Industry longtimers Ken and Jeanette Nutsford have been helping maintain and develop World Vision New Zealand's IT infrastructure for nearly three decades.
Their relationship with the aid agency goes right back to the early days of mainframes and the laboriously punching of coding cards to input data.
Budget-conscious aid agencies face huge challenges keeping up with changes in technology and retaining highly paid IT specialists. Agencies' heavy reliance on volunteers means the assistance of those with IT skills is particularly valued.
In 1971 the Nutsfords met the founding director of WV New Zealand, Geoff Renner. Renner quickly recognised the value of computers to the work of his agency and commissioned programs for managing the relationship between sponsors and sponsored children. The Nutsfords have worked with the agency since then and, with justifiable pride, claim that the New Zealand office is the only one in the partnership that has never had a computer disaster.
"What we really liked about World Vision," says Jeanette, "is that it was run on very businesslike terms. We believed that that was a key to its success."
The Nutsfords were among the very first group of New Zealanders to train in computer programming. Jeanette was originally a mathematics teacher. "I discovered that while I enjoyed educating, I did not enjoy the discipline element of school teaching," she says.
When her father drew her attention to an advertisement from ICL inviting professional people to learn about computers, she willingly applied. She found herself in the company of a female engineer, a librarian, a scientist and a mathematician.
"It didn't take me long to discover that computer technology was not about being good at maths; it required an understanding of logic," she says.
ICL sent Jeanette to tutor the first computer programming course at Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT), and later seconded her to the institute’s permanent staff. She also assisted in teaching computer classes at Auckland's Unitec in its early days.
It was at ICL that she met Ken Nutsford, who had joined the company a year earlier. In 1969, after their marriage, the Nutsfords formed the first of their two companies, Computometric Systems, a company that produced payrolls and manufacturing and accounting software.
Clients paid for rented time on mainframe computers in Auckland. Marion, a student from Jeanette's second class at ATI became a contract programmer for their company and is still doing this work for them today.
"At that time it used to take around four days to complete each change to a program with Marion working from Maromaku in the Bay of Islands," says Jeanette. "Nowadays we can do the same thing in seconds via the internet from anywhere in the world to our American computer base.”
The reputation of the systems in the New Zealand office became known and World Vision UK and World Vision South Africa sought their services in the 1980s.
In 1973 the Nutsfords founded a new company, Timeshare Systems, and in 1977, in partnership with Freightways, set up a computer timesharing service, using the first HP 3000 computer in New Zealand. This partnership lasted almost three years, after which the couple bought their own computers.
Their business grew internationally with, for example, a contract with one of the Boeing companies in Seattle, to review its operations. They joined the Interex Hewlett-Packard users group, which has 40,000 plus members worldwide and are still deeply involved in the HP user community.
Jeanette, who is Interex's SIGCOBOL chairperson, teaches the computer language Cobol at group meetings in the US. She is currently a board member for the first Cobol World Conference to be held in the US during October 2001. Despite all their commitments, the couple continue to develop software for World Vision.