IT on the Apple Isle

Being born and raised in Tasmania has been no barrier to a long and fruitful career in the IT industry for Hobart-based ITPA vice-president, Karl Goetz.

These days, Karl Goetz is an integral part of a small technology services, business partnership in Hobart, but it was his long career in the trenches of IT that gave him the broad knowledge of hardware, operating systems and applications which is needed to do what he now does.

Through their company Medeopolis he now provides that same level of comfort to organisations as they use technology in their business processes and look for local partnering, development, hosting and administration support.

Over many years in the industry, including an extended stint in Adelaide, Karl has spent many hours working with enterprise systems. His experience covers Debian GNU/Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (including various derivatives of both), Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X/macOS, Android and smaller levels of exposure to networking platforms.

Community-minded progress

He has also worked as a volunteer with ITShare SA and other community groups providing him with life experience he wouldn’t otherwise have gained.

These included working alongside Work for the Dole members, and volunteers from other walks of life and cultures as well as helping low income earners and other NFPs. These experiences also introduced him to supporting community on a shoestring budget plus unusual computing platforms and operating systems like AIX and OpenVMS.

After the South Australian stint where he undertook a mixture of casual, freelance, and full-time positions, Karl moved back to Tasmania a touch over seven years ago where he currently lives with his partner and children in Hobart’s northern suburbs.

Self-employment suits Karl with his company currently primarily focused on hosting and development but there are plans to expand into the provision of other services that help clients leverage technology in an efficient, secure, and sustainable way.

“My past experience is called upon with pleasing frequency for what I do now,” he said. “Professionally I've worked with a variety of server hardware including that of Dell, HP, IBM, SGI, Sun Microsystems, plus the usual experience with desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and other corporate devices.

The local industry

Karl said the IT industry in Tasmania is not huge and due to its relative isolation and small population, there is not a lot of attention paid to the market by vendors and large service providers. This provides opportunities for smaller, locally-based operations.

“I haven’t seen a great deal of meaningful Government investment in technology and innovation,” he said. “I also don't see any significant improvement in service delivery and governance as the result of technology.

“Meanwhile, internet services are also generally poor, particularly since the current Federal Government reworked the original NBN design.

“It’s multi technology mix hasn’t been kind to homes and businesses in Tasmania looking to access high bandwidth services and dependence on Basslink has proven a single point of failure.

“As with other places, the inadequate NBN footprint has pushed some local providers to start being creative and offering wireless services at decent speeds, so people who run a business from home, for example, are able to upgrade to something usable.”

Karl also said that the quality of support for local customers from the mainland and overseas can be quite variable.

“I've seen four-hour hardware replacement SLA's take over 24 hours to be delivered to greater Hobart,” he said. “Presumably, that means they didn't have a spare anywhere in the state or didn't feel the business in question was worth driving the equipment to from wherever the replacement was located.

“Those of us who live and work here know that Tasmania is a very small market and that affects every aspect of the industry. When talking about employment opportunities, unfortunately, it always appears as though the number of people looking for jobs is substantially larger than the number of jobs on offer.

“There are still entrepreneurial opportunities, however, but the tyranny of distance and the small local market have a bite to them in terms of business growth.”

Away from work

On the personal interest side, Karl is a licensed Amateur radio operator and he plays roller hockey (on inline skates) several times a week for a team called the Turtles - a devotion he says has helped him gather “an impressive collection of wooden spoons”. Meanwhile, he also has a fascination with a range of technical and social issues.

“I'd love to have more opportunity to research things unrelated to technology, but I'm kept so busy at the moment I haven't been able to find time,” he said. “I would love to know more about things like whether the current tax brackets are sufficient, if changes to pet ownership rules would reduce the impact of cats on native fauna, or the effectiveness of current drug testing systems in sport.

“I am also interested Maemo Leste, a new OS for phones, the idea of electric cars (specifically making them), Australia’s National Energy Market and ways to improve Government policy so it will improve people’s lives.

“There is a lot to learn about. If only I had the time. I also am a strong believer in giving back to community. I have been fortunate to be born in this time in a wealthy country, so I have a lot of choices and opportunities. Volunteering for groups like ITPA and for ITShare help me give back in a tangible way.

“I have travelled to Papua New Guinea as a volunteer to do IT work in a regional hospital for several weeks and it was one of my most rewarding experiences ever. I can't think of anything I've done professionally which compares.”

Where it all began

Karl said he “kind of fell in to working in IT” after being interested in electronics in high school and completed a Certificate 3 in IT (Network stream) through the South Australian TAFE system.

Before and since then there have been a string of long and short contracts as well as full-time appointments including stints at innovators such as Rising Sun Pictures, Squiz Australia and Betfair Australia. He has also volunteered for various community organisations since 2005.

“I slowly moved from doing unpaid volunteering and being a devoted open source contributor onto occasional paid work and finally into working in full-time, paid support roles with open source contributions taking second fiddle. I have backed up my experiences with some formal training whenever I could.

“I've always found computers interesting but the first computer I remember us having at home was some pieces mum had been given to bring home for work on weekends when she needed to catch up on something.

“Our first system included a laptop missing its screen, a CRT monitor, unmatched mouse and keyboard plus I think there was an external CD drive.

“I remember being unable to install a game and deciding to delete some large looking files from C:\windows\ to make space. Early experiments like this meant we got to know our local computer guy quite well.”

The developers won

So much has changed in the time that Karl has been working in the industry. He said in the early days systems administrators held the upper hand over application managers but that has all changed.

“I’m only a little bit tongue-in-cheek when I say that the developers won,” he sighed. “There used to be a tension between the development team and sysadmins. Developers always desired more access, installing whatever programs they wanted and scattering custom software over the server.

“Meanwhile, the sysadmins wanted to maintain restrictions, keep an eye on security and tabs on custom changes. Now, with containers becoming ever more popular - even when they aren't useful - the need to maintain a server 'nicely' is seen as an unnecessary overhead because it is most likely to be redeployed anyway with the next upgrade.

“Broadly speaking, the rise of 'cloud computing' has also had a major influence on the way enterprise IT solutions are deployed and managed. It used to be known as ‘outsourcing’ and it has had a big impact on my career.

“I've had several jobs over the years which existed because of outsourcing but, at the same time, I have also lost work because of ‘the cloud’.”

The value of membership

Karl was a long-time member of the ITPA predecessor, SAGE-AU which he has always found useful to his career as the result of knowledge sharing and making professional contacts. He originally got involved when working on a temporary basis for someone he knew through Linux SA.

“I saw that he was complaining about the increase in Windows specific questions on the (then) SAGE-AU lists and the decrease in Unix related questions,” Karl said. “I could relate to that and decided that at least being a member of a professional organisation would be 'doing my bit'.

“It has subsequently transpired that my membership gave me access and insight to discussions I wouldn't previously have seen and included meeting people I wouldn't typically meet so has already given me many incidental benefits along the way.

“I can also claim the membership fees as a tax deduction and I think it is important to be a member just to do my bit for the community.”

“Now, under the ITPA banner, I think membership is more important than ever and to be counted so that even if I read none of the email and was just (as originally planned) joining to 'do my bit' I view the membership as a net win - financially break even for me and hopefully a win for the profession due to better representation.”

In 2015, it was just six years after joining SAGE-AU that Karl was elected to his first executive committee and he now operates as the Lead Sysadmin role for the ITPA as well as being the vice-president. An early adopter, he became the 44th Certified Practising Member (CPM) of ITPA in July 2017.

“I think it is really important for people who work in the industry to be a member of organisations such as ITPA, even if for no other reason than to be counted,” he said. “When lobbying politicians and trying to effect change, it is all about how many people you can say you represent which is why I am also a member of the Wireless Institute of Australia.

“Meanwhile, when trying to sway public opinion and create chatter online, you can help spread the good word by joining a relevant organisation and often, adding your voice to the collective is more important and powerful than standing up and saying something by yourself.”

The key is to keep learning

Karl was enthusiastic from the beginning for ITPA’s CPM program as he had recently done some courses which could be counted.

“I felt as a board member that I should lead by example and this was one I could participate in,” he said. “Just being involved has motivated me to keep the required number of points ticking over each year, so I am continually learning, expanding my knowledge and experience which means it has already paid off with me.

“I am confident that as ITPA continues to grow in both recognition and member numbers, the value and recognition of its CPM status will also improve. I highly recommend that associate members upgrade their ITPA membership to full financial status and then consider getting involved with the CPM program.

“If you are into application development, I’d recommend learning something about business so that you can seriously consider getting together with some friends and trying to build a product which fills a need.

“If you prefer the configuration, management, or security facets of the industry, then I would recommend you ensure that you know how to program and communicate as these are important components of those roles.”