Careers: Interviews
Systems Design Expert: Richard Longworth

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Richard Longworth, a world-level leading expert on systems design and senior faculty for a BC-based college.

Richard recently received notification that his paper has been accepted for CIPS's World Computer Congress to be held in Montreal in August. This is quite an honour which prompted this interview where Stephen asks about his paper and his views on IT.

Q: Richard, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

A: I am delighted and thank you for the opportunity Stephen


Q: Richard, you are a widely respected educator and a noted systems analyst. How did you get into the computing field and what made you decide to enter into teaching?

A: I had a number of jobs when I left high school in Montreal but realized the importance of further education. I completed both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees while working full-time. I tried high school teaching for a while, which I didn’t enjoy, then joined Pratt & Whitney Aircraft for many enjoyable years programming in Fortran on a CDC mainframe. In 1980 I was offered a job with B.C. Tel (Telus today) as a systems analyst. If you recall, the early ‘80s were the years of high mortgage rates. I took a part-time teaching job at a North Vancouver college, initially to make ends meet. It turned out to be the best decision of my life. At the college I was a part-time instructor of Math and structured systems. Eventually I was offered a full-time position; regrettably I left behind many friends and wonderful memories of B.C. Tel. My ambition though had come true, teaching and working in the computer field. I still look forward to every new day and I can’t envision the day when I will tire of teaching.


Q: Due to your widely acknowledged expertise, I understand you were asked to do two worldwide broadcasts on UML. Can you tell us more about UML?

A: I have spent a number of years working with the latest modeling tool UML. In my opinion it is by far the most comprehensive software engineering tool available, particularly for object-oriented systems. As an instructor I have given workshops, wrote articles and researched the UML. As a director of a company working with .NET I have designed systems using the UML. In every case with resounding success. I believe future analysts need to include UML into their repertoire. I am such a strong advocator that I have written a number of articles on the UML, including one that was released in a CIPS Newsletter; applied the modeling diagrams in a system life cycle project; adopted a hybrid methodology that I apply to all projects; and just recently been asked to do two world webcasts on the “Essential of the UML,” and “Putting the UML into Practise.”


Q: Richard, I would like to make use of your internationally recognized knowledge and long history working in IT. For those contemplating new IT technologies, which areas would you recommend for them to pursue? What do you consider hot?

A: Stephen I really believe with vision, new IT entries can be their own master of the future. I believe the difficulties that IT encountered over the last few years are behind us. There is no limit if we use our creativity and imagination – each one of us has the possibility of becoming another Bill Gates.

I would be remiss though if I avoided specifics. I will characterize the answer based on my own field since I firmly believe every area of interest has “hot spots.” As you realize, I thoroughly enjoy database processing whether it is in a multi-user environment or a web application, I see it as the future trend. I believe new entries in IT should seriously consider all aspects of database processing from the backend, the middle and presentation tier in materializing the data. There is so much excitement in my field: [Microsoft’s .NET] My Services, data warehousing, XML, OLAP cubes, web services, data migration. And any spin-offs including security, outsourcing of the management of data etc.


Q: CIPS is hosting the 2002 IFIP World Computer Congress. It’s quite an honour, and a highly selective process to be asked to present at the congress. Can you describe your involvement?

A: I am thrilled to be involved with the World Computer Congress in Montreal. The paper I submitted was “Harnessing the Internet into a Knowledge Framework.” It encompasses my instructional methodology, and my work with systems. In systems we are given problems to resolve. The pedagogical problem we face is using the Internet as an effective tool for learning. What the paper proposes is a means to create an on-line knowledge framework. This involves the learner selecting keywords based on his/her level of knowledge and prior experiences – a personalized learning tool. The effect is to open the possibility of constructing a hierarchy of learning that links new knowledge to existing patterns.


Q: What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?

A: Interesting question Stephen. I am at a point of life when I do reflect back and have a keen desire to help young people. So here you might say is my “big chance”
 
  1. Education is key, go as far as your potential will allow you
     
  2. Experience life to the full, don’t be a “workaholic”; life is short
     
  3. Choose your vocation carefully. Love your work, otherwise you will spend a good portion of your time wastefully
     
  4. If you find what you want “stick with it”. I remember at one part of my career being told I would never be a competent systems analyst. The old story is that perseverance always wins the day
     
  5. Read, read, read and enjoy what you read
     
  6. If you don’t understand drill-up or drill-down till you comprehend. I have often read half-a-dozen complementary books after not understanding the first one
     
  7. Choose your partner, relationships wisely. I’ll leave this one to the counselors but it has been probably the most important aspect in my life – the support, the friendship, the wisdom I receive
     
  8. Be positive about the things you believe, and associate with those people who have similar beliefs and thoughts. The power of self-actualization!
     
  9. Be a good corporate citizen. Corporations, institutions are fertile grounds for politicking. One technique I apply is when I am speaking about someone I pretend that person is standing with me listening
     
  10. Summarize your day by identifying your accomplishments. Be proud of your daily successes


Q: I can see that you’re an active professional and that your work occupies much of your time. What are your five ways you can relax?

A: Probably the most important treasure I own is my family. Through them I find many forms of relaxation including
 
  • Trips to Whistler and skiing
     
  • Going to Vancouver Canuck hockey games (believe it or not I was formerly a Toronto Maple Leaf fan!)
     
  • Going for a jog with my daughter
     
  • Family games including Trivial Pursuit
     
  • Watching the history channel

Q: If you were doing the interview, what two interview questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: In your interview Stephen, you have captured most of what I would ask.

Taking the role of a systems analyst, a couple of questions that I might add are, “Do you consider the role of the systems analyst an important one?” and “What is the skill set of the analyst?”

My answer to the first question would be an analogy. Would you want to build a skyscraper without any building plans? And yet in building complex software we build applications usually on an ad-hoc basis.

The second question, I will answer as follows. Systems analysts need not only a general background in technology skills, but also strong interpersonal and communication skills. I suggest a general knowledge in technology because you will have to be a quick learner; there are many technologies you need to understand. Above all though, the ability to communicate effectively is imperative.


Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you like to give?

A: One last point Stephen. I believe the era of the systems analyst and designer is upon us. This position can take many forms, for example, business analyst, program analyst, data administrator, data analyst, data designer, data modeler, architect, information officer. Much like the functions you perform as an analyst are endless, the job descriptions are infinite.

***
Thank you for this most informative interview and congratulations on having your paper selected for the World Computer Congress.

For more about the World Computer Congress, visit http://www.wcc2002.org


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