Roger Clarke's Web-Site

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd,  1995-2024
Photo of Roger Clarke

Roger Clarke's 'A Career Retrospective'

A Career Retrospective

First-Cut Emergent Draft of 13 May 2024

Notes quickly thrown together prior to an interview by ACS's Media and Communications Manager,
Paul Wallbank, as part of a series on ancient Fellows of the ACS

Roger Clarke **

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2024

Available under an AEShareNet Free
for Education licence or a Creative Commons 'Some
Rights Reserved' licence.

This document is at


1. Introduction

The intention in this document is to recapitulate one person's ICT-related experiences of over 50 years in information systems professional, consultancy and research work. The motivation is to provide some insight into the rapid rate of change in ICT, and its impacts and implications, and thereby warn about the need for all IS professionals to continually monitor technological developments, and review, refine and replace the assumptions they make in their applications of technology.

Some personal context is necessary to set the scene for the outlines of the technologies I was using in each period, 1967 to 2024. Inevitably, these personal aspects will intrude at least as much as they provide relevant background; so it will be necessary to prune some of that back once the first draft is complete. An Appendix is included, offering links to reviews I've published over the years on a wide range of information and communication technologies.

Before plunging into some detail, here's a very brief summary of my career:

2. Preparatory and Professional Life -- 1967-83 (First 17 Years)

I was born in Portsmouth, but brought out to Kingaroy at 18 months of age by my 10-quid-migrant parents. With my mothers' parents ailing, we returned to the UK 2 years later, and I did my first year of primary school back in Portsmouth. My father negotiated a second escape from a then-still-very-dismal UK, a second 10-quid passage, to provincial Bundaberg.

After matriculation in 1966 ('Wyndham Year' in NSW, when a year was added on to secondary school), the just-17-year-old me came down to Sydney from Bundaberg High School to take up a cadetship in ASX20 sugar company, CSR. I left after a year, to switch from part-time Chem Eng to part-time Commerce. I spent 2 years in 1968-69 in a company secretary's office in a financial institution in Sydney CBD. That was followed by 1-1/2 years in 1970-71 as an assistant accountant at Dow Chemical and then Angus & Robertson Book Publishers. That early experience exposed me to multiple systems, variously manual and accounting-machine supported, but very much data and information systems, in such areas as debenture (secured-loan) and treasury (cash flow) management, plus royalties, inventory and cost accounting sub-systems.

The first program I wrote was in a Maths I class at UNSW in mid-1967. At that stage, Fortran had no version-number, and we were required to use a (very poorly selected and structured) sub-set called Iitran. I'd been looking to get into systems analysis in a computing context, and joined the then industrial conglomerate Wormald in that role in mid-1971. I was given my chance by the Data Processing Manager, Neville Clissold, who'd done the PIT scheme some years earlier. The Programmer-in-Training (PIT) scheme was a federal government initiative that was necessary in the years prior to Colleges of Advanced Education and Universities developing computing and information systems courses. It ran mostly in Canberra and Melbourne, in Health, Defence, the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS, later ABS) and the Postmaster General's Department (PMG).

Wormald had a GE405, with 32K of 6-bit word memory and 5 tape-drives, punched-card reader and line-printer. (My first Mac, part of the second shipment in April 1984, was a great deal more powerful). The GE405 already ran a batch debtors system for over a dozen subsidiaries, and creditors for half-a-dozen. During my 2-1/2 years there, I developed several flavours of inventory systems for the Steelbilt filing cabinet factory, for the electronic security division, and piping and fittings asset management for the sprinkler division and for the Gladstone power station construction. The GE ran somewhat faster after the company paid a lot of money for a 'golden screwdriver' job to 'install' an additional 32K 6-bit words. It's amazing what can be done with 64K. It's also appalling to 1970s computing professionals how undisciplined and profligate coders have since become.

I also wrote a payroll system that handled weekly and fortnightly pays, including deductions, but intentionally leaving some of the more esoteric and small-scale corners (such as 'dirt money' for some categories of plumbing work) to be handled manually, and similarly leaving all HR aspects well alone. All of those systems were in COBOL (the USASI 68 version).

We also used Honeywell Time-Sharing services on ASR33 teletypes connected to servers placed strategically in disparate time-zones, in New York, Amsterdam and Tokyo, communicating at 110bps (or 0.0001Mbps, on the scale applicable in 2024). One application I recall was a quality-assurance routine to ensure that sprinkler piping designs delivered at least the minimum water pressure requirement to any target zone in the network. Those projects were done in Fortran II.

That was a hectic period for me, because I was still running a transport platoon in the then CMF (now Army Reserve), and when I retired from that in early 1972, aged 22, I did an Honours year full-time while doing 50-hour weeks finishing the design of a couple of systems, supervising a programmer, writing a lot of code myself, and running systems testing and implementation.

In late 1973, I joined a rather calmer data processing outfit, a container shipping company called ACTA, back in the Sydney CBD. This was my first experience designing for direct access to records on disk, rather than serial access to records on tape. My primary responsibility was a large inventory system for freight containers (20x8x8s and all the many other variants). It managed a long-lived, mobile and world-wide inventory of individual assets, rather than ephemeral stock quantities of commodities. (Later, during my consultancy career, I had further experience of highly varied categories of inventory. One was a system to support abbatoirs and meat-packing for export. It took an hour or two for the penny to drop that the bill of materials logic works in the opposite way to the conventional explosion of a desired finished good into the component parts needed to assemble it).

During the 2-1/2 years with ACTA, I did two other quite different projects. One was an evaluation of alternatives to support an online system in the company's container packing and unpacking depot, including the conceptual and logical design of the system. A Data General (DG) minicomputer won the contract. (By 1975 the dominance of mainframe architecture was under serious challenge, particularly for small- and mid-sized systems with a need for real-time or online services, rather than just batch-processing).

During that time, by that point aged 25, I also developed my first program-generator. The Honeywell 2000 at ACTA had only a limited language-set available, so I used COBOL to write a program to generate COBOL programs. COBOL lacked string-handling primitives, so I had to write a set of compiled-in copy routines (because subprograms were too inefficient on the H2000 configuration) in order to dismember and assemble text character-by-character. It worked quite well, although the payback only came a few years later when I applied it in a software house with a small team writing many programs very quickly, greatly reducing both coding and testing time, because all of the main processing had been pre-coded and pre-tested.

I also did a Masters thesis in the area of structured design and development in a COBOL environment, demonstrating that only a small number of limitations had to be placed on coders' freedoms in order to achieve cleanly-structured source-code that satisfied Edsger Dijkstra's specifications for structured, GOTO-less programming. COBOL had been previously regarded as inadequately-structured and verbose. Applying my two innovations of structured coding rules and parameter-driven program generation for all mainstream functions, even USASI-68 COBOL, and particularly ANSI-74, became a lean and mean development environment -- always provided that the project team were trained, disciplined and managed.

As was quite normal at the time, I also moonlighted for several clients, initially in conjunction with my boss at Wormalds, and later freelance. About the most interesting project was a contract with Reckitt & Colman, via a mate in their financial planning area. Financial modelling tools had long existed, primarily accessible via time-sharing services, but they were expensive and cumbersome. In 1974, I developed a forerunner of the Visicalc spreadsheet that burst on the scene in 1979 and drove the Apple II and was a spur for IBM to establish its PC Division.

My program was a tool for project cash flow / net present value calculations to support the evaluation of project proposals. On the basis of a set of inputs, a pre-compiled COBOL program printed a spreadsheet showing the project's financial implications. Given the 20-20 vision provided by the runaway succes of Visicalc, I should have invested a little more time in generalising the tool, and re-developing it in a more suitable language and in an interactive environment on a minicomputer such as a DEC PDP or DG. Micros were still only available in cut-down and mostly kit form, and without an OS or a development environment. (It was quite some years before I was aware of the Xerox Alto, manufactured on a small scale from March 1973. But it took another 8 years until the Xerox Star, 2 more to the Apple Lisa, and 1 more after that to the Apple Macintosh). The breakthrough Altair 8800 was released in the US only in January 1975. In innovation, timing is everything. Dan Bricklin is nearly 2 years younger than me, but a great deal richer.

From 1971 to 1976, I was active with the then Australian Institute of Systems Analysts (AISA), which had Sydney and Melbourne groups. I ran monthly events across Sydney for some years, across the wide range of analysis and design and project management techniques, extending into the software development domain and the hardware field. At this stage, the older 'system monitors' that performed limited housekeeping functions to enable application support to run were giving way to much more substantial systems software that has matured into what operating systems (OS) are today. Mainframe companies ran their own proprietary and monolithic beasts of operating systems, but from 1969 onwards, Unix had laid the foundations for smaller, much more cleanly structured and non-proprietary operating systems. But I didn't get to use such OS until 1979 onwards, on Kienzle, Prime and DEC VAX minis.

In mid-1974, I joined the Australian Computer Society (ACS), by then already qualified as a full (if still somewhat junior, 24yo) professional member. ACS had been established almost a decade earlier, through federation of pre-existing associations in many of the State capitals plus Canberra. It was large and active, with as many professional members as it has today, and already had nearly 100 Fellows. It ran events across the full gamut of what we still called 'the computer industry'. Marriage with tele-communications, and even with local communications much more sophisticated than large numbers of device-to-device cables, was still emergent.

Apart from involvement in the running of events and the very busy and poular annual conference at Terrigal, my main contribution to ACS during this period was to establish and run an ACS NSW Branch SIG on Privacy. I'd become involved in privacy issues in 1973, simply because other students in a unit at UNSW had prattled on about computers as though they were Armageddon personified. I took time in the class to debunk the nonsense they were talking; but there were a few points that I couldn't debunk, and they formed the kernel of a vast amount of work I've done, much of it in spare moments, for the more than 50 years since then.

The SIG's initial work was to document the real threats to the interests of individuals that computing and emergent data communications gave rise to, and distinguish them from the enormous range of imagined threats that doom-sayers were coming up with. Armed with that evidence, the next task was to provide input to the NSW Attorney-General, John Maddison, urging that his planned data protection legislation be suitably targeted, and no more harmful to the then-fledgling computer industry than was actually warranted by real threats. The result of the groundbreaking Morison Report of 1973, and lobbying efforts, resulted in a statute in 1975 that created a Committee with powers to research, investigate complaints, and publish guidance to business and government. So successful was the lobbying that it was to be another 13 years before any substantive regulation emerged (and even then it was only grudgingly enacted in the aftermath of the Australia Card fiasco).

In early 1976, having finished a Masters degree, and by then lecturing, always part-time, I was contemplating two possibilities. One was to enrol in a part-time PhD and write a thesis on 'Generalised Activity Networking Applied to Application Software Development Projects'. The other was to travel overseas, and work for a while in the UK first, then probably Germany (because I'd done pretty well with the language in 4 years of it at school). What actually happened was Option 2, but delayed by 18 months. One reason for the delay was to see what part of the world I'd need to be in to catch up with my fast-moving future wife. The other was that Bill Orme, the Executive Officer of the NSW Privacy Committee, talked me into lead-authoring one of the world's earliest 'Guidelines for the Operation of Personal Data Systems'.

In mid-1977, my now-wife and I spent 3 months crossing North America, landing in London at the end of summer. I took a contract with the London Stock Exchange (LSX) as a 'design controller'. The sub-text beneath that euphemism was that the designers of the front end of a vast new batch system had written a highly-ambiguous functional description. Coding and test-design was already commencing, a chaos of incompatible interpretations was about to ensue, and specifications for the front end modules had to be rapidly written, reviewed and negotiated, in flight, generating a new, comprehensive and clean design, but causing no more re-work down the production-chain than was absolutely necessary. Without the fairly substantial diversity of projects for which I'd done analysis, design, coding, testing and project management, I'd have been floundering. As it was, I just had to work hard, efficiently and long, and stay calm and focussed. People in 'The City' were good at the calm and focussed bit, but depended on Australians for the rest.

The system, called TALISMAN, was to perform overnight batch processing for all transactions conducted on the LSX that day, and be completed by 5am, to enable the next day's operations to start with a clean database. The first run on normal volumes of live data took 24 hours; but being in PL/1 and designed using Jackson methods, it only took a week to analysis the execution-profile, write a few components in Assembler, and fit easily within the 10-hour window each night. I had the foresight to leave at the end of 1978, a few months before it went live. But it went in without fuss. Without that, the 'Big Bang' event in 1986, the world-leading switchover from solely floor trading to solely online trading, could not have happened.

On 2 January 1979, I commenced a job not in Germany, but with Brodmann Software Systeme AG on the outskirts of Zürich -- an altogether much more attractive location in both geographic and financial terms. (The story of how I managed to get a rare-as-hen's-teeth work permit is worth relating, but not here). I joined a 30-person 'software house' / Softwarebetrieb, as we called them then. We produced bespoke software for clients, but the business was shifting the emphasis from custom-made software to packages, and from mainframes to minis, in the worlds of Prime/Primos, DEC VAX/VMS and Unix variants. Much of the work was on dumb or semi-intelligent terminals directly-connected to local servers. The applications were primarily online, but with some batch functions.

For 3-1/2 very enjoyable, if at times intense, years, I worked my German up to a level that I could emerge from the backroom and run projects again -- although many clients were uncomfortable in 'high German' / Schrifttüütsch, and I had to achieve some level of competence understanding the main half-dozen variants of the 'old German' Dialekts that are the mainstream across the more economically-developed 2/3rds of the country.

The primary language remained COBOL, but effective structured analysis, clear specifications, and efficient coding practices were essential elements of a successful software house. I refined my COBOL program-generator tool-set, and we used that on a number of projects. We specified, and had coded at a nearby educational institute, a clean editor, far more usable and convenient, and supporting better formatting of the main languages, than the mainstream products like vi, EMACS/Emacs, and their look-alikes under proprietary OS. A spin-off article from that work was published in the then Australian Computer Bulletin in February 1982. I was then asked to evalute a much larger-scale program-generation suite called DELTA, which was produced in the nearby town of Dübendorf, and then led the project to implement it for Peter Brodmann.

During this period, I also started publishing refereed journal articles on technical topics, including a summary of the work gleaned from my previous work, in 'A Background to Program-Generators for Commercial Applications'. More notable was one on 'Teleprocessing Monitors [TPMs] and Program Structure'. A TPM was a generic term for a fearfully obscure piece of systems software that each mainframe provider had to invent in order to enable its highly complex, monolithic and strongly batch-oriented OS to be used to support online transactions. My explanation of the functions a TPM performed, and, of necessity, also of the differences between batch and online program structures, won me the 1982 ANCCAC Prize for year's 'best' (most understandable or useful?) article in the then Australian Computer Journal.

In the 5 years since I'd left the NSW Privacy Committee in May 1977, I'd remained active in the privacy space, including meetings with the architect of the UK Act, Paul Sieghart. In particular, I remained in correspondence with Justice Michael Kirby throughout his time in 1978-1980 chairing the OECD Committee that produced the original OECD Guidelines. The drafts produced for the Committee by a Swedish consultant were greatly improved upon, resulting in a document agreeable-enough by a committee that had to appease strong US interest, and more than a little European interest, in protecting corporations' interests in free trade in personal data, but that delivered what could be described as 'adequate' data protection laws.

In mid-1982, we returned to Sydney from our 5-year 'working holiday' in Europe, I established a $2 company, and set about establishing a contracting and consultancy career. Initially, my focus was on software development and maintenance, with an emphasis on program-generators and '4th generation languages', including work for the Australian distributor of DELTA, Rob Charlton, a long-term colleague in ACS and on the soccer-field. I began running commercial seminars to project into the market some of the techniques I'd worked on over the years. Among other clients, I also worked on business development in the software-package space, with Col Hoschke at software house Wachers.

I'd maintained contact with the IS Department at UNSW, and Cyril Brookes invited me to take up a half-time Senior Lectureship for the 1983 calendar year. It was partly to develop case studies, one of which was of the world-leading enterprise data model of the UNSW Library. Other tasks included tutoring a COBOL development course, and designing and lecturing a 30-hour unit on the exploding world of large-scale networks. That was at a time when proprietary solutions such as IBM's SNA and DECNET were on the wane, and European ISO OSI's tightly-defined standards were vieing with the IETF's Internet Protocol Suite for intellectual and market dominance. In 2002-2009, fully 20 years later, it was interesting to reprise some of that, teaching a Masters seminar at Uni of Hong Kong on 'Internet Infrastructure for eCommerce'.

3. From Town to Gown -- 1984-1995 (Middle 11 Years)

1984 -- IS undergraduate service units within the Accounting major, an IS sub-major

Later Honours, and additional units at undergraduate and graduate level

1984 onwards -- ICT infrastructure -- Lisa, Mac, Mac Labs, networked Labs, accounting software, technology innovations in teaching (digital cameras, email, Internet email from 1990, Web from 1993, ...)

Managerial responsibilities at various levels, including 1-1/2 years as Head of Department

Ongoing consultancy activities, primarily on ICT strategy and policy matters

1985-87 -- Australia Card campaign, incl. ACS Policy Statements

strong record in research and publications across application software technology and its management; all facets of 'eCommerce'; information infrastructure, culture and pain-points; data privacy and dataveillance

1987 sabbatical at Uni Bern included running a Masters seminar in which students interfaced an IBM PC with a mid-range IBM System/6. This was at that stage a very new development and not yet feasible with mainframes -- 10 years after the Apple II, 7 years after the first IBM PC, and 3 years after Apple Macintosh

IS Academic Directory


AIS -- foundation Councillor

Program Committees for scores of international conferences, including over 30 years with the Bled eConference, Slovenia, 1991-2023


IFIP TC8 Conference Editor -- 1984

LAN Conferences 1985-87

Canberra Branch Committee Member 1985-90

Chair, national Economic, Legal and Social Implications Committee, 1985-95

Director, Community Affairs Board, 1989-92

Fellow (FACS), since 1986

APF 1987-

4. Going (Back) to Town -- 1995-20.. (Last 30+ Years)

consultancy in eCommerce, eBusiness, ePublishing, electronic service delivery. etc.

expert evidence in a series of leading cases

Victorian Data Protection Advisory Council -- Member, 1995-97

Australian Government Public Key Authority -- Board-Member, 1999-2000

AESharenet Limited -- Chair, 2000-2006

Visiting Professorships at ANU, since 1995 (in Computer Science), at University of Hong Kong, 2002-09 (in Engineering), at UNSW since 2003- (in Technology and Law)

Visiting Scholar at the European Business School, Rheingau, 2002-03 and at University of Koblenz-Landau 2007, 2013

Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre, UNSW Law, 2007-2012

Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW Law, 2018-2024

Fellow of the international Association for Information Systems (FAIS), since 2012

Supervision of multiple PhD students

APF throughout


EFA 2001-05

2010-2020 ? ISOC-AU

2019- ? ACS

Appendix: ICT History

In a variety of papers over an extended period, I've provided information about many aspects of information and communications technologies over various timeframes at at various points-in-time.




Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professorial Fellow associated with UNSW Law & Justice, and a Visiting Professor in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

xamaxsmall.gif missing
The content and infrastructure for these community service pages are provided by Roger Clarke through his consultancy company, Xamax.

From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 65 million in early 2021.

Sponsored by the Gallery, Bunhybee Grasslands, the extended Clarke Family, Knights of the Spatchcock and their drummer
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd
ACN: 002 360 456
78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 6916

Created: 12 May 2024 - Last Amended: 13 May 2024 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
This document is at
Mail to Webmaster   -    © Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1995-2022   -    Privacy Policy