’m glad I never measured a successful day like that!
I was a software developer during my twenties and always differed from the majority of other developers I worked with in that I was usually the only footballer and I wasn’t into technology like the most of the others. I’m not into computers, games, newest technology, etc but I never had a problem getting to work on a Monday (well, there were a few Monday’s after Sunday football games that we a tad difficult).

In spite of not being a “tech head”, I really enjoyed being a software developer and in particular I loved two things:

1. Using software to solve commercial needs. I have always got a kick out of this above all else and still love providing solutions that provide value to business.

2. Creating something from scratch. I think it must be the way I’m wired as I loved developing something that would have my own stamp on it. I’m the same with houses. I’d much prefer to build than renovate.

I loved that as a developer I got a business need to improve, figure out how to improve it, build it, test it, implement it with the client and then support it.
In the 90’s as a developer you were responsible for practically the entire software development life cycle; I enjoyed it all except probably the documentation part. I liked documenting inside the code but this is where I was like any other developer – Why can’t the user just work it out?

Developing a product solution would become an obsession for me and it wasn’t uncommon for me to work through the night, rarely to meet a deadline but just because of these two loves.

My biggest problem with software development – Why don’t they all think like me?

At the end of the day we are all in control of enjoying our professions and I like seeing people enjoy what they do.