In the past 25 years new methods of computing have changed the face of New Zealand. Over that period we have come from costly electromechanical sorters and tabulators requiring highly trained operators, to complex electronic computers at prices affordable by many families and which a child can operate. Not much more than 25 years ago there were no electronic computers in New Zealand. Now their numbers are legion.
The New Zealand Computer Society was formed 25 years ago, before the first computer had been installed in this country. New Zealanders were returning from overseas impressed by what they had seen of the new technology. They, and others in New Zealand, were aware that this country too could use these techniques to its benefit, and that the introduction of computers here was only a matter of time. A number of these far-sighted individuals met together and formed what was to become the New Zealand Computer Society, the body representing computer professionals in New Zealand.
Those early founders laid an excellent base and the society has served its growing body of members well. It has gone from a small group of interested individuals with vision, acting on a voluntary basis, to an organisation of some 2500 members with a full-time secretariat and a wide variety of activities.
Since its formation the society has perceived itself as having two complementary roles. Its first and major function is to look after the professional interests of its members. This has been done in a number of ways. Each of the five local branches of the society holds a series of regular meetings where speakers address topics of interest to members. These range from the highly technical, such as details about new programming techniques or information on recent technical developments, to matters of more general interest including novel applications of computing. On the national level the society provides opportunities for its members to learn from each other and from overseas practitioners by holding regular biennial national conferences. Trade exhibits at these conferences allow computer vendors to present their wares to both the profession and to the interested public. Since its earliest days the society has published newsletters and bulletins and currently it has an agreement with Associated Group Media whereby members receive the magazine Interface as part of their subscription and the society has a number of pages in each issue. In more recent years the society has been offering a programme of professional continuing education, increasing the number and variety of topics addressed each year. In its attempts to keep members up to date with overseas developments the society has established links with the British and Australian Computer Societies and is the New Zealand representative on the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP). New Zealanders, through the NZCS, are members of many of the technical committees of IFIP and are thus able to keep us up to date on important developments overseas.
The society’s other role is in its perceived obligations to society in general. The society is seen by the public as the independent and authoritative source of information on matters to do with computing and its social impact. This has come about because the society in its public statements has drawn attention both to the potential benefits of computers and to the possible dangers from their misuse. The success of this programme is demonstrated by the increased public awareness of the benefits of the applications of computers and the reduced amount of unjustified fear of this technology, based on a better informed awareness of the possibilities these systems offer for abuse and how they may be avoided.
As part of the society’s public role it has been involved with government, unions and employers. For example, the society brought out the Nygaards, specialists on computing, employment and the unions in Norway, to talk about developments in Scandinavia and their possible application to New Zealand. The society has been able to provide assistance to the government in a number of areas. These include; representation on the Wanganui Computer Centre Committee, the presentation of a number of submissions on privacy issues, providing representatives in the Auditor-General’s enquiry into the use of computers in the Public Sector, advising on the revision of the electoral roll.
The society has always had a major concern in the field of education, not only for its members and potential employees in the profession, but also in increasing the computer literacy of New Zealanders generally. To this end it has mounted its continuing education programme described above. It has also been extensively involved with the Authority for Advanced Vocational Awards in syllabus preparation and revision for the Diploma in Data Processing and the Diploma in Computer Engineering. The society has provided assistance when requested by the Technical Institutes. It has close links with the Vocational Training Council where it is represented on a number of committees and liaises closely with universities. The society provides prizes for the best student in data processing in the AAVA examinations and for the best students in selected computing papers at the universities. The society has also provided assistance to the Department of Education and the Labour Department in the area of vocational guidance.
The society also accepts as a fundamental principle that its members, and indeed the country as a whole, will benefit from the establishment of a firmly based, expanding electronic computing industry in New Zealand. It has therefore devoted much of its resources to achieving this end. It has lent its weight to submissions to reduce sales tax on computer hardware and was largely instrumental in finally persuading the authorities that there should be no sales tax on computer software. It has held seminars on the export of computer software and has also been heavily involved in the issue of the legal protection of software.
Above all the society is continually seeking to improve the status and skills of computing professionals. It is doing this by providing a means of measuring excellence by setting high standards for the professional grade of member. Full members of the society have demonstrated, both by achievement and by peer evaluation, that they are truly professional in both their abilities and qualities and are recognised as such. The society has a Code of Ethics which is binding on all members and associates and hopes to have a Code of Practice in place shortly.
In its first 25 years the New Zealand Computer Society has evolved into a dynamic, professional, socially aware body. The next 25 years will see a growing penetration of the new technologies into the fabric of our society which will change it profoundly. The NZCS is well placed to meet the new challenges and will continue to serve its members and society at large as well as, if not better than, it has in the past.