Nick Davies competed in the Nationals at Worldskills, despite still being in High School. While in school, subjects like Information Processes and Technology and Physics help him out, he’s mostly self-taught, coming from a home where there are nine computers. “Always having a computer in my family was probably the biggest factor. But for as long as I can remember having a computer in my family, I have been interested not only in what it does, but how it does it. “ Nick says, ”Starting with the biggest level of an image on a screen, going down through individual pixels, individual RGB colours, a signal through a cable, a Video card coding the signal, a rendering device creating the signal, and the processor deciding what the rendering device needs to create.”
“I don’t remember not having a computer in our family, and I was always fascinated by them.” Nick says. “I started really working with computers I guess when I started school. I remember when I was in year 2 at Hornsby Heights Public School, teachers would send a student over to my class to collect me, and bring me back to help them make the computer work. That was cool.”
“I’ve always found computers to be really interesting, and fun. My idea of fun can range from playing the latest video games, to rearranging the toolbars in Microsoft Word though I understand it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.” Says Nick.
The WorldSkills National Competition, in 2008, has been stepped up in difficulty. Based on the competition in last year’s WorldSkills International in Japan, the system being used is Microsoft Office 2007 and the level of complexity has increased to boost Australia’s chances in next year’s international competition in Canada.
Competitors are given a scenario in which the aim is to promote Sydney. They then have to build a system using Microsoft Excel, Access and Powerpoint. “Using a common software package (mostly Microsoft Office 2007) to do really hard things, most of which most people don’t even know are possible.” Nick explains. “It was all based around a fictional Worldskills-like event called “Sydney Skills”, and we had to create a database (containing info about competitors, events, venues and staff) for it from scratch.”
“We had to create spreadsheets to organise the data in terms of costs and time management, and make a dynamic graph that changed when you clicked on buttons. We had to make forms that allow minimal user entry, and that would automatically give results. We were given several fictional hotels and prices, along with the numbers of different categories of students, and we had to analyse this to figure out the optimal way of accommodating everyone.”
“Several of the elements of the competition were designed so that we couldn’t actually do it.”
But Nick didn’t know how he'd fared in the Software Applications category until the Worldskills National ceremony. “I was sitting with Amanda Allen (also from my category, who won Gold at the regionals that I won silver at), and she said that she would be surprised if she placed at all, and the she was pretty sure that I did better than her. When it was announced that she got silver, I think my heart stopped, and started going backwards.” He shares. “Once on the podium, I was awarded my gold medal by the international champion of Software Applications, none other than my mentor, Michael Kirkwood-Smith. I think his exact words were “You have now proven your Nerdom”, but I still haven’t caught up to him.”
“If Software Applications ends up going international, then I think my list of priorities in my life is going to dramatically shrink to include only God, Worldskills, and remembering to breathe. Fortunately my mentor is quite well qualified to train me up for it. “
Nick would love to show the world what Australia (and even Hornsby) can do in the International Worldskills competition in Canada. “Also to keep improving my knowledge so that one day I catch up to my mentor; Michael Kirkwood-Smith, and eventually my brother, and then my dad. “
But Nick has plans outside of Worldskills: “I’m really pumped for a TAFE course next year in Programming, or maybe games design, but I’ve always been interested in Tech support, because it means I get to fight other people’s computers as well as my own. “
Personal qualities needed for the job?
Patience and perseverance. Often the only way to find one way that works, is to find a thousand ways that don’t.
Do you have any advice for people entering the industry?
Computers don’t respond well to violence. I only know one person who can consistently fix computers by hitting them, and statistically speaking, you probably aren’t him.
Also, if you are designing a “foolproof” solution for a client, never underestimate the ingenuity of a fool.
And if all else fails, turn it off, then on again.