Computing Canada marks 30 years in IT

Long before the Internet, long before e-mail and way before ITBusiness.ca, Computing Canada was chronicling the emergence of the nation’s burgeoning technology sector.

Founded by Paul Plesman in 1975, the bi-weekly publication quickly became the flagship for a company that spawned many more titles, including sister publications such as Technology in Government and a channel-oriented counterpart, Computer Dealer News

Few people would be as familiar with the IT Business Group’s portfolio of titles than Patricia MacInnis, who started as a features editor with CDN and later edited both TIG and Communications & Networking. She became Computing Canada’s editor in 2002. 

Having just wrapped up a special issue to commemorate CC’s 30th anniversary, ITBusiness.ca decided to mark the occasion with something we’ve never done before: a “house interview” between two editors. The ground rules? No questions submitted in advance, no questions off-limits, no chance to approve the story before publication – the same ground rules that have made the IT Business Group Canada’s leaders in technology journalism. 

ITBusiness.ca: What did you want this issue to achieve?

Patricia MacInnis: One of the big goals we had with the issue was to highlight some of the people who have made a difference to the Canadian IT scene in particular. That was the basis of the article, “Canada’s IT movers and shakers,” people who were specific to Canada. 

ITB: I was involved in some of the early brainstorming for that, but how did you justify your choices?

PM: Well we had a group of editors in a room together for our preliminary choices. I think pretty much everyone here was involved in submitting names. We went to outside sources as well, people who have been in the industry for a long time, some of our longtime contributors and people who have been editors such as Grant Buckler. When we narrowed that list down, we assembled about four or five editors in the room and we just debated back and forth the merits of various candidates. Obvious ones came to the surface.

ITB: Why did Mike Lazaridis emerge as No. 1?

PM: For a couple of reasons. One was that the BlackBerry is sort of seen as a technological tool of our time, and the technological tool of the future. And Mike Lazaridis, he embodies a lot of the qualities that you think of when you think of innovation. He’s very forward-thinking, he believes in encouraging research and development, and he’s certainly given a lot of his time and energy to promoting academic pursuits.

ITB: Of the 30, who was the hardest to get?

PM: We only interviewed the top five people, and I have to say – although you may have a different perspective, since you interviewed Michael Cowpland (laughs) – that Lazaridis was hard to pin down because we also had to do a photo shoot for him for the cover. He’s back and forth to the States all the time.

ITB: One feature that might surprise regular CC readers is the timeline that runs across parts of the issues. They don’t all focus on technology milestones. What lead you to include the pop culture element?

PM: We wanted to have fun elements in the issue. We knew that it would be a big issue with some heavy reading and we wanted to include some things that were a little lighter. We also thought there was a natural marriage between some of the technology issues that have occurred here and the events in pop culture that would give readers a specific frame of reference. If you could relate, for example, the computer was Time’s Man of the Year in 1982, and the same year our national anthem was revised. It just sort of puts things in perspective. 

ITB: Some of the features in the issue are historical, others are more forward-looking. What kind of a balance were you trying to strike?

PM: We wanted, certainly, to pay homage to what has happened in the last 30 years, what has happened in the last 30 years, what has been the big innovations that have really made an impact on Canadian enterprises. We also wanted to look specifically at the contributions that Canadians both personally and as organizations have made to IT. Beyond that we wanted to give people a peek as to what they could expect from the future, and that was the idea of having (futurist Richard) Worzel’s column in there. I don’t know if it’s fair to say there was a good balance there in terms of looking towards the future. We probably did more reviewing of history, but the other thing we wanted to do is create a keepsake publication that people could sort of refer to as the definitive history of IT in Canada to this date. One didn’t really exist. 

ITB: How did you track down the long-time readers that you surveyed near the end of the issue?

PM: We have a very good affiliation with CIPS (Canadian Information Processing Society), as you know. We tapped pretty much every resource there. The other thing is, because we have a group of people here at the IT Business Group who have worked in this industry for a long time, we have a lot of contacts, and we just culled together as many as we could. And then we knocked on doors and got people thinking about it very early in the process.  We were able to turn to resources that maybe we wouldn’t have thought of previously. 

ITB: The issue goes over a lot of the innovations but it also looks back on the history of IT scandals. When you were editing that piece, did you get a sense of what we’re getting better at as an industry? Are the same mistakes coming up?

PM: I think that as an industry, IT in particular is being held more accountable as it’s implemented in organizations. There was a period of time in the 1980s and even the 1990s where IT professionals were regarded as demi-gods in the organization and it was a bit of a mysterious department. Technology was implemented and people didn’t ask too many questions. And then of course there was the dot-com bubble and so on. IT departments had to become more responsible, and I think you see that as a trend that’s emerging, that the business is holding IT more accountable for the investments it makes. 

ITB: One trend we haven’t really seen in the last 30 years is an influx of women into the profession. You’re the first woman to edit CC. Why do you think there hasn’t been more of a gender balance?

PM: Well that’s been a pet project of mine over the years and I’ve followed the issue closely. I think that we don’t make mass technology and computer science interesting to young women in schools. They don’t see what the opportunites are. They still see it as a very sort of “geeky” type of job to have. They don’t see the opportunities to interact with other people and where they can really bring different skill sets, soft skill sets. Until we start preaching that message earlier in schools – before they get to university, before they’re having a chance to decide what field they want to go into – we’re not going to see much of a change. You have to start in the early years.

ITB: Some people might not have expected CC to last 30 years, given that a lot of magazines shut down after the dot-com bust and mainstream media is covering technology. What are you doing to keep CC relevant to your core readership? They’ve probably changed a lot in 30 years.

PM: Yeah, definitely. I think what we do well is that we have today a key audience of about 42,000 IT professionals and the secret of our success is that we don’t necessarily provide information on the technology nuts and bolts. We provide more the business benefits and the return on investment opportunities that the technology can bring to organizations by telling them how other companies are using technology. I think that’s our real strength.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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