In this week’s The Greatvine, we hear from Bruce McKenzie, an ICT lecturer and coordinator at CQUni Melbourne, whose pathway to teaching included time in a chicken suit, vital beach fishing know-how, and pursuit of the rock and roll dream.
A passionate programmer since the mid-1980s, Bruce has been passing on his expertise for the past 20 years, bringing humour and practical advice to all his lectures. He’s also in his second year of a Doctor of Education, looking at teaching coding into primary schools.
Bruce chatted to the Greatvine as he waited for news of the arrival of his first grandchild – and little Florence arrived just days later. Congrats, Bruce!
How did I end up here? Well, we have to go back to the beginning of 1985. It was sort of by fate – I was living on the Gold Coast with my partner, renting a flat off my Dad that was one street back from the beach, it was really good. And at that time, I was doing flim-flam singing telegrams – you can just imagine me in a gorilla suit or a chicken outfit, running into parties and telling jokes, and we had all sorts of costume characters, used to do strip-o-grams – that’s sort of how my personality is, and it really helps with teaching! I used to do telegrams in front of thousands of people.
I used to love beach fishing, and a family friend of my partner decided to come down fishing one day – I said come down the beach, I get down there and get pippies out of the sand, cast in my surf baron 13 foot rod over the back, and here I am pulling in bream and flathead and whiting – I said you’ve got to know where and when.
Just by chance, he mentioned he was going to be doing his HSC again at TAFE. And I was a bit of a crossroads, so we went and enrolled and away we went! I thought I might go onto uni and become a doctor or something, but the idea of being a programmer began to make sense.
I can be empathetic with students, I’d never touched a computer and didn’t even know what one was, but it was a mathematical background that got me through. Still, I got my first assignment and I just didn’t have a clue what to do! So it’s a good experience for me as a lecturer, looking at an assignment and thinking, well this is how I’d do it.
Back then, our computer lab access was two hours a week! I remember buying my very first floppy disk – the bookshop only had a little box of floppy discs, and I bought one, and that was $10! In those days, that could have fed me for a week!
Anyway, I made it through my undergrad, and then an honours year, and was working as a professional software engineer. And through fate, I ended up back in Melbourne again, for the birth of my second child. And I’d apply for all these programming jobs, and they’d look at my credentials and think, hmm, he probably knows more than all the bosses, because I was always involved in leading-edge stuff.
It’s funny how you get jobs, I was looking through the papers and Deakin University was advertising multimedia courses, and I thought, right, they need someone who knows multimedia. I sent my resume in, and they said come in – but they said what they were advertising for is students! But they said they had a teacher away – would I like to take a class? So I got a contract for a year to be an associate lecturer at Deakin, and was thrown in the deep end of course! From there, I went to Chalmers College, which was bought by CQUniversity – and I’ve been here since 2001.