“I created up the University’s first website in 1995 on a computer I dragged out of a skip…”

– (Interviewer) So, I’m here with Gareth. Gareth, how did you get your
first ever job in technology? – Oh, uh, okay, so I was a
geek and when I was a kid, I had an Acorn Electron,
they’d just come out and I was, I guess, 13 or
something when they came out. So, like all of the other
kids my age were getting our hands on these
programmable 8-bit machines. And they’re wonderful,
because here’s this toy that you could feel the
potential of, but nobody else, none of the grownups,
knew anything about it, wouldn’t have said anything about it. So there was this little sort of covert, secret knowledge that we all had. Uh, then went off to uni
and carried on being geeky, so a couple of saved up some
money, summer job money, and bought an old 386 PC
and sort of, with DOS, didn’t even have Windows on it, tinkering around with
that. When I graduated- – (Interviewer) You used
to doing something geeky? – Uh, I was doing chemical engineering. In chemical engineering,
there was like one or two little tiny computer projects in it, at that point, but it
was kind of programming for trying on the main frame. It wasn’t doing the kind of
IT in chemical engineering that you would do now. Um, so it was numeric and
it was scientific and it was engineering, but it wasn’t tacky. Um, so I graduate for a
variety of different reasons. Um, I’m in Cambridge and want
to hang around in Cambridge for another year, so I
went back to my old college and got an interim job
helping them run undergraduate admissions in my old college. And, so that was quite
interesting, quite good fun and lined up with the stack of stuff that I was interested in, like helping state schools
apply to Cambridge, which wasn’t a very common,
popular thing 30 years ago. Um, and at that time, the
internet was just being rolled out to all the colleges in
Cambridge and none of them had any IT staff. So I said, “Well, I’ve kind of “tinkered around with some computers. “I can plug in a network card, “I can configure an IP address. “You know, I can do some of this stuff.” So I did a little bit of that and then the other thing that I thought, so this was about 95, 96,
the other thing I thought was this internet thing, this,
you know, is probably gonna to be a thing, so we’ll see if we can set up a website. So I went to the first
of the college and said, “Can I have some money to buy a computer “to run this website on?” And she said, “No, no,
we haven’t got any money. “That thing’s never, you
know, that thing’s never “gonna be important, it’s
just geeks tinkering around.” So I recovered a 486 PC from a skip and I begged the burser for 30 quid, for another two megabites worth of memory to put in this thing. And I got Linux on 12,
14, 3.5 inch floppy disks that I got from this computer room in the middle of Cambridge. Walked across Cambridge
with these floppy disks, fed them into this computer one by one, – (Interviewer) Sorry,
note here, note here. What sort of Linux
would’ve been in that era? – That would have been Slackware, I think. Slackware distribution,
I think it was the only, I think you either just
took everything from source and compiled it. Was that even a thing? I’m not sure that would be even a thing – [Interviewer} It would
have been MCC Interim. – Yeah, yes, yep yep yep, absolutely. And, um, and you had to
recompile the kernel. There’s not much of the kernel, it’s just a preversion, a 1.0 kernel, and basically, cause these
tiny memory footprints, you had to recompile the kernel, to strip out everything that
you didn’t want in there, because otherwise Linux,
the core operating system, was gonna get too big. And, like, recompiling the kernel, this was like, very
complicated set of steps that you have to go through
and then press the button and then go, come back
an hour and a half later, when this thing would then start. So anyway, it’s that kind of era, right, you know, it’s like naked machines on top of a filing cabinet, running software that
nobody had really heard of doing a thing, a web server,
that nobody really understood. So, I’m kind of tinkering
around and playing, we got a logitech, I think it was, parallel, port-based, I don’t even think they
were called web cams at that point, because they
weren’t cameras, right? It was just a camera, it was a camera that plugged into a parallel port and then they found these
Alpha Drivers for this. So we actually set up a web cam pointing out of the window of my office into this courtyard at
this Cambridge College And doing a thing, which
again, for the select few that knew about it, you
know, it was amazing. You were getting these
students from Hong Kong setting up outside my office
and waving at this thing cause the novelty of being
live on the internet, at that point, that was pretty cool. So, anyway, fast forward a little bit. The college just goes, well, we better recruit some
proper, qualified IT staf. So, I recruited this guy
called John, who’s one of my best mates still, and so
he started working there and got on very well with
him, understood his job. And then I realized, he
knows about as much as I do, but I’m being paid literally
half of what he’s being paid. Ah, there’s something
not quite right here. So, I’m like, resolved
to do something about it, realize this is the wild
west of the internet. No qualifications, no
certification, no anything. You could get a job if
you could demonstrate which end of the cable to plug in. I’d better go and try to get a job in IT. So, I got a job at another
Cambridge College for IT, running their IT, and
that is the start of it. – (Interviewer) Wow,
that’s an incredible story. So you set up your college’s
first websites ever? – Yep, yep. I think there were about, so there’s 31 colleges in Cambridge. I think there were about
five or six colleges had, prior to that point, set
up their own websites. I think like Kings were really early, St. John’s were really early, Keys were really early, Churchill. But, you know, not that many beyond there and so, it’s like, oh,
okay this is a thing. I think this is gonna catch
on, I thought to myself. What I’d failed to do was buy shares in the relevant
companies at that point. So, you know. – (Interviewer) Wow,
what an incredible story! Thank you for sharing it with me. – It’s my pleasure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *