Paradise found

Paradise found

Way back when programmers used punch cards, Joe Droguets founder of Agire Computer Network, discovered that he could make machines do what he wanted them to, and as he explained to Jeanne-Vida Douglas, began to do it in paradise. In the 60s, Joe Droguets' parents packed up their worldly goods and left a town just north of Barcelona with eight-year-old Joe in tow. Swapping chorizo for snags, they wound up in another small town south of Townsville by the name of Ayr.

Luckily for Joe, they happened on a little piece of paradise, and apart from some minor sojourns, he hasn't left North Queensland since.

"I've travelled around the world a few times, I've been back to visit my family in Spain but there isn't anywhere else I'd rather be. If I didn't like it I'd leave," Droguets said. "It is just really nice here, in between the beach and the rainforest."

In 1983, Droguets and his partner Ralph Dean founded a computer services company and called it Agire "because it sounds good". The name stuck and the company found a comfortable niche in the rural enterprise sector.

That's not to say that it was all smooth sailing. "People in Australia have become a lot more tolerant of other cultures. There wasn't any multiculturalism in the 60s, so things could be a bit tough at times," he said.

After secondary school, Droguets moved to Townsville to study teaching, but found himself instead recruited to the ranks of NCR's programmers and sent to Sydney to train.

"We used to go down to Sydney periodically and do courses in the latest developments. Computers were really company tools - I don't think anyone had any idea how quickly things would change."

Droguets discovered computing when computers were hulking great machines that relied on punch cards for input. While he admits that there was an element of excitement associated with working with the latest in technology, Droguets told ARN that he was attracted to computing by the sheer pleasure it gave him making things work.

"I was just interested in getting a machine to do what you want it to do. It felt really good."

It was during his time with NCR that Droguets met his future business partner, Ralph Dean.

By the early 80s, "back when floppy disks were sill floppy", PCs began to encroach on the enterprise space. NCR was finding operations in far North Queensland far too costly to maintain, and eventually pulled the plug, offering its employees jobs in other parts of Australia.

"The advent of small computers really changed things, PCs hit the market and the bigger computer companies lost their grip and had to recall their office staff. We were offered jobs elsewhere, but I didn't really want to move, and there was still a market here for computers."

Dean and Droguets took advantage of the hole left by NCR's departure and in 1983 Agire was born.

"Ralph and I decided to stay and start up our own business, because we had a lot of contacts in the field. We basically started working with the same companies, like sugar mills an other local industries," Drougnet said.

In 1994, Dean decided to leave Townsville to pursue a different career path, and Droguets bought out his share of the company.

According to Droguets, these days Townsville is a hive of IT channel activity, as an important centre for government services and a support base for industry in the region.

"Townsville has an awful lot of resellers considering the size of the city. The retail sector is especially competitive. All you have to do is look in the local Yellow Pages to see how many of us there are."

"Things really got going for the reseller retail channel once PCs hit because suddenly other small businesses wanted these things in their offices, and they wanted someone they trusted to sell it to them and look after their problems. If someone needed a computer they would go to the reseller on the corner, and they would get all the peripherals and services from the same guy," he added.

Despite this apparently healthy reseller community, however, Droguets has been observing changes which do not bode well for the smaller retailer.

"These days [buying a computer] is more like buying a fridge or a VCR. [Customers] go to the big retailers and pull something off the shelf," Droguets said.

Despite the threat that large retailers appear to pose to smaller retail resellers, Droguets believes that business will remain buoyant for a while longer though, as the last stragglers are brought into the IT age.

"Even really small companies are being forced to get some kind of computerised accounting package these days, so there is enough of a demand out there to keep business strong."

Droguets believes that, although the IT industry has changed significantly, the role of programmers is still essentially to make the machines do what they are supposed to.

"I used to spend all my time writing applications, but no one develops applications any more. People can buy what they need in a box. The sorts of skills you need to work in the IT industry change all the time because programmers need to do the work that they can't hardwire, or make generic applications for."

With his eldest son working for Xerox and two others finishing high school and university, Droguets is largely unconcerned that they follow in his footsteps.

"Agire isn't a family business in that sense. If they are interested in taking over that would be great, but I have always encouraged them to do their own thing," he said.

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