Life of creativity and colour for Fronde’s Amanda Jackson

Life of creativity and colour for Fronde’s Amanda Jackson

Fronde developer and self-proclaimed geek Amanda Jackson is still in her 30s, but has already packed a plethora of achievements into her lifetime.

You name it and she’s done it: trained as an actor, gamed to her heart’s content, tested software, volunteered for the ambulance service, coached trampolining, run a website company, written for a music magazine, got into photography, played in hardcore metal bands and produced the cover art for the CDs. In fact, some of these activities are still fitted in around her 60-hour working week at Fronde.

British-born Jackson puts her hectic schedule and eclectic mix of interests down to a short attention span.

“I pick things up really quickly and I get bored quite easily, so I have to keep doing different things. I just have ideas and go ‘how do I do that?’. If I want to learn something, I do it.”

It was clear from Jackson’s school days that she could have gone in many career directions.

Although she had natural ability in singing and performing arts, her mother insisted she nurture her IT talents to provide some financial stability.

“She wanted to make sure I had other skills so I did business studies and computer sciences at school, just so I wasn’t waitressing in between jobs and could go contracting.”

These studies, and her habit towards the end of school life in 1989 of re-writing code to turn games to her advantage, paid off when she entered the workforce.

Jackson’s first role was a three-year stint as a sales consultant, but in subsequent jobs she began taking over companies’ computer systems. “I thought ‘let’s have a play here’. I basically went in and took over their computers.”

After a short time as a financial advisor on commission (curtailed for its inability to adequately cover her bills), Jackson branched into network administration, learning the C programming language and becoming a Crystal Reports trainer for hospitals around Britain on behalf of healthcare software specialists Footman-Walker.

Even during her IT career in the UK, which culminated at Omron in the early 2000s, Jackson was combining a range of interests with her work.

She launched a website homepage in 1994 and did writing and photography for a music magazine. Backstage concert passes were a definite perk of the job, she says.

During her time at Omron in network administration and software testing, Jackson began tertiary studies, but her tendency to lose interest kicked in once she realised her skill level was far too high for the class.

“I did two years of an adult education and computer science degree. I lasted two years and got bored and left.

“Lesson one was how to save to floppy disk. I passed year one half-way through the year just on credits because of what I could already do. They had an HTML course but I was running my own web design company in the evenings, so I said, ‘can I just pass this one please’?”

However, moving to New Zealand in 2002 offered a fresh challenge, with a job lined up locally at web development shop Greenwood Technology.

Although Jackson misses the social nature of Britain’s pub culture, there are many things she enjoys about her new home, which she intended as a short visit to see her brother, but ended up staying.

“There’s daylight at the beginning and the end of the day. In the UK it’s dark when you go to work and dark when you come home.”

Her stay at Greenwood was cut short following redundancy, but says she had many offers of work including one at Fronde Systems.

Jackson has now been with Fronde for five years, mainly developing but in the last month doing software testing.

She was drawn to the culture and opportunities at the company. “They have a really flat structure and everybody is allowed to speak their mind and put in ideas. If there are any problems it’s ok to put your hand up and say ‘I’m not happy with this’.”

Although Fronde is based in Auckland’s CBD, Jackson spends most of her time at client sites and at the time of writing was working at Fonterra in South Auckland.

“It’s like being a permanent temp, there’s the variety you get with contracting but the security of being permanent.”

Specialising mainly in SQL, she also develops PowerBuilder systems and anything in C and Delphi. However, she’s often required to learn other programming languages quickly if needed by a client.

“All languages come from the same basic roots. So if you have good coding standards in one you can apply those standards to other areas, it’s not that hard,” she says.

Jackson has also become the local organiser of Girl Geek dinners, events which give her a chance to get together with other developers, gamers and coalface technical staff.

She sees the geek label as positive. “I like being a geek. It has gone from a derogatory term to quite a good term. It says we appreciate you must be good at your job and skilled in that area.”

The events began here after Jackson spoke to Microsoft’s Eileen Brown, a speaker at a Women in Technology (WIT) dinner who gave her the details of UK Girl Geek founder Sarah Blow. Jackson collected business cards from about 40 WIT attendees interested in a different type of event for technology women.

“I’m more interested in the geeky, technology side of things and how things hang together. They [WIT] seem to be at a higher level and talk about how to get ahead in the workplace. I almost felt not quite dressed up enough.”

Jackson says the Girl Geek dinners aim to provide an informal environment for participants to learn new skills.

An avid gamer, it’s not unusual for Jackson’s first activity before work to be a check of the safety of her village in the browser-based game Travian.

She’d rather read or game than watch TV – the exceptions being Stargate, Dr Who and Torchwood – and she devotes one night a week to voluntary service for the St John ambulance service.

Despite her current schedule, Jackson’s musical and performing interests are definitely not on the backburner.

She remains a working actor, listed with Auckland agency Clyne, and is a member of experimental/industrial duo The Grace Jones.

Set to tour the UK next May and June, the band is also producing a CD and you get the feeling music is something Jackson won’t give up in a hurry.

“If I was given the opportunity to go and tour the world with a band, everything else would go by the wayside.”

Q + A

What is your favourite website?

What is your favourite sport?

I was a trampolinist back in the UK, but at the moment I like jogging and I have a treadmill at home.

What is your favourite cocktail?

Strawberry daiquiri

Who is or was your mentor?

I’ve worked with a lot of people I’ve learned from, there are a lot of good developers out there. I’m also reading books by Greg Low at the moment on SQL Server. Low is a Microsoft SQL Server MVP, host of the SQL Down Under podcast and organiser of the SQL Down Under Code Camp.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in IT?

Rock star, musician or actress.

What books are you currently reading?

Valhalla by Tom Holt, The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I’ve also got every Terry Pratchett book ever written.

If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Layne Staley, who was the lead singer of Alice in Chains, who died when he was 35. He had a very artistic soul about him. His lyrics were always amazing and you want to meet somebody like that to see if the lyrics translate into real life.

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