Secretarial: I Work For...: Hello, Mr President

Audrey Noone is executive assistant to Fran Rooney, chief executive of Baltimore Technologies
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After graduating in Business Studies and French, I went to work at the World Bank in Washington DC for five years. It was a fantastic job within the West African department assisting on the development of poverty programmes.

I came back to a completely different Dublin - more vibrant, more alive and more international.

Before people were rather sceptical of computers, but now we have our own version of California's Silicon Valley, and many young Irish people are getting degrees in IT as they see it as guaranteeing them a good future. Having taken time out to see which companies were booming, I recognised that the Internet was the way forward and applied for this enticing job [in information security on the Net].

I was warned that Fran was very a difficult and demanding boss to work for, but instead he was full of energy and enthusiasm. Yes, he wants us to do well and will push you to your limit, and, in doing so he gives you wings, and lets you fly.

On my first day, my "induction" into the company was when Fran asked me to compile a report on our competitors. For a newcomer it was a very daunting task but to my relief I discovered the strong element of team work within the company. Three weeks later Fran put me on a stand at an information security conference and told me to talk to prospective customers. It was a baptism by fire for I knew almost nothing about the products, but by the end of the three days I couldn't thank him enough for what I had learnt.

In my job you never know who is going to call or who you are going to meet, but I must say I would never have anticipated meeting Bill Clinton or working with members of the White House staff. However, one day last year I received a call from the White House. The Irish Government had suggested to the US Government that our products be used to enable the digital signing of an electronic communique between the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and the President of the United States.

I was in the front row during the signing while the event was televised. What an amazing feeling it was to know that my family were watching me on television - sitting in front of the President. After the signing, Mr Clinton came to meet the staff, including myself, and I saw how amazing a presence he is.

I first recognised the importance of computer security when at the World Bank, because millions of billions of dollars had to be transferred in safety from place to place. Fran has always said that one should take information security seriously for one never knows when a phone could be tapped, a room bugged or even an e-mail intercepted. People assume that when they e-mail, they are sending a closed letter, whereas their messages are the electronic equivalent of a postcard which can be read by anyone, unless the message is encrypted.

A simple example of the dangers of an insecure system is where important documents, say the payroll or a contract, can be intercepted and modified without trace. The Internet fascinates me, and I use it to buy almost everything for the office because it's so efficient. Fortunately, I understand the need for credit card security guarantees from the retailer, before making any purchases.

I work very much to Fran's agenda rather than my own. He sets the day's goals at 8.30 each morning and sends me off to research areas he's interested in, so I never know what I will be working on from one day to the next which is an aspect of my job I really enjoy. Of course there are times when I find myself surrounded by staff talking in programming jargon which can sound like an alien language to someone from a non-technical background.

My colleagues can, and do, work through the night, but it's because they want to. I work long hours too, on average 11 hours a day, and remain on call over the weekend. But I don't mind because I enjoy both the financial benefits and the job itself.

Winning the Irish Software Association Company of the Year Award last year was an emotional occasion for us as we all felt we had contributed to it. This year we've employed many more females, which indicates that girls are beginning to find IT appealing. We try to go out together as a company on Friday night - including Fran, who loves to meet his staff outside of work.

I travel quite a lot with Fran and constantly organise his itinerary because he is away for two weeks in every month. We have over 20 offices globally, which means Fran is on a very tight schedule travel-wise. On one occasion he rang to say: "Audrey, I'm running late, can you do everything in your power to get me on the plane?" Remarkably, I managed to get the plane to wait an extra minute for him.

Yes, this is a frantic job, but it's also an exciting one which I thoroughly enjoy, so I simply work up the adrenaline to meet the pace.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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