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Since 2020, the rapid change in how we learn, work, communicate, and socialise was relatively quick and, for the most part, painless. Employees were given laptops to work on, companies introduced Zoom to hold meetings, and Grandma was given an iPad to Facetime with the family.
However, only a few decades ago, a smooth and quick transition for most people to working from home would have been unthinkable.
With no ability to host Zoom meetings, no straightforward way to work on projects with multiple people simultaneously, and some of the slowest internet connections you can imagine, life could have been a lot worse.
Professor Peter Eklund is Associate Head of School at Deakin’s School of Information Technology and he explains how integrated our lives have become with technology, where it all started, and what the Australian landscape looks like.
With most households now owning smartphones, smart TVs, iPads, laptops, and home assistants like Google Nest, and Amazon Echo, it can feel as if technology has come to dominate every aspect of our lives.
COVID-19 has pushed this integration even further as people were forced to start working from home for the first time in their lives. Suddenly, video conferences and presentations over Zoom instead of face-to-face meetings became the norm. Online workspaces and communication tools such as Google Workspace, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Monday were being widely used by companies which had never considered cloud solutions prior to the pandemic.
‘There has been nothing good about the pandemic, however, with the current state of technology, we had the ability to transition to working from home and keep the economy ticking,’ says Prof. Eklund.
‘It’s estimated that Australia went through around five years of digital evolution in the first four months of the pandemic.’
This transition isn’t just for workers, Prof. Eklund points out. Everything from an at-home custom baked goods start-up to the world’s biggest corporations have all gone digital.
‘There is no successful business that doesn’t have a digital online presence,’ he says.
‘This would have been unheard of 10 to 15 years ago when everything was still about the in-store or in-person experience. In 2021, the focus must be digital first.’
'It’s estimated that Australia went through around five years of digital evolution in the first four months of the pandemic.'
Professor Peter Eklund,
School of Information Technology
Although computers and similar technology had been already been around for decades prior, it wasn’t until 1977 that digital tech started entering the home at a relatively affordable price (about $5389 in today’s money) with the Apple II.
Professor Peter Eklund remembers the early days of Personal Computers (PCs).
‘Initially, PCs were considered to be a kind of a toy due to their terrible limitations in terms of their memory and lack of hard drives,’ says Prof. Eklund.
‘When I started working in data centres, I was using the IBM System 370, which would have cost in the millions of dollars and needed a dedicated room to house the machine. When people thought of a real computer, that’s what came to mind.’
However, it wasn’t long before the personal computer started to be taken more seriously and became easier to use with consumer-friendly interfaces and operating systems.
‘Windows 95 was a real turning point in terms of accessibility,’ Prof. Eklund recalls.
‘People could use a computer without needing to know how to talk to the computer on a command line. All a person needed to do was point and click.’
The tech sector in Australia currently has a couple extremely successful companies in its ranks. Canva, an online graphic design platform that was founded in Perth in 2013, was recently valued at US$40 billion, which had ballooned from its previous valuation one year prior at US$6 billion.
Another example of Australian success is software giant Atlassian, which was recently valued at US$101 billion. Starting in 2002 in Sydney, Atlassian has grown to be one of the biggest software companies in the world and in 2015 stepped onto the US stock exchange, NASDAQ.
Unfortunately, right now, these Australian success stories in the tech world are far and few between.
‘These ultra-successful companies are unicorns,’ Prof. Eklund says.
‘Our footprint in the industry is really quite small compared to the size of the country that we are. A lot of the people that I grew up with, who tried doing business in the ICT sector in Australia, eventually realized that, in terms of their own personal enrichment, they were better off going to Silicon Valley.’
However, Prof. Eklund seems to think that the pandemic may have given us an opportunity to change that.
‘I think recent events have made us realise that sovereign capabilities more important than we thought,’ he says.
‘We can’t continue to rely solely on international partners to solve all of our problems. We must have the capability to do it in-house. There is nothing stopping us from developing more unicorn companies like Atlassian.’
If you’re interested in the tech industry and learning the nuts and bolts of all things IT, Prof. Eklund recommends a strong combination of formal learning and practical exercises.
‘In our courses we emphasise innovation and entrepreneurship,’ he says.
‘Of course, it’s important to teach programming and things like that but, the essence of success within the IT industry is an ability to think outside of the box.’
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