OK, maybe not *the* CIA that you are thinking of, but certainly *the* CIA in Australia. CIA (also known as Connect Infobahn Australia) is an Australian internet service provider that has come to be a big part of my life. It all started one night in April 1996. I had uploaded a version of my homepage but the pages were cached in my browser (this was before I knew how to do a shift-reload in netscape). So I jumped onto channel #sydney on the Australian Undernet IRC network and asked everyone there to check out the pages for me to make sure they had really been uploaded. Someone with a nick called "Buddha" said "looks fine to me". Someone else was there also who was from UNSW and I started talking to him. I mentioned to the channel that I was looking for an ISP and asked buddha what his provider was. He said "me". When I asked him to explain he said he was a provider and gave me the URL for CIA. So I had a look. It seemed to have all of what I was looking for at the right price.
The next night I was talking to buddha again and decided to sign up online. He gave me all the access information, and after a bit of a battle, several phone calls, lots of dial in attempts, and finding out that Buddha's name in real life was Vic, managed to get connected. I promised to pay by cheque. But in the next few weeks I had major dropout problems. Some times I could stay connected for hours, others I would get disconnected several times in an hour. It drove me nuts and I seriously considered not bothering with CIA at all. This all went on for about 5-6 weeks and then I got a job at OzEmail, which gave problem-free dialup access for staff. Since I wasn't using the account anymore Vic let me keep the account for nothing.
For the next 9 1/2 months I worked at OzEmail, mailing Vic every so often asking him how CIA was going, how many lines and customers etc. At the beginning of February 1997 I decided I was going to leave OzEmail in 6 weeks time. I applied for and took a week leave, then came back and handed in my resignation, giving two weeks notice. During that time, I also mailed Vic asking for a job. I said I could go and do internet installations for people. Vic said there wasn't much call for that, but I could come for an "interview" for a sales position.
So on Thursday the 6th of March, 1997 I stopped by after work at the then Glebe office. It wasn't actually an office it was a terrace house! I wasn't entirely sure I was in the right place, but there were three P-plates on the front door, which I assumed at the time was for the ppp internet protocol. (I was later to find out this actually stood for "Pink Party Palace"). The door was answered and I asked "Is this CIA?" The guy who answered said yes and let me in. Someone was coming down the stairs, he introduced himself as Vic. I still did not know who had answered the door. I knew Vic had a brother Luke who ran things during the day, but I also thought he had three flat mates (he had a year earlier). It turned out it was Luke, and the other flatmates no longer lived there.
The interview went well, Vic and Luke told me what they wanted me to do, and I told a few stories of my bad experiences at OzEmail. The job sounded like bliss compared to OzEmail. Similar in that I would be answering the phone, but no where near as many calls. I would be doing mainly sales calls, and making sure starter kits went out to customers etc etc. It sounded like fun, and I said so. The next day Vic sent me an email offering me the job. I mailed back asking for a week off after I finished at OzEmail and he said that was fine.
On Monday the 24th March, 1997, my starting day, I was sick. I had come down with the flu the day before and felt just blerk. I asked if I could start on Tuesday, but Vic was not going to be in on Tuesday. I said I could come in, but he'd have to put up with my coughing and spluttering all over the place. He said he had survived worse so I wandered into the office and got there just after lunch. (I was actually sick for the next three weeks with that flu, wasn't much fun at all). At the end of my first day, Vic took me for a drive down to their new office at Broadway, which they were waiting for Telstra to connect up (another long and painful story altogether).
We stayed in the Glebe "office" for another six weeks before we moved to Broadway. The whole ISP was housed in a bedroom downstairs. 19" racks on one side of the room, desks on the other. And hot! The place was always warm from all the equipment. The modems had 6" fans blowing on them to keep them cool. The room looked fantastic with the lights turned out, all you could see were little red and green lights from all the modems and servers. At the time there were two workstations - Luke's pc and Vic's sun box (actually it was Spook, the main server - authentication, ftp, mail and web). I preferred Luke's pc. It was just Luke and I in the office most of the week, with Vic in on Mondays. But there was the problem of computers. So I brought my own in. Just my old 486 with a network card that I could only get to work in windows 3.11, but it did the job and I had my own computer. Luke and I would take turns answering the phone, since we could both do sales and support calls. Meanwhile I setup Microsoft Fax on Luke's computer so we didn't have to write out fax cover sheets every time we wanted to fax something. And I also sorted out all the customer files, which were arranged by initial, but that was all.
Before I started work at OzEmail and CIA, I was doing part time work in the School of Community Medicine at UNSW. I was doing some research work - collecting references for the academics, and also a little computer support. Then while I was working at OzEmail (which I worked from Sunday-Thursday), I would come to Uni on Fridays, and do some part time computer support there. With all the internet helpdesk experience I now had (well over a year), I was now being considered for a second level computer support position in the Faculty of Medicine. My contacts in Community Medicine had arranged with the Computing Support Unit to create a position for me. The job meant actual computer support, rather than being on the phones all day, and was what I had been wanting to do for some time. And I was appointed to the job, I did not have to go to an interview for it. It was an offer that I couldn't refuse, so I reluctantly handed in my resignation to CIA. It was a very sad time for me, because I really enjoyed working at CIA, and I was going to miss the place, Luke especially.
In my last few weeks, I knew that I did not just want to walk away from the place never to return. It was like it was too much a part of my life or something. So I kept in contact by continuing to do the support email, and visiting Luke every week to see how things were going. I also bugged Vic whenever he was online by writing to his terminal screen and chatting to him. I continued visiting the office every week for years afterwards, and did the support mail for many years. In fact I really only stopped going to visit when I moved to Canberra. By staying in contact I learned *heaps* of kewl stuff. Like bits and pieces to do with Perl programming, apache, zeus, MySQL, dns, vi, unix, qmail, the list goes on. I've certainly had a lot of fun, and made some life-long friends, not to mention maintaining IT skills that have made the transition to my current job a lot easier.
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