Global tech lead sees local benefits
AT the University of Ballarat in 1997, Michael Duffin was studying a commerce degree, heading towards a working life in business.
Training as a financial planner, he “stumbled” into IT, where he found his long-term career.
“I remember a person from IBM came into the lecture theatre and was handing out job applications. The girl sitting next to me asked for one, he passed along two, so I kept one and gave one to her,” Mr Duffin said.
“I thought, I might as well apply. From there I got a casual job working in the technology park for 20 hours a week, answering calls to help mums and dads connect to the internet, with dial-up modems, when it was relatively new.
“It transformed my direction and led me to where I am now. It was a real sliding doors moment.”
After 14 years at IBM, spending time in Melbourne and Ballarat, Mr Duffin found himself at Microsoft in 2011, where he’s now the Asia region’s modern service management practice lead.
“We have a division called Microsoft Services where we help our customers get the most out of their investment with the technology, so mainly enterprise and government customers,” he said.
“Essentially, we’ll have a large group purchase software or services, and my team help them to implement it, use it, and get the most out of it. It’s about people and processes, not installation.”
With team members in India, China, Japan and beyond, Mr Duffin already felt lucky to have technology, literally at his fingertips, that enabled him to work from home in Ballarat pre-COVID.
Since the pandemic arrived, not much has shifted in his own work habits, but his team has had to make some adjustments, as demand has grown for software within homes, and access to office space is no longer possible.
“For me, my work hasn’t changed because I’m always at home, but my team typically go and visit customers on site to help them to enable the technology, and we can’t do that anymore,” he said.
“Now they’re helping customers remotely, talking to people via Microsoft Teams and phone calls. Remote support is a big change for my team.
“Now our customers’ employees who are usually all in the office, are at home, so they want to set up an environment that enables their business to continue while that’s happening.”
With businesses, schools, families and local groups turning to video conferencing to maintain some sense of normality, productivity, learning and contact, Mr Duffin has seen Microsoft Teams become a key program in communities.
“We’ve seen triple the increase of use, and lately it’s had more than 70 million active users a day, worldwide,” he said.
“What I love about my role is seeing schools using the technology. For a couple of months, my kids were at home doing their schoolwork using it, so it’s good to see the company you work for playing a part in enabling students, all over the world, to do remote education.
“Our mission is to empower every person and organisation in the world to achieve more, and it’s easy to say that, but when you see it, it’s a great thing. Without that technology, the kids wouldn’t have been able to do remote schooling as effectively, and businesses would have been impacted.”
Ballarat born and bred, studying at East High School, Mr Duffin is grateful for the local opportunities he found in his home city, and is proud to have built up his career in IT from here.
“I was incredibly fortunate to join IBM, and the IT park at the university was a major part of that.
“In the early stages, it was Malcolm Vallance who set it up and drove a lot of growth, which offered huge opportunities for me as a Ballarat person to get into IT,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Mr Duffin only just fit in some work trips to Hungary, California and Washington before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
“Usually I have a bit of travel through Asia and to head office in Seattle, so that’s all changed, but that isn’t bad.
“Now, I’m fortunate all the time to live in the city that I grew up in, that is an easy drive to Melbourne, has good hospitals, services, everything that you need… and have a role where I can work with a team all over Asia. It’s awesome.
“I also get a better insight into the kids and their schooling. I’ve seen the art projects, helped them with their maths homework… It’s good for me.”