When fintech was done by mail

Senior system analysts Sue Nicholas and Karen Oakley have racked up eight decades of experience in bank technology. They have seen it all before.

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Decades ago, their colleagues were holding revolutionary stand-up meetings to speed up decision making. The only difference was, in those days, the meetings were done around the bright orange Café Bar.

"[Coding] cards would get sent to an agency, where they were fed into a computer and [that would] be your program. It was all very slow."
Karen Oakley, Senior system analyst, ANZ

Nicholas and Oakley spoke with BlueNotes special correspondent Victoria Kanevsky about tech trends, gender and solving problems.

VK: How did you come to join technology at a bank? And has it always been a more male environment?

SN: I joined ANZ in 1976 as part of a graduate intake. They took six IT grads and six bankers. They used to give the bankers an IQ test to see if they could be programmers!

They desperately needed programming staff; there weren’t many back in those days. IT was kind of a weird thing.

KO:  I started back in 1974. Technology was a very small area of the bank in 1974. I’m not sure how many of us there were exactly but there was one other female - so when I joined, I doubled that number.

You’d tell people you worked in computers and they’d look at you like you had two heads or you said you came from Mars. “What’s a computer?” they’d ask.

Only NASA and banks had computers in those days. No one really had a concept of what it was and what we did.

The world was very different back then. When we did coding we wrote the program on a coding sheet in pencil and we’d get that punched up onto cards. We had some people who would work on the cards but normally it would get sent to an agency, where the cards would be fed into the computer and [that would] be your program. It was all very slow.

No one had a terminal. There was a terminal room and we queued up for our chance to use the computer.

SN: When I was growing up, my father worked for the Herald Sun as a typesetter and he got sent to America to learn about computers. Looking back I think he was probably learning about word processing. He went for weeks.

All I knew was Dad got a trip to America to learn about computers - plus I really liked maths and I’d heard that if you’re good at maths, you’re good at computers.

So I put computer programming down as my first preference. I graduated and joined the bank 12 years later I went on a business trip to the US to learn more about one of the software packages the bank was thinking about purchasing.

KO: I still remember I was in Year 12 and trying to work out what I wanted to do after I left school, so I did an aptitude test to get an idea of the kinds of roles I’d be suited to.

One of them was computer programming. Even though I really didn’t know what it was, I knew I didn’t want to do teaching or nursing – which were main things females did in those days.

So I decided to try programming. It’s proven to be a challenging and interesting profession with lots of change along the way – there’s always something different. I really quite enjoy it.

When I was doing the course at university, there were three other girls - but that was a bit true of high school at the time in those days too. The higher you went; the fewer females there would be. It was a much more male-dominated society, not just in IT, but in everything.

SN: I have never felt hard done by or mistreated; it’s very much team work in technology. It’s more task focussed. How can we meet this challenge and get this job done?  You’re never bored, you always have something different.  

KO:  Back when I first started, you designed, coded and tested everything yourself. If something wasn’t working, you would speak up and try to fix the problem with your colleagues. A bit like with agile approach that we’re using today to move faster.

We did a lot of the agile techniques, things like stand-up meetings, 30 years ago. The main difference was it was less formal and we were usually holding stand up meetings around the coffee machine.

A lot of people in IT really enjoy problem solving and I think the idea of working together to solve problems is definitely something that other industries and teams can take from IT.  

Victoria Kanevsky is special correspondent at BlueNotes

PHOTO: What coding looked like in 1974 (Supplied).

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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