Mathematics was EMC sales manager Robin Whitaker’s first career calling, but computers threw up a roadblock and diverted him into IT.
Originally from Balclutha, he went to Otago University and received an honours degree in mathematics, which led to work as a statistician for the Department of Statistics in Christchurch in 1982.
“I did enough statistics in the latter part of my maths degree to get a job [there] even though most of my degree was in pure mathematics.”
He oversaw programming for the creation of the national gross domestic product estimates.
“That took about a year and I realised then that all the statistics I’d learnt at university were all done on computers.”
This made Whitaker decide all that theory he’d done at university was irrelevant, prompting his switch to IT in 1985.
“I became an analyst programmer for Trust Bank Computers. That was the IT arm of Trust Bank in Christchurch. I enjoyed it but realised I was not going to attain the standard of living I aspired to by programming computers.”
After two years there he made a “bold move” and came to Auckland to work in computer sales in the late 1980s. “I worked for a small boutique organisation called Magic’s Computer Systems. They sold a proprietary development environment that was one of the first LAN-enabled environments, which would run on a PC network as opposed to a Unix machine.”
He stayed with the company for three years and during this time was approached to relocate to Australia to work on company projects.
“We ended up writing a candidate search and match system for an employment organisation called Morgan and Banks. We put that system into its branches in Australia and New Zealand.”
At the request of Morgan and Banks, Whitaker and his partner moved to Australia for two years to help the company replicate what was done in New Zealand.
On his return home, he worked for Magic’s in Wellington until 1994. He then went to US-based corporate Data Point for two years until it pulled out of the country.
This sparked a move to a Wellington-based role with IBM integrator Solnet. “I was there for a number of years while they represented Sun Microsystems in the market.”
Whitaker says he has been keeping a close eye on the Oracle/Sun merger.
“I was following the story when it looked like IBM was going to purchase them. I think that would have been much more catastrophic for Sun, because IBM has a complete process strategy in place.”
While running Solnet’s Wellington office in 2004, Whitaker experienced what he calls “the divorce” of Sun and Solnet. “Solnet had to restructure at that point and they scaled back their operations to covering Java development. I moved on from Solnet and helped set Sun up in New Zealand directly.”
Whitaker worked for Sun for two and a half years in Wellington, leaving four years ago to join IBM.
“I was delighted to get the role and went to an organisation of a completely different size and scale to Sun. IBM is organised internally into what they call brands. For example, they have their systems and technology group, the business consulting group and the strategic outsourcing group.”
He says during his time there the systems and technology group at IBM was the size of Sun. “I learned a tremendous amount and it was fantastic for my IT education to go there.”
After three years at IBM, which Whitaker stresses was a great time, he decided to move on to his current role at EMC.
“Deep down, I felt more comfortable in an organisation the size of EMC or Sun. IBM is a magnificent machine, but it is large and can sometimes be not very agile.”
He says one of the major strengths of EMC is it is a very strong global corporate, although the New Zealand team has a lot of autonomy and agility. “In a way this is unusual these days. So many organisations are hamstrung by process.”
Whitaker has observed a trend toward virtualising and consolidating large infrastructures in recent times.
He also enjoys tinkering with technology.
“I’ve got a very strong home theatre system with a media server. The kids seem to enjoy using it. Having four kids, we have a very large CD and DVD collection. That music is now on the media server and they can pipe it wherever they like in the house.”
Whitaker adds that he was a keen golfer and used to be quite good. “I can now call my car boot my ‘golf club coffin’.
However much I enjoy it, golf isn’t really a family sport.”