The Final Move to IT

In my blog From Metallurgy to IT, Part 4 I mentioned that “In the end I had made enough of a name for myself that I got appointed in Port Talbot blast furnaces, which had been one my aims since I joined Strip Products in Llanwern”. This proved to be the final step away from considering myself a metallurgist and becoming a full-time IT person, and is the subject of the current blog.

My time in Ebbw Vale dealt with a number metallurgical and technical issues of producing tinplate of the correct quality. As I’ve stated before, halfway through my stint there I became acquainted with Focus Six as a (rather old-fashioned and limited) programming language, and to some extent with Clementine for data analysis, but the general feeling was that they merely aided in the data analysis part of being a metallurgist.

Granted that the introduction of Traffic Lights lessened the metallurgy part of my job, but given the circumstances with the imminent closure of Ebbw Vale, this seemed like a temporary solution grown out of necessity. Until I was moved to Llanwern with the express intention of introducing traffic lights at the hot mill. Even though the PEGS team used different (and more mainstream) tools in Visual Basic, JavaScript and Matlab, the transition was an easy one, since I was given the time to acquaint myself with the new tools and was able to establish a working version of the traffic light system (with a little help from my new friends).

From that moment onwards I concentrated on developing transfer apps and web pages in order to supplement the amount of data available to the traffic light system. Even the subsequent move from the hot mill to the cold mill area was only to introduce traffic lights there and start building up a similar web-based information system as had been developed at the hot mill.

And then the PEGS team was disbanded and reallocated to the Technology department following a functional reorganisation. Now I had a new boss who, although he was sympathetic about the IT part of my job, tried to encourage me to do more of the metallurgy part. He didn’t try too hard, and since I was full of fire developing what I had started (and there was plenty of push from the production people to see their new toys developed further), I didn’t really get too much involved with the core brief of the new Technology department, which was to perform plant trials and handle quality-related issues.

Come July 2006, and my boss attempted to encourage a move away from IT-only by adding a few objectives that would force me to do some hands-on work on the shop floor to my list of performance appraisal for the coming year. But less than half a year later, Lianne Deeming put out a call for me to become the IT body for Coke, Sinter & Iron in Port Talbot, which to anyone’s eyes looked like a stamp of approval for the the IT part of my job. My boss gave in with good grace, saying that “it looks like the business rates your IT skills better than your technological ones”.

And that proved to be the official turning point where the metallurgical side of my job disappeared forever. Besides, in my search for increased job security I was of the opinion that it’s better to be a rare and valued resource as a data specialist and web developer rather than one out of many merely adequate technologists. And so it proved. In the end I was so successful in my aim that it became hard to extricate myself when the need arose to quit my job and seek retirement.


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