Ask any little boy what he wants to do when grows up and the odds are he will want to be a fighter pilot. Tearing through the stratosphere in a big hunk of metal and blowing things up holds an innate fascination for most male ankle biters. Starting out his career as a flight engineer and building some of the earliest computerised flight simulators, Alex Evans managing director of software development company Microknox, achieved the next best thing.
"The last program I developed was a flight simulator for an F16 jet plane," Evans said. "It was very exciting. But after spending 11 years in the airforce, I started to notice a new toy on the block - some of the earliest computers."
Evans began looking for opportunities in the emerging technologies and soon found himself programming on a Wang terminal. Like many of his generation, Evans cut his teeth on super dense code.
"Today we are very wasteful with our programming," Evans said. "Then we had to make the programs very efficient. Everything had to fit in to 8KB of ram."
In 1983, Evans arrived in Melbourne and discovered what he still describes as a garden rather than a city. Despite some cultural concerns, he decided to stay.
"I'd never been into a pub before, so when I first walked into a darkened room lined with men facing the wall I wasn't quite sure what was going on," Evans said.
By 1987, after a stint in Broken Hill with CRA, Evans found himself working for the ANZ Bank. As a supplement to his day job he began to write programs for friends and acquaintances and established a business almost by default.
"I only registered the business because people were asking me to write programs for them and when it came time to make them an invoice I couldn't," he said.
Eventually the part-time business outgrew his day job and in 1991 Evans resigned from his position with the bank and went into business full time.
"My wife also joined me in the business and we grew steadily throughout the 90s," Evans said.
According to Evans much of the early work done by his company, Microknox, was based around software localisation, enabling software created on foreign shores to be accessed by Australian companies.
"There is more to translating the text messages and changing the pop-up screens," Evans said. "You often have to get right inside the code to make it applicable to a different market."
Although he had enough work in the realm of company-specific applications development, Evans recognised opportunities in the creation of vertical market software applications.
"There is not much profit if you make something once and sell it once," Evans said. "On the other hand, if you develop a more generic application that assists operators to run, say, an art gallery, suddenly you can go on and sell the solution to a series of different customers."
It was not long before Microknox was using its experience and contacts to create opportunities in foreign markets.
"We broke into international markets in September 1997 with the sale of our first package. We started off in Singapore, then we went into Malaysia and then into New Zealand," Evans said. "We have been involved in developing these vertical markets, that is where the money is."
Now boasting a staff of 16, and recognition as a rising star of the Australian IT industry through a recent mention in Deloitte's Technology Fast 50 list, Microknox is proving that Australia is able to produce home-grown solutions to commercial IT needs.
"The Deloitte listing was quite a compliment and gave the business a real boost," says Evans. "For the time being, I am not planning to go anywhere. I enjoy running this business, but then again everything has a price."
Evans' flight path
- Evans starts out his career as a flight engineer for the Australian Airforce, building some of the earliest computerised flight simulators.
- By 1987, Evans works part time writing programs for friends and acquaintances and his business begins to take shape.
- 1991, Evans resigns from his day job at ANZ Bank and begins working on his business full-time.
- Evan's company grows steadily throughout the 90s, focusing primarily on company-specific applications development.
- Evans focuses on developing vertical market software applications and in 1997, Microknox breaks into the international markets, including Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.
- Microknox is recently mentioned on Deloitte's Technology Fast 50 list.