Alison (Young) Clear* Interview: Selected Quotes

This page includes a number of quotes from the Alison Young interview. The interview overview page provides access to some background information, the audio from the interview, a transcript of the interview, and two video snippets.


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Early recognition of leadership ability

My father was absolutely brilliant. We were too scared not to succeed because Dad wanted us to. My mother put my father on a pedestal and we had to live up to his expectations. But he gave us the most amazing support. And he was able to identify very early our strengths, and guided us into those sorts of things. For example, my sister was a great sports person -- we did a lot of sports. My dad was a great sportsperson too. He represented several different provinces in New Zealand at tennis, rugby, cricket, [surf lifesaving,] and -- when I was being born two weeks early -- he was away playing in the final of the New Zealand badminton championships. He was a great sportsperson and my sister's very good. I was certainly well above average at sport. I won the senior year physical education prize at high school. And yes, I was certainly above average at sport. But my father must have seen some sort of ... I'll call it leadership ability early on in me, or maybe we just call it bossiness, and so when I didn't make the top netball team (read basketball here), he actually guided me into refereeing and I became the youngest New Zealand referee for women's netball at sixteen [years old].

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Homework rather than dishes

I think our inspiration was our father. And our mother. She always used to say things like, "You don't have to help with the dishes, because I can't help you with your homework. So my best help will be to do those sorts of things so you can go away and do your homework." Homework in our house was a thing that you did and you didn't do anything else until it was completed, every night.

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An aptitude test and shopping with Mother

Now, where we lived was 35 miles from the big city. Even though our high school was one of the biggest in the whole of the country, because it was out of Auckland, out of the big city, going to Auckland to the big city in the 1960s was a big deal. And my mother was the greatest shopper ever. And I loved shopping and I loved going shopping with Mum. So here I am, sixteen years old ... seventeen years old, just turned seventeen, and I got the opportunity of going to the big city shopping with my mother for a day. I would sit any aptitude test or any stupid test that they want me to sit if I can go shopping, take a day off school and go shopping with my mother. So I said, "Yep! I'll sit your silly test for you!" So Mum and I drove into Auckland that morning and I sat the test and I did it as quickly as I could because I didn't want to lose any shopping time. Well, I must have done very well on this test because by the time we got home they had rung up and said, "Quick, we want you. You've topped this test and we want you for this course." So it gave me a whole lot of things. It gave me the opportunity to leave high school. It gave me the opportunity of a career that was going to earn me lots of money so I could travel, so I could get there quicker than if I went and did five years at medical school or something. And I got my day's shopping with my mother.

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Binary and punch cards and plug panels

And it was all too new. I mean, we had hand card punch machines without any things on the buttons, so you had to remember them. We ... our first programs we wrote, we had to convert to binary and punch in binary on your cards, nine-edge leading. We wrote in a very, very basic -- with a little B -- basic assembler language. And the very first machine that we ever programmed, we also had the huge big plug panels where you load the piece of paper across and you had to plug the panels and then load your program in. And between the two of them it would do something. And I still have the cards and the printout from that program.

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Regaining belief in one's self

[M]y ex-husband, or my first husband, had totally taken away any self-esteem or self-belief that I had, so I went back to work totally amazed that people believed things that I said, because I had absolutely no belief in my own ability at that stage. He'd taken that all away from me. I have to add in here at some stage, because that's an enormous part of my growing up during that stage, for years and years and years he called me fat, dumb, and ugly, and I believed him. So when you're told something like that for so long. you actually believe it. I really believed I was really dumb and I had nothing to offer. And I went back to work and all my colleagues would ask me questions and I'd answer them because I knew the answers. And they would say "Thank you" and walk away. And I'd be standing there open-mouthed that they believed me.

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Getting the whole country to do research

At that stage I introduced the very first degree program into my own school ... the very first degree program in computing in the country outside the traditional university sector. And I introduced that very first one into my own school. So once we had that in place, we had to start building the research that supported that degree teaching. So I myself started doing research, started publishing, and then thought, "Gosh, I can't just do this myself. I have to have my own faculty and my own school doing it. And I also have to have the whole country doing it. Because it's no good just us doing it. The whole country has to do it!" Bossy old me again. So I said, "Right-o, this is what you're going to do. Now how are we going to do this? And we're going to do this properly!"

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"Getting started in research" workshops

So we got together and thought, "OK, if we're doing this -- and we can do this -- we've got to get the rest of the country doing this as well!" So we set up "Getting started in research" workshops. And we ran our first one -- national one -- in 1998, a two-day workshop. We got everybody in the country to come together in Wellington. We ran this two-day workshop on getting started in research. We still run them now. I don't know if we'll run any in 2006, but we certainly ran them in 2005. And we've run them anything from two days -- two-day ones and one-day ones that we've run. And then we've run part two of getting started in research, you know: how to publish, where to publish, how to write, how to get your own faculty motivated to do research.

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Your problem is you don't have a hobby

I've been so involved in my career in the last few years that my father told me I get stressed because I don't have a hobby. And it just made me laugh when I think of all that stress that I went through last year and he says, "Your problem is you don't have a hobby." A few years ago I got injured and I have a permanent knee injury. And that's when I had to stop refereeing immediately. Now, I was at the end of my career when I got the knee injury, so it wasn't like it was starting out and I'd have to ... I had surgery on it and they said, "No, give it all away." I wasn't ready to give it away in my head, and it took my head a long time to get over that.

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Over the moon with student successes

But I had three children in three-and-a-half years. I had a career as a teacher that I absolutely loved, because I got such huge satisfaction out of it and my students did so well on national exams. Remember the one year that the student won the international exam, I was just over the moon because I thought, "Yep, that's what the satisfaction's all about, isn't it?" To actually to see the penny drop, particularly when you're teaching introductory programming and all of a sudden you see, "Oh, wow, I've got this!" and off they go. That just gives me enormous satisfaction as a teacher.

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Education as an enormously satisfying career choice

Go for it. Go for it because it's enormously satisfying. Especially in education, too, if you are having a family you have the opportunity of vacation time the same time as the children have off school, especially over the summer. I think education is enormously satisfying and it does suit a family life more than a career in the industry, where you don't have that vacation time, you know, the time with the children. I also think it is important that I did go back to work to show my children how important education was. And they all have degrees now. Two of them looking at post-graduate. But it also showed them that having an education was enormously important and that I was dedicated to their education. So my advice is go for it.

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New Zealand at the bottom of the Pacific as good as anywhere in the world

[T]he thing I'm probably most proud of, so this could be a story, is making sure that New Zealand at the bottom of the Pacific is actually as good as anywhere in the world because of the national things that we've set up to make sure that we do compare. And we're continually ... continuously comparing and making sure that we are as good as the rest of the world.