To serve the needs of his client base, former teacher Rob Hughes has to spend half his time away from his West Coast home, but he still finds it a lot less stressful than his previous career.
On his many travels, Hughes’ Toyota Surf is “packed to the max with gear”, because he needs to carry as many spare computer parts as possible to keep overheads down, as he works in so many isolated areas.
Working in these areas has its challenges, such as having no cellphone coverage in Kumara and many of the areas he visits on his long journeys.
The business - Network IT - serves schools in Nelson, Buller and the wider West Coast region, and the business was a natural progression for Hughes in 2005, because his previous job was as an ICT and physics teacher at Greymouth High School.
Prior to becoming a schoolteacher in the mid-1990s, he held a variety of contract forestry management roles for the New Zealand Forestry Service. This was a natural progression from completing a Bachelor of Forestry Management from the University of Canterbury.
He has also managed a commercial ski area with up to 40 staff and worked as a glacier mountain guide and tour coach driver.
“A great decade of experiences for sure,” he says.
At Greymouth High School Hughes found ICT took up more of his role than teaching, as he began managing software systems, training staff and attending, and speaking at, ICT conferences and seminars.
When the school offered him the chance to complete ICT qualifications, he took a year off and gained a CompTIA, several Microsoft 2003 qualifications and instructors’ qualifications for the Cisco Essentials 1 course.
“During this time, I was approached about doing IT support on a regular basis in some Buller, Nelson and West Coast schools. I accepted the offers and resigned from my teaching position. That was five years ago. I now do a wide range of software and hardware support in schools and businesses,” he says.
Hughes enjoys the variety of the work, the travel and meeting people.
“The work is mentally stimulating, but a lot less stressful than secondary school teaching. The West Coast is a huge area geographically and I spend half my time away from home in my support work,” he says.
As a former teacher and school trustee, Hughes says he has in-depth knowledge of schools’ needs and these specialist skills are his main point of difference and the focus of the business.
“Also, as great as remote support is, there is nothing like ‘being there’ for all sorts of reasons. Network administration is my passion and area of speciality.
“By West Coast standards, the networks I manage are some of the largest in the region with between 10 and 120 computers and between 30 and 280 users. They are often mixed platform, Macs and PCs and have a mixture of Server 2003 and Linux (Smartnet based on Linux and Centos). I get to know the software and hardware used in schools and can compare and advise [based on] my experience.
“There is just one of me and no reason to expand. It is a big leap to an extra person and finding someone that wants to live on the West Coast, with the skills to do the job to a high standard, would be a challenge.”
Hughes stocks a wide variety of brands to meet the requests of individual customers. He orders stock from Dove Electronics and Computer Dynamics.
His immediate priorities for the business are consolidation and to build stronger relationships with existing customers, and to attract some new clients.
“I am not much interested in one-off ‘band aid’ fixes. The best networks are the ones where the customer makes a commitment to upgrade and regularly maintain their networks. This makes both our lives less stressful.”