Sunday, July 15, 2012

The IT Crowd loses one of its own

Sad to say Roger Hussey, the Jewish Chronicle's IT manager, died last week at his home in Essex. He was 57 years old - 55 when doctors told him he had cancer and 56 when they told him there was nothing more they could do. I was his boss. I had to step out of a reader event in Manchester, wine glass in hand, when he rang to tell me the news.

He spoke as if explaining how to defrag a PC, going into some detail about the diagnosis and the likely surgical scenarios. He was a mathematician, and despite what must have been a hammer blow of a shock, acutely alive to the logic of it all and chillingly analytical.

I went back to the reception, more shaken than the hands of the guests I'd been greeting. A couple of days later, he was back in his den. I'd call it an office but, well, you’ve all seen the IT Crowd.

Surrounded by cardboard boxes of cables, half-built PCs, CDS and old fashioned lever arch files, there was a man who knew the fuse rating of every plug in the building, the longevity and serial number of every server and the state of every data point.

With his somewhat shambling gait, lank blond hair and often reflective demeanour, he personified the quirky blend of mathematician and nutty professor that define the most imaginative IT brains; the sort that never take risks, value data as currency but have enough Robot Wars about them to keep you going when all you have is a looming deadline, a U2 battery and a coathanger.

He was an old school liquid luncher, more than once an after-work bon viveur who could catch the last train out of Fenchurch Street for the coast and be back at his desk by 9.30 without a flinch. No doubt hacks on the Basildon Echo will recognise that.

Once, when staff arrived at the office to find it barricaded by the National Grid because of a gas leak in the road, he appeared at my side as I looked down on the throng from the window. How did he get in? Best you don’t know, he said.

Here was an unflappable cryptic crossword of a man; loyal, brutally honest, fun-loving in an almost childlike way, yet stubborn to the point of arrogance when defending what needed defending. Never afraid to tell senior management they were (with respect, squire) not totally correct sometimes, he would follow a brief to the letter once a decision had been made.

He was strictly server-side. Engaging with a luddite public was never part of his job description (and yes, he did show me) nor was “wiping the a** of those who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a keyboard”. When one did get the past the human firewalls he'd lined up, he was charming and informative. Not so, when demanding to know why it had happened.

No better example of his complexity came when he did what Special Branch and the police cyber-crime unit (PC PCs to him) failed to do – locate the identity of someone who had attempted to hack the JC website. Asked to come down to the editorial conference to tell us how he did it, his explanation was indecypheraby Cantona. Two and a half years on I'm none the wiser.

After his diagnosis, he worked for months as if nothing had happened, dutifully booking time off for “medical reasons” and passing off major surgery as someone in “a surgical mask turning him off and turning him on again.”

He managed a performance or two with Rostock, a rock group in which he played bass and was still pushing for one last gig before it became physically impossible. A couple he did manage were for his children, both of whom brought their weddings forward so he could attend - and sing.

Throughout his “Uncle Dick leave”, he was never more than an email away, constantly reminding, suggesting, advising, first from a PC, then a laptop, and finally an iphone when he could no longer sit or stand. I'd say: “You're supposed to be convalescing.” He'd reply: “You're supposed to be doing it right!”

The mischievous humour he brought into the office – key passwords were often clever corruptions of 70s sitcom sketches – never left him. He would email with details of appointments with his “Uncle Ologist”, or talk about being injected with “paint thinners”.

His 56th birthday party included a pop quiz. I couldn't stay till the end but, having bored everyone with tales of my days as a teenage stringer for NME in the 70s, claimed to have been well ahead by the time I left, having casually boasted about how “I was there” when a song was recorded or a concert played.

He humoured me for months until the day he was whisked to hospital. I sent a text to ask why and he replied: “Pink Floyd song.”

I had to trawl Wikipedia to realise he was having breathing difficulties. I later asked how I was expected to know that, he told me: “I thought you'd have been there.”

He didn't suffer fools. I'm just glad he suffers no more.

He was a one-off. A lovely man, a consumate professional and the dearest of friends.

IT is worse off for having to evolve without him.

9 comments:

chris said...

In Roger, I had met my match - he was the only person I knew who could code Space Invaders in Assembly.

Roger took me under his wing when I started working at the JC. He taught me much - including never to try keeping up with him as we knocked back pints, which I learnt the hard way.

We spent many hours working together, whether it was fixing the backup generator in a pitch-black basement, unleashing said hack onto old PCs for fun, or coming second (out of two teams) in the pub quiz .

Roger was my friend, my mentor, and a mean guitarist. I will not forget him.

Anonymous said...

I still keep expecting to get an email from Roger. “Don’t f***ing disable the anti-virus”, or “pass the bog role” in response to one of the many user requests received on a daily basis. I didn’t have the time to get to know Roger all that well and am saddened by this. He had a sense of humor and intelligence I deeply admire. Roger, thank you for your mentoring and patience with me over these last few months. I will put to good use your teachings of Confucius and forever maintain a proper paranoid attitude. JC

Richard Burton said...

I recognise that. So, let me say what Roger would have if he were here: "don't forget to sign your name when leaving blog posts, Mr Cohen." even Confusious never wrote anonymously.

Sharron Livingston said...

Thank you Richard for putting into words the heartfelt feelings of warmth we all feel. I'd like to add a story of my own:

When I first started at The JC, a simple freelancer, I was given tasks that meant becoming conversant with various internet based systems that are used to produce the paper.

I was given a desk and a pc, but I didn't even have a log-in let alone know how to use the systems. Everyone was too busy to offer any guidance - except Roger. Succint, eloquent and highly helpful, Roger got me on my way in no time. I will forever be grateful to this quirky, funny man whose cheeky smile always left me intrigued.

God bless you Roger and may your soul rest in peace.

Sharron

Stephen Pollard said...

You've really captured Roger's spirit. I'll always treasure the look of bemusement when I'd ask him to install some idiotic piece of software with which I'd become obsessed, as if he was humouring a child.
As for 'have you tried turning it off and then on again?'...
Roger's unflappability was truly evident when we had to abandon Furnival Street on press day after a gas leak and fire, and ended up in a random office in Islington. Within minutes he had us up and running, and no reader would ever have known there'd been a problem.
RIP Roger.

Jenni Frazer said...

Endlessly patient but endlessly exasperated with we lesser mortals who didn't instantly grasp what we were being told. Roger's grip on things technical was awe-inspiring. Even when you sometimes believed the computer system was being held together with an elastic band, Roger would step in and magically, seamlessly, oblige things to work - because he said so. He had the driest sense of humour and was obviously deeply amused at some of the JC in-house shenanigans. But he and we took each other to our hearts and he was truly a part of the JC family. As they say in my part of the world, may his memory be for a blessing.

Jenni Frazer

John Kvalheim said...

Richard – thanks for providing this means to capture memories of Roger.

His funeral was purely wondrous and gave me the chance to remember him with pleasure & with pride.

I was so saddened hearing of Rogers death.
Roger did tell me in about his illness and treatment in December 2010 – and I will live with the shame that, other than reply offering him my very best and the suggestion that if he wanted to scream at someone I was more than willing to listen and talk, I never contacted him again.
I could put it down to pressure of work or whatever, but I should have, but didn’t get in contact again.

Roger and I first met in about 1996 as a result of our involvement in a Compuserve Lotus support forum “LOTUSC”.
He provided me (and countless others) with a wealth of help when I was learning that product. I truly benefited from his sound technical knowledge and experience which was always punctuated with his keen sense of humour.
He effectively mentored me to a position where I was to join him in being approached and asked by Lotus to join 3 Americans in overseeing and managing the entire form – quite a (unpaid) privilege and sense of recognition.
Roger led us all and was soon praised by many as being a subject “guru”. Many would write to him via the forum by name asking his advices, such was the respect for his abilities.

Roger had the idea to form a Lotus Notes user group and meet up with like minded “techies”. His likeable personality quickly came across and bonded him with others.
We downed many a pint coming up with a suitable name – “LOUISE” as in LotusOnlineUserInterfaceSouthEast (named unsurprisingly after a favourite watering hole – the Princess Louise in Chancery Lane). Lotus even sponsored us to a certain degree.
Such was his popularity that some forum members would make a point of arranging to meet up with him if they ever had to travel to the UK.
Fortunately for me, Roger always used to invite me along.
One such person was also an author of books on Lotus Notes. She quoted and referenced Roger in at least one of her books – she even posted over a dedicated copy to each of us.
You might see it somewhere: Cate Richards – “Using Lotus Notes & Domino 4.5”

Not only did we both share a passion for the Lotus Notes product, but we discovered quite early (and for what reason I cannot remember) on at one of our “putting the world to rights” meetings in the Princess Louise on Chancery Lane that we shared a love for music of the late 60’s & early 70’s.
Primarily & specifically this was Captain Beefheart.
I recall that one of Rogers fondest tales in relation to his musical tastes was regarding the LP “Safe As Milk” and the track “Abba Zaba”, in which Beefhearts refrain caused it to be known by his children as the “big baboon” song.
That always brought a bid smile to his face and a laugh to his lips.
It’s only know with the benefit of Google that I find that the refrain is “Gonna zaba her soon Babbette baboon abba zabba zoom “.
I only hope that Roger knew how accurate his children were.

I had previously mentioned Roger’s keen sense of humour.
Writing the above has brought back memories of how we would arrange our next meeting at “Princess Louise’s” via the forum.
Our American colleagues were, how can I say, somewhat gullible and were strung along for quite some time (many, many months) in believing that we were rubbing shoulders with the lower echelons of royalty/nobility.
“Prince Albert”; “The Duke of Clarence” and other such contenders for our get togethers just reinforced this view.
I think Roger said enough was enough and intentionally let the cat out of the bag when he added “the Royal George” to the list.

I shall miss my near-annual get together with Roger. As I said at the top of this note, I feel I failed him. Damn.

Again... it was good to meet, if even briefly today.

Kind regards & don’t let us forget him.

John Kvalheim

John Kvalheim said...

Richard – thanks for providing this means to capture memories of Roger.

His funeral was purely wondrous and gave me the chance to remember him with pleasure & with pride.

I was so saddened hearing of Rogers death.
Roger did tell me in about his illness and treatment in December 2010 – and I will live with the shame that, other than reply offering him my very best and the suggestion that if he wanted to scream at someone I was more than willing to listen and talk, I never contacted him again.
I could put it down to pressure of work or whatever, but I should have, but didn’t get in contact again.

Roger and I first met in about 1996 as a result of our involvement in a Compuserve Lotus support forum “LOTUSC”.
He provided me (and countless others) with a wealth of help when I was learning that product. I truly benefited from his sound technical knowledge and experience which was always punctuated with his keen sense of humour.
He effectively mentored me to a position where I was to join him in being approached and asked by Lotus to join 3 Americans in overseeing and managing the entire form – quite a (unpaid) privilege and sense of recognition.
Roger led us all and was soon praised by many as being a subject “guru”. Many would write to him via the forum by name asking his advices, such was the respect for his abilities.

Roger had the idea to form a Lotus Notes user group and meet up with like minded “techies”. His likeable personality quickly came across and bonded him with others.
We downed many a pint coming up with a suitable name – “LOUISE” as in LotusOnlineUserInterfaceSouthEast (named unsurprisingly after a favourite watering hole – the Princess Louise in Chancery Lane). Lotus even sponsored us to a certain degree.
Such was his popularity that some forum members would make a point of arranging to meet up with him if they ever had to travel to the UK.
Fortunately for me, Roger always used to invite me along.
One such person was also an author of books on Lotus Notes. She quoted and referenced Roger in at least one of her books – she even posted over a dedicated copy to each of us.
You might see it somewhere: Cate Richards – “Using Lotus Notes & Domino 4.5”

Not only did we both share a passion for the Lotus Notes product, but we discovered quite early (and for what reason I cannot remember) on at one of our “putting the world to rights” meetings in the Princess Louise on Chancery Lane that we shared a love for music of the late 60’s & early 70’s.
Primarily & specifically this was Captain Beefheart.
I recall that one of Rogers fondest tales in relation to his musical tastes was regarding the LP “Safe As Milk” and the track “Abba Zaba”, in which Beefhearts refrain caused it to be known by his children as the “big baboon” song.
That always brought a bid smile to his face and a laugh to his lips.
It’s only know with the benefit of Google that I find that the refrain is “Gonna zaba her soon Babbette baboon abba zabba zoom “.
I only hope that Roger knew how accurate his children were.

I had previously mentioned Roger’s keen sense of humour.
Writing the above has brought back memories of how we would arrange our next meeting at “Princess Louise’s” via the forum.
Our American colleagues were, how can I say, somewhat gullible and were strung along for quite some time (many, many months) in believing that we were rubbing shoulders with the lower echelons of royalty/nobility.
“Prince Albert”; “The Duke of Clarence” and other such contenders for our get togethers just reinforced this view.
I think Roger said enough was enough and intentionally let the cat out of the bag when he added “the Royal George” to the list.

I shall miss my near-annual get together with Roger. As I said at the top of this note, I feel I failed him. Damn.

Again... it was good to meet, if even briefly today.

Kind regards & don’t let us forget him.

John Kvalheim

Anonymous said...

The patience of a Saint. The bravery of a soldier.

Roger must have been the coolest kid in town, certainly the coolest kid at the JC. He had this ability to almost float around the office, fixing computers as he passed - sometimes without even touching them!

He taught me so much: "You mean you can automically forward emails from one account to another? You aren't sitting there doing it one by one?" Sometimes he must have wondered. It never showed.

But more than IT, he has taught me about life; about bravery, about dignity, about keeping calm and living life to the full. A truly lovely and gentle man.

So sad I can't thank him in person. RIP Roger. We miss you.

Candice Krieger