For the love of IT

For the love of IT

In the last six months, while writing profiles, it has not been totally unusual to discover the person in question hails from the UK, travelled to Australia during the 70s and fell into IT.

Whether or not this is just a bizarre coincidence, it is exactly what happened to Avnet Computer's Colin McKenna, who recounts that England was a depressing place in the mid 70s, with people focussing on the problems that existed rather than the opportunities.

So McKenna came to Australia to, as he put it, "have a look and see what the economy was like". He not only discovered he loved it, but it was a move which provided him with opportunities in other ways, enabling him to extend an interest in IT he had discovered while working in finance in the UK.

Initially McKenna worked in vendorland before becoming a channel player.

It's the creativity of it McKenna loves, describing all the possibilities IT can create for organisations. "Technology, properly applied, offloads a lot of routine and allows organisations to analyse and understand some of the fundamental aspects of their business," he asserts. "And that can be tremendously creative because you can look at trends - customer trends, marketing trends, profitability trends - so you can focus on the more productive side of the business."

McKenna says he's glad he made the move into IT. And, like others in the industry, he emphasises the importance continual self education has played in his career. "You never stop learning - new challenges, new ideas - it's quite invigorating." This is something he sees as crucial as it is ongoing: "It's all part of your job staying abreast of things."

Nor is this constant change and need to keep on top of emerging trends something he has ever found tiring or a chore. "I still have an intense interest in technology. I'm very interested in aspects of creating growing companies that are evolving technology." He says that at this stage of his career the interest is in looking at how to structure organisations to grow within the technology market place. This interest, he agrees, is a logical follow-on from the finance background he came from.

McKenna also admits to not being a complete "techie", focussing more on the business management aspects of the technology market place such as cashflows and balance sheets. But he says he does keep up with how technology is developing, keeping himself abreast of new trends such as Web technology, networking and VPN.

And the contact with information technology doesn't end at the office door. IT is more than just a job, it's a lifestyle to McKenna and he has a lot of friends in the industry who he socialises with. "Because you have common interests you tend to associate with them, not just for business but more for socialising. A large proportion of our friends are involved one way or another in the information technology industry."

Since the 70s, when McKenna first started working in the local IT industry, he has seen changes. "I think it has become harder - the technology is changing more rapidly - the pace of change is increasing. It's more rewarding, but it's a tougher environment." Rewarding because it's constantly interesting and very stimulating, tougher because the pace of change has increased.

"It's more important now to keep on top of all of the trends than it was 15 years ago. It was slower then, you could probably relax a little bit more, now you've got to be absolutely on top of it all the time. That's rewarding because it's fun, but it's demanding because it's damn hard work."

McKenna sees the momentum of change continuing this year, with trends particularly in customer relationship management (CRM) systems, Web enablement and an increasing move over the next couple of years to mobile commerce. "Despite the dot-com crash I'm very optimisitic that over the next two or three years . . . we will see a lot of growth and change."

As his career has progressed, McKenna has stayed involved in IT basically because he loves it. Asked by ARN to compare the environment for people entering IT today to when he started working in the industry in the 70s, he admits there are new challenges for people starting out now. "It's a much much broader area now," McKenna says. "When I started 20-odd years ago, you could enter as a generalist . . . now the sphere is so broad that it's more demanding for young people coming into the industry to determine what area of specialisation they want to get into." Broader choices create challenges in themselves for these people because, "as specialisation grows, it's important people make the right choices [in their careers] for the right reasons".

Photograph: Country Manager and VP Colin McKenna, Avnet Computer Marketing Group

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