Chris Cornish is not your typical teenager. While other young people are finishing high school and hanging out with friends, 16-year-old Cornish is the systems administrator for a national Internet service provider (ISP) and network integrator, Perth-based Corporate IT Centre.
Cornish said a career in technology was a natural progression for him because he has been around computers all his life.
"My father was at IBM for 20 years. According to him, I started playing with computers when I was two years old. I remember I was programming Pascal when I was seven. Computers have always been in the house."
Cornish dropped out of high school at the end of Year 9 because it was "boring", started Linux consulting on the side, and was headhunted for his job at Corporate IT eight months ago.
His role involves dealing with established customers, talking to new clients and defining their needs, and looking after the technical operations. He is currently working on a large natural voice server and IP/Internet network project.
Cornish said his employers are pushing him towards a management position, but he prefers the technical side of IT.
"I'm not too into the management stuff. I do it, but I don't particularly like it. It's boring. I'm more into the hands-on technical work. It's more fun to get your hands dirty.
"Ideally, I'd like to be sitting at Red Hat software labs in the US writing Linux code."
A past president of the Perth Linux Users Group, Cornish is a strong advocate of the merits of free software and declares he will never work in the "Microsoft world".
"I need to work for a company that's not going to hold me back and it would have to be in the free software spirit before I would consider working there," Cornish asserted. "I'm not a Microsoft person and I won't work for a company that tries to push me into the Microsoft world, because I don't want to be there."
The Perth Linux Users Group is a group of Linux consultants who advocate the use of Linux to the local community and give free assistance for Linux products.
"I like having the source code available in software. If something is broken, you don't have to wait for a big company to fix it, you can fix it yourself. If you need it to run a little bit differently, you can change it yourself. I don't believe in licensing fees."
Despite his zeal for Linux, Cornish still sees a place for Microsoft.
"I don't see Microsoft products being eliminated totally, but I do see their overbearing market share dropping slowly as Linux gets more features. Linux isn't everyone's cup of tea. I don't see it taking over the desktop because it's a horrible, ugly beast like most Unixes is. But it does have its purposes in the servers and back office."
Corporate IT Centre was founded in Perth in mid-1999 as a joint project between a software developer, a hardware supplier and a business-oriented backer. The company employs four people in its main office and a fifth person in a mobile training office.
Cornish said the main focus of the company is network integration and building ISPs for clients, but the firm also runs its own ISP with 150-200 subscribers.
The short-term future is likely to see Corporate IT Centre become a more predominant Linux provider and move into the application service provider (ASP) space with its in-house accounting package CMA. (The ASP model involves leasing software over a secure Internet line, rather than selling it on disk or CD.)According to Cornish, the company differentiates itself by providing a high level of customer service to all clients, regardless of how much they spend.
"You have to look after the little guys because they're your bread and butter," Cornish said.
The best part of the job for Cornish is the level of freedom and responsibility, and seeing results.
"I don't really dislike any part of my job. I like the freedom to work the hours that I want, as long as I get the job done.
"I like having input into the way the company is going. I like being able to run the systems the way I want to run them. I like the satisfaction of building something and seeing it work."
Cornish lives at home with his parents and three younger siblings, who have been very supportive of his decisions, but he is currently looking for a place of his own.
"My family has been really good about it all. Dad's been cool. My brothers and sisters aren't really into this sort of stuff. I'm still living at home but only for a couple more weeks. I'm apartment hunting at the moment, for somewhere closer to work. I'll live by myself."
Cornish said he doesn't really relate to people his own age, but he does have an active social life.
"I go to nightclubs and pubs and that sort of thing. I don't have friends my own age. Most of my friends are around the 20-25 mark. I don't mean to sound big-headed but I don't think on the same level as most 16-year-olds."
Despite having no formal training, Cornish has given two lectures on Linux and free software at the University of Western Australia.
"I don't agree with formal training, because it's all theory and means nothing in the end. People without training do a better job, because if you've trained in a particular product, you tend to have a bias to that particular product, whether it's the best or not."
So far he has no regrets about dropping out of school.
"There was absolutely nothing to interest me there. It's more fun being locked up with a PC figuring out programming and routers - much more interesting than high school."