Every Friday we’ll profile a prominent figure from Australia’s IT, telecommunications or video gaming industries in the Friday Five.
Donna Benjamin always wears more than one hat. She’s president of the Linux Users of Victoria, and self-employed at Creative Contingencies, a Melbourne-based business which helps with both events and technology services — especially using open source software. But she also has a strong background as a theatre director.
1. What was your first job ever?
Probably babysitting. But I did office support stuff for my Dad’s business, and a stint in retail selling women’s clothes. Not very exciting. But computing was a hobby and a passion since an Apple IIe showed up in Dad’s home office.
2. What do most like about working in the IT industry?
The variety. I run a small business, so I’m my own master as much as my own slave. But IT is always changing, and usually improving. It’s hard to keep up, but that just keeps things interesting. But for me, it’s also the community. Because Creative Contingencies is focused on open source solutions we’re also involved in the free and open source software community — which makes it possible for a small business like ours to do more, be more, and deliver more for our clients.
3. What’s your hobby?
Hmmm, a surprisingly tough question. I guess community participation counts as a hobby. Organising open source events. That’s where my volunteer time goes anyway. But as for pure leisure and downtime … food and travel are my fascinations … I would also like to say swimming and walking, but that hasn’t been true for 18 months or so. But I’d like to do more of that again.
4. Where do you think the Australian IT industry will be in five years?
I hope it lives up to its potential by embracing more open source software. I hope government recognises its role in developing our innovative local industry by removing the barriers that prevent small business providing world-class solutions backed by the power of the global open source community. I also hope more geek women stick with the industry, and the industry recognises the brilliance and diversity they bring with them when they stay.
We do have top talent here, but sometimes I think our IT culture has become too reliant on an ‘off the shelf’ consumer attitude. Where is the inventive spirit of innovation we’re famous for? You don’t get that buying shrink-wrapped boxes off shelves in stationery stores.
I see business information technology infrastructure more as a process than a product. Businesses that fully utilise their IT resources tend to acknowledge that it’s never finished and never perfect. It needs constant monitoring, maintenance and development, but it also means it can constantly adapt to meet the real ongoing needs of a dynamic business.
So I see a range of possible futures for the Australian IT industry. A range that is variously utopian and dystopian. The glass contains 50 percent of its capacity. Half full, or half empty, there’s huge potential ahead.
5. What/who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
Freedom. More than anything, it’s the sense of freedom that keeps me focussed on running a small business. Because being my own boss is ultimately about freedom. So I guess that also explains why I became so excited by and committed to free and open source software. I’ve grown up surrounded by a network of small business people, so I guess that seemed a natural pathway for me. I am inspired by the spirit of Gandhi, by the efforts of teachers and scientists, and by the unstoppable, insatiable curiosity of learners.
Image credit: Donna Benjamin