Sitting down with Francis, we’re immediately captivated by his ardour for the power of technology, and for the beauty of life itself. He transports us back in time and place to where it all began: Nairobi in the 70’s.
'I grew up surrounded by computers. I had an exciting childhood - I was figuring out the world. My friends and I went on many adventures, collecting shells and rocks along creeks.'
While many days were spent traversing the suburbs and surrounds of Nairobi, just as many were spent uncovering a very different virtual world - the digital dimension.
'My dad was the Computer Manager at Nairobi City Council. Back then, they used a Mainframe computer. The computers were humongous - bigger than a small car! You get curious and you look at the punched cards and wonder, ‘What’s happening here?’ I would analyse what I saw and slowly understand what was happening behind the scenes. Little did I know I would end up in this line of work.'
A career in computers, a lifetime of education
As a young man, Francis’s first job was Nairobi City Council Computer Section where his father previously worked. He worked to solve a technical issue the Council had been struggling with for twenty years.
'It was strange because I started working with people who had watched me grow up. I hadn’t completed my computing studies, but I knew what to do because I’d always played with computers.'
After three years at the Council, Francis and his wife, Patricia, welcomed their first baby into the world - in fact, he was very nearly born in the computer room! Ready to start a new chapter in his career too, Francis shifted his focus from technology itself to technology in business.
After graduating with an MBA in 2000, he embarked in 2003 on a career journey as a Management Information Systems Consultant, while soon undertaking a role as a Lecturer in Information Technology. Driven to take his skills to the next level, Francis enrolled in a Graduate Diploma course, whereby he was awarded a gold medal for achieving the highest marks among 7,000 students.
In 2006, Francis and his family moved to Toowoomba, where he began working with the Queensland Government, in IT Services and Training. A year later, he began exploring opportunities in higher education again.
'I wrote to the Head of School of Information Systems at USQ and was offered marking. Then, over time there was an opportunity to enrol in an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant funded PhD. So that’s what I did. I was lucky enough to be funded to study an area of deep interest, while training in research with a great team at USQ.'
The ultimate role at USQ: a blend of IT, business and research
When Francis returned to work with the Queensland Government after graduating in 2013, he was closely following USQ’s Information Technology journey. The era of cloud computing had well and truly dawned. The University was already a member of the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation (QCIF), providing researchers access to data centres and high-performance computing from their desktop.
'Cloud computing had come of age with big data storage, high performance computing and high speed, broad bandwidth networking making it possible. I was still working with the QLD Government following my PhD, but I saw a job come up at USQ focused on the application of cloud computing services for research. USQ was revitalising its commitment to research “striving for excellence within a global context while remaining strongly grounded in community-centred values and regional heritage.'
In 2014, motivated by USQ’s investment in cloud computing and intrigued by the intersection of IT, business and research in the role, Francis stepped started in his current role. Today, he is responsible for providing specialist IT support across all USQ research institutes, centres and schools. That includes high performance computing, research data management and data storage.
After one year in his role, the number of researchers using the cloud services shot up from just a small handful to 250. Today, Francis’s goal is for the service to become self-sufficient - like a business.
'The timing was right and the uni was ready for cloud computing - they just needed someone to champion it. My dream is for this Unit to no longer rely on central funding, but to generate funding via grants from funding bodies, or by partnering with researchers to account for using the service when applying for grants. This funding will then go towards investing in services and infrastructure and developing research performance.'