postcard from - First Direct

A long time ago, in a country far away, I had a contract with a bank. Not the first bank contract, but definitely the most interesting. I was employed as System and Network Administrator for half a dozen HP-UNIX machines that would be used for the project. That didn't really keep me occupied for long, so I was also given the job of Integration Manager. That's a "gatekeeper" role.

Let me explain.

The bank was having some specific software written, and two of the HP machines were the test environment. When the initial testing was completed and successful, the code got moved over to another pair of HP servers which were the UAT (User Acceptance Test) environment. The Integration Manager was responsible for allowing the software to move onto the UAT environment. UAT was a lot more formal, and from there the software was transferred onto the production server suite in the banks data centre.

Some bits of the project were fascinating in a "geeky" kind of way. I got to visit a dark site, a major data centre that runs unattended with the lights out. I got to work with the UK Government Information Warfare Team, and had to deal with the government rules about encryption.

That last bit might need more explanation. Some of the bank customers lived in Europe, but at the time, the government prohibited the export of encrypted data without the keys being registered. So, the CD holding the client software that all the bank customers needed couldn't be sent to France. The solution was easy enough though. Customers who lived abroad chose a UK branch and their CD was sent there. They collected it and took it back to France, Spain or wherever they lived. It made me wonder why that rule existed as it served no purpose what so ever.

The project was a success, and the bank people enjoyed working with us. It was the first time I'd worked in a major call centre - a building big enough for a 747 or two with 3000 people on phones talking with customers. Even more surprising, it was by far the most popular bank in the country at the time. The customers loved them!

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