Andrew's life story

(Well bits of it anyway)

Hi, my name is Andrew Pollock, I'm currently 40 years old, residing in Canberra and studying full-time at the Australian National University. I was born and lived in Brisbane until March 2000, when I moved to Canberra to work on a project with Asia Online. I was aiming to return to Brisbane by Christmas 2001, and I ended up meeting that goal, returning to Brisbane on the 29th of November 2001.

The main reason for returning to Brisbane was to work for a friend of mine, and that didn't work out to my satisfaction, nor did Brisbane, so I returned to Canberra over Easter of 2002.

I first started out my working life (at the end of 1994) working for the Brisbane City Council as a mainframe operator. I was working on IBM and Unisys mainframes, along with some more antiquated DEC VAX and ancient (System III) Unix boxen. I was also studying part-time at the Queensland University of Technology for a Bachelor of Information Technology.

Whilst working at the Council, I met a bloke by the name of Brent Paddon. He was a contractor in the networking area of the then Information Services Branch that I worked in. He'd just started up an ISP in his garage called Brisbane Internet Technology (BIT). One day he poked his head into the console room in the computer room and asked if anyone was interested in getting on the Internet. At this stage, my only exposure to the 'Net was via the labs at Uni. I thought to myself "what the heck", and bought a modem off him and signed up.

At Uni, I'd first discovered Unix, and rejoiced in the flexibility of the command line and the associated utilities and started to apply my newfound knowledge to easier managing the plot queues on a feral System III plot server at work. After signing up with BIT, I discovered that they offered a shell account on one of their two servers. I immediately spent many hours while on the 'Net telnetted into their server tinkering around with shell scripts under this Unix-like operating system called Linux.

It became apparent that Brent was a busy man, and with me bugging him at work all the time asking him questions about the Internet, we became friends. I had a different skillset to Brent, he was more of a basic sysadmin, I was more programming oriented, and so we had some complimentary skills. I'd started to make my own home page, and wanted a hit counter. Between the two of us, we got a very old version of Muhammad A Muquit's wwwcount hit counter compiled and running.

Not long after that, with Brent being busy trying to work, and run a growing startup ISP, he entrusted me with the root password, and I started doing some administration of the ISP's public FTP site for him, as a contra deal for free Internet access. At this point, Uni started to suffer pretty badly.

I also had this desire to get my head around how web forms worked. I spent hours reading docs on the NCSA website, because at the time Apache hadn't been born yet I don't think, or it wasn't popular, so we were still running NCSA. I wanted to make a web interface for customers to change their password, because there was basically nothing yet for customer self-service, and I was big on empowering the customer (still am).

For better or for worse, BIT had a bit of a messy technical setup from the word go. Call it organic growth. There were two servers, atlas and orion. Atlas was the mail server and that's where customers could have a shell account, and orion was the "terminal server", another Linux box with some Stallion multi-port serial cards in it and a bunch of modems. In it's hey-day I think orion had around 80 modems hanging off it.

Anyway, we weren't running NIS or anything like that, so there was absolutely no correlation between the password file on orion and the password file on atlas. So, we always had this concept of an "email password" and a "dialup password" and the fact that they were in sync was only because when an account was first created, they were, and it was pretty hard for the average non-Unix minded customer to change their password at all.

My first attempt at CGI was to make a page that allowed customers to change their passwords. I didn't know any programming languages, I'd only dabbled with shell scripting at Uni, in the Korn shell, so that was what I started playing with. Korn shell was not available on atlas, but there was this thing called Z Shell, which from reading the man page, sounded better anyway, so I started my CGI programming life writing a password changing webpage in zsh. Sad, but true.

At some point further down the track, I taught myself Perl, because everyone kept raving on about how it was so good for writing CGI scripts. I started out with the cgi-lib.pl library, and then moved onto the CGI.pm module. I still use it today, however, I've never used it in a way that I would consider properly.

Time went by, BIT grew, and it was time to move out of Brent's garage. It moved into a bit of subleased office space (resembling a roomy cupboard when I look at it these days) in the K Tower, in Fortitude Valley. A few months later, I was offered a job there. No promises. Same pay as the Council. My parents thought I had rocks in my head. My co-workers thought it was risky. I was wrapped.

I started in August of 1996. I was working with Brett Caird, one of the other founders of the company, and was basically the jack of all trades. I answered the phone, dealt with sales enquiries, technical support, helped manage the servers, redesigned the company's website, tinkered, and developed new stuff. I worked absolutely insane hours. My Uni suffered even more.

Brent quit his day job, we all beavered away in the closet of an office. I stuck with the technical stuff, Brent did a bit of whatever took his fancy (technical sales type stuff) and Brett looked after the financial side of things and did the billing.

Brent and I both lived about 30 minutes drive from the office, and at some point we got really jack of driving in at all odd hours of the day and night (particularly the night) to reset servers (mainly orion) when they crashed. It meant 30 minutes in, 10 to change the server's nappy, and another thirty minutes in the car before you were back in bed. At 2am, this wasn't all that appealing. We got sufficiently sick of this one day, and decided to move in together, along with a long-time friend of Brent's (who turned out to be gay, not that there's anything wrong with that) at Toowong, a modest 5-10 minutes from the office at 2 o'clock in the morning.

BIT was founded by three guys. I think they knew each other from Uni. Brent Paddon and Brett Caird, as I've already mentioned, and David Ferguson. David was a friend of Brett's. David had a day job, a well-paying job at the Queensland Police Service as an IT guy (he wasn't a cop, a public servant). There was always a bone of contention between Brent and David about the input that David put into the company. He wasn't prepared to take a paycut and come work fulltime for the company, and he didn't really put a lot outside of his work hours either.

He'd decided that he was going to go contracting in the UK, and Brent had problems with him retaining ownership (the same level as himself and Brett) and made him sell 7 of his 10 shares. They were offered to me, I jumped at it and bought in and became a Director. My parents thought I was totally crazy, my ex-colleagues at the Council thought it was very risky indeed. I didn't care. As one of my long-time friends said to me "You've just bought yourself a job". Very true.

We hired our first employee (other than me) to take some of the administration load of Brett, and allowed him to do more "managementy" type things and work on the company financials, and budgets and general company direction.

The company continued to grow. We moved office, from the cupboard on level 4, to a more spacious 'L' shaped suite on the 7th floor. Outgrew that, bashed a hole in the wall and took the other part of the 'L' that we didn't initially have. We had hired a "marketing person", a "support person" (a longtime friend off IRC, Jacob King (aka Hunter)) and a receptionist.

We leapt into the digital era. We bought a Bay Networks 5399 Remote Access Concentrator. I added "RAS specialist" to my list of things to do. I had to wrap my head around RADIUS, and try and integrate a legacy analog Linux terminal server with our new digital terminal server (it was a long time before we completely decommissioned orion).

We outgrew the space on level 7 and moved again, to the 13th floor taking quite a large suite, and making a semi-decent computer room (raised floor and all) into the bargain. We hired some more staff. Now had a "web department" and offered better webdev services than the crap that I used to dish up (and still dish up today, except now it's amateur and allowed to be crap).

We poached (actually, I think he approached us) a Ben Cornish from another smaller ISP, and he turned out to be a really good find. He and I became good friends over time, and he introduced me to Rovers.

Not long after this, I decided that living and working with someone 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 18 months really wasn't all that healthy, and decided it was time to move out on my own. Rovers was really great during this time, as it opened up my circle of friends, and it's effectively where I met my current girlfriend (she was also a friend of Ben's). Being in Rovers was also very beneficial to us socially when we moved to Canberra, and I've been lot more active down here than I was in Brisbane.

Not that long before I moved out, we'd been approached by Asia Online, they were interested in acquiring Brisbane Internet Technology. At this stage, we'd grown to be on about an equal footing with two other ISPs (The Hub, now acquired by Pacific Internet, and Logicworld, still independent) as largest independent ISP in Brisbane. Prior to this, Powerup were huge (having been around for 10 years), but they were acquired by Ozemail.

We decided that selling to Asia Online would be a Good ThingTM, as they were offering around about what we wanted to sell at, and were aiming at the corporate customer (where we deemed there was more money to be made) whereas Pacific Internet (who were also on the acquisition bandwagon at the time) were more interested in the home dialup market.

I think it was October 7 when we effectively signed on the dotted line (we signed a hell of a lot of paperwork in the three months prior) and sold Brisbane Internet Technology to Asia Online. David and I sold out completely, and Brent and Brett sold 50% of their shares and retained 50%. Asia Online was intending to IPO on the NASDAQ and they would do a share swap for shares in Asia Online before the IPO. I too had this choice, but chose not to, solely due to the level of complexity that the transaction was starting to take on. It turned out to be a good choice in the end.

So life continued to go on, Asia Online had acquired an operating company (OpCo) in Brisbane, two in Sydney, one in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and New Zealand. With much fanfare they made press releases and general noise about it all. It was business as usual for the rest of the year. In December I think, I was a paid a visit by a Rowan Smith, who had originated with the New Zealand OpCo. He was doing some reconnaissance on each of the OpCos for the upcoming rollout of a new billing system, and in the shorter term, to evaluate the feasibility of implementing on-network roaming between the various OpCos.

Apparently, I was the only one in all the OpCo's that showed any interest in what was going on, and had any useful skills for the project, so I got nabbed to help Rowan with the roaming project. In the last days of 1999, I was flown to Auckland to meet with Rowan again and spend three days hammering out a roaming solution.

Knowledge-wise, the trip was fantastic. I received a crash course in Solaris 7 installation and administration, and was introduced to the beginnings of Portal's Infranet product. I also found out all about a very cool RADIUS server called Radiator. That's what we ended up hinging our entire quick-and-dirty (but hey, it worked) on-network roaming solution around.

Back at the office in Brisbane after Y2K came and went (big non-event that it was) Brett said to me, "they've asked if they can have you full-time on this ABC project thing". He went on to say that like it or not, they'd probably be calling on me more and more in the time to come, so I agreed to jump on the bandwagon. Next thing I knew, I was down in Canberra, living out of an apartment hotel, trying to get my head around exactly what the hell we were trying to achieve.

The boss man (John Hendry, top bloke) said to me one day as we were making a run to Hungry Jack's for lunch "I envisage needing you in Canberra for at least six months". No problem, I said, I'll move down here. That was me interpreting "at least six months" as "six months". If all goes to plan and I bail out by the end of the year, it'll be more like twenty months. Oh well, it hasn't been that bad...

So in March, I flew back to Brisbane and packed up everything and Gail and I drove down to Canberra. The trip itself was fun.

Of course, I've completely missed the month of February here, and that was an eventful month. We all got whisked over to Hong Kong, where Phase I of the billing system that we were implementing Phase II of, had been, well, a complete disaster. I spent a month being chucked in the deep end, learning exactly what Portal Infranet was, what was wrong with it, and applying a LOT of band-aids. Other than that, the trip to Hong Kong was awesome. Nice place to visit, hate to live there though...

So then I spent the next 20 odd months working (very hard, heck, at times the hardest I've ever worked) in Canberra, developing, rolling out, migrating and then supporting the behemoth billing system that we'd created.

The company had a rough ride all through 2001, after the tech stock crash of 2000, the cancelled IPO it had planned etc. The company's president and CEO was removed in what was rumoured to have been a bloody boardroom meeting. The 2IC got promoted, and then the company direction changed somewhat. A lot of staff got made redundant a few months later, and that basically started the whole redundancy trend. A lot of friends from the BIT days got made redundant from the Brisbane office.

After several rounds of local management changes, I finally got the shits with direct ex-Telstra manager in September and rather directly told him where he could shove my job. I also broke up with my girlfriend of some 2.5 years. It was all happening... I was intending to take a job at iSecure, which had been owned by John Hendry and some other ex-Canberra Asia Online identities.

At the eleventh hour, David Sing, a friend from Brisbane rang me up offering me a job with his company, Sing Technologies, in Brisbane. I was in a serious quandry over what to do. Should I take the job at iSecure and stay in Canberra for another year or so, or should I take the job in Brisbane and stick with (or rather go back to) the original game plan of returning to Brisbane by Christmas 2001?

It was a very tough decision, but in the end I decided to return to Brisbane, and so on the 30th of November 2001, I started at Sing Technologies.