NZCS: The Beginning (part 1 of 4): 1960 - 1975
NZCS has been part of the IT industry for as long as the industry has existed, celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2010. However the Society's also seen significant membership growth in recent times with around 67% of current members having joined in the last four years. Fascinating statistic that.
So we've decided to do something a little different between now and Christmas and rather than the regular update, we'll be outlining some of the history of NZCS over the last 50 years. NZCS is a growing organisation with a bright future, however it's also hugely important that we never forget our rich history and heritage.
As most readers will know, NZCS is the largest IT organisation in New Zealand and the oldest having celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2010.
Throughout these 50 years the Society has been at the forefront of changes within the computing and IT arena in New Zealand, has been a strong and unwavering advocate for IT education and has provided rich and independent advice, guidance and advocacy to Government, the industry, the profession and the public.
This brief history, published in the NZCS 50th Anniversary Book Return to Tomorrow, has been written over many years and incorporates an edited summary of the first 15 years by John Robinson, the following decade by Bill Williams, then the remaining 25 years assembled by current NZCS CEO Paul Matthews with contribution and assistance from many of the Society's Fellows and long-standing members.
The Data Processing and Computer Society was registered by the Registrar of Incorporated Societies on 6 October 1960, with these original Members:- Gordon Oed, W.L. Birnie, E.W. Jones, A.W. Graham, P. Walker, H.F. Foster, J.G. Miller, J.V. Robinson, J.J. Campbell, A.S. Carrington, S.R. Searle, A.D.G. Connor, W.J. Wills and J. Martin. The name was changed to the New Zealand Computer Society on 20 February 1968.
When the inaugural meeting was being set up and the draft constitution was being prepared the main topic of concern and discussion (and a rather surprising one in retrospect) was the seen need to ensure that the machine houses did not take control of this new Society and make it a promotional, rather than a learned one. At least, for those who had been exposed to this view, the way each of the companies formed a phalanx of staff in the Victoria University lecture room at the first meeting seemed to justify this concern. In hindsight this was much more likely to have been due to the fact that they preferred to sit with people that they knew and that company management wanted to help the Society get started by ensuring that it had as many members as possible rather than to any covert intention. However, voting membership was limited to two from each company until the Constitution was changed in 1970.
Wellington Branch was the first, with Canterbury, Otago and Auckland branches following, but there was very little activity on a national basis. The affairs of the Society at that level were in the hands of an Executive Committee which met very infrequently. A Wellington based Standing Committee dealt with the detailed organisational matters for the Executive. By 1965 there was a total of over 200 members in the established branches, Wellington and Canterbury, and Otago and Auckland branches were forming up. This growth made it clear that there needed to be a re-assessment of the Society and its role.
This was discussed at the Executive meeting in October 1965. It was agreed that the Constitution needed review, that the possibility of holding national conferences and of publishing a journal should be assessed, and that nationally organised lecture tours by overseas specialists was still not practical.
During these five years the Society underwent a major rearrangement and national affairs began to increase in importance. A postal ballot was held in 1967 to get the view of the membership on a change of name and on the membership restrictions on machine company staff. There was also a growing concern about the lack of formal education in computing in New Zealand.
Auckland undertook to run the first national conference in 1968. Its success and the opportunity which it gave for a wide section of the membership to discuss the Society, its future direction and some of the issues facing the computer industry such as education, gave a great impetus to both the national activity and overall coherence in the Society.
The Executive and the Standing Committee amalgamated in order to cope with the work necessary for the tasks with which society management had been charged. A report was prepared on the role of the universities in education and research in computing. The Technicians Certification Authority was approached to see whether they would consider extending their certificate to include computing. The Constitution was completely rewritten. The grade of Member was established to identify the 'competent computer professional'. Organisationally the Society was changed from a reasonably loose alliance of individual branches to a national organisation. The implementation of this change was a good deal more gradual than the constitutional change that gave it form.
By the time the second National Conference was held in 1970, however, the stage was set for an effective national organisation.
While the total membership numbers stayed static over this period there was a shift from Associate Member to Member that resulted in a doubling of the number of Members. This typified the changes in this period - a shifting emphasis creating a professional Society. Associated with this, there was acceptance by both the government and the public generally, that the Society was representative of the computer practitioners of this country. The Society responded to this acceptance with an examination of some of the social issues related to the use of computers. This was undertaken not only from a sense of social obligation but also because it was felt that some self regulation by the industry over issues such as privacy could prevent crippling legislative constraint on computing.
It was during this period also that the Society adopted its first logo in the form of four squares, suggesting four punch cards, each showing one of the letters NZCS (as above). The logo was selected from forty-one entries in a competition held in 1971, the winning entry being submitted by Paul Compton of Wellington. The first edition of the Society's quarterley BULLETIN made its appearance in October 1973. It was much enlivened by the occasional cartoon from its editor 'Slim' Burns.
In the field of formal education the efforts of the Society were instrumental in getting the Technicians Certification Authority to institute the N. Z. Certificate in Data Processing in 1972. Support of this part-time course has been good and justifies the effort that it took to get it started. While not so direct in effect the report produced by the Society on university education and research helped create a political climate which fostered the growth of computing education in the universities.
Conferences continued to be outstandingly successful and became a well established and valuable part of the Society's activities.
The minimum necessary standard of experience set for transfer to the grade of Member continued to improve. Union membership also became an issue as the growing size of the industry and the differences between computer and clerical work become less marked.
A major activity in the early part of this period was that arising from a motion proposed at the Dunedin conference that the Society investigate a unique identification system to facilitate communication. The original suggestion had been that the study be restricted to commercial communications but members opted for the wider study. After very full discussion and debate in the Society the committee tabled its report which found, inter alia, that it saw no grounds for establishing unique identifiers for use on a nationwide basis. The report was eventually endorsed at a special general meeting in 1972.
Check out other parts of this series:
Part 1: 1960-1975
Part 2: 1975-1985
Part 3: 1985-2000
Part 4: 2000-2010
This series is from the NZCS 50th Anniversary Book Return to Tomorrow, written by NZCS members and published in 2010.
Edited by Janet Toland, Return to Tomorrow includes 23 fascinating chapters, each outlining a different aspect of the history of computing over the last 50 years through the eyes of those that lived it.
This book is currently not available, but a new version, including 60 years' of tech history, will be released at ITx 2021 in May 2021.
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