Elizabeth Liston



“I get excited about new gadgets,  about making something work in a new way. You do a little “whoo-hoo!” 

I work as a contact centre specialist for a telecommunications company.

At high school, I did a business course that involved work placement for a chartered accountant, and at the end of that, they offered me a job. I finished school on Friday and started work on Monday! I was 17.

There, I got to use one of the first Wang minicomputers – not really ‘mini’ by today’s standards. This was late 70’s. I ended up being the data entry person, a new role at the time.

After about 3-4 years, I took on a job as a secretary to the General Manager at Britannia Sportswear. I had to go to night school to brush up on my shorthand to get that job. When the company privatized, I got promoted to doing administration for the import and export department.

By my mid twenties, I wanted to progress my career and get a better salary. I went back to university to do a degree. I did a bachelor of business administration at RMIT, which took me 6 years part-time.

I remember starting with 350 other people in my course, and the lecturer told us on the first day, “Most of you aren’t going to finish.”

And I thought, “Bugger that, I am going to finish!” And I did.

Whenever it got hard, I imagined myself walking on that podium and collecting the degree.

I have to say though, going to university part-time while having a job worked in my favour, people were always impressed by my effort.


While studying, I changed jobs and went to Colonial Mutual, the Managed Services department. I started as a stock controller. Everything was done in-house back then: printing, maintaining their own car fleet and warehouse. We managed those services and supplies, coordinating orders, facilitating their delivery.

It was my first step up, from just being a worker to getting management responsibilities. I had a couple people working under me. The power did not go to my head, don’t worry!

I was at Colonial for 14 years. I was promoted to a job in the IT department pretty quickly. There was a job that had to assist with using a satellite-like technology to help their sales force send orders back to the headquarters.

My technology knowledge was minimal at that point.

I got that job because I was used to running large databases. So that was my transition from managing stock to managing a service.

Then a job came up for a Voice Officer in Communications department. So I got involved with maintaining and upgrading voice infrastructure and computer systems, building networks, changing carriers.

I was on the user end, working with the vendor. I learnt the Nortel product really well, learnt to troubleshoot. I often took the lead on projects, so project management was the key skill I gained.

I was entering a really male-dominated industry, but luckily my first mentor was an absolute delight and gave me every opportunity to learn and progress.

Then Colonial bought the State Bank of NSW and a lot of IT decision-making moved there.

I also had my baby Meg then. After my maternity leave, I decided I would only work part-time, until Meg went to secondary school. It was really tough financially, as I was on my own.


I had a very tight budget, always hanging on to my next pay. I never got any help, not from the father, not from the government, as I was over a certain threshold. I had my house, and I hung on to it for dear life I knew was a good investment, my retirement nest!

Those early days were very hard, but it did get easier.

Maybe I got used to it, or the costs got lower once Meg went to school, and I didn’t have to pay for child care anymore.

Working 3 days was ideal as it gave me time to look after Meg, but also allowed me to keep up to date with IT industry. It moves very fast and it’s easy to drop out. So I always had a strong focus on keeping my knowledge current, staying on top of trends. I must say I was very lucky, to have known the people I did, and to be able to maintain that work-life balance.

I really enjoyed what I did in the voice side of things, which is what led me to eventually specialize in call centres. I realized I like working on applications, getting specialized software up and running.

I got a buzz from the problem-solving aspect, figuring out solutions to people’s IT needs.

I left Colonial for a new company working as a Nortel distributor. However, things didn’t pan out and their sales suffered. But while there, I started working with a company called VoIP, servicing a common customer. And VoIP invited me on board, through a deal they made with my company. Basically I got traded!

I was definitely happy with that. I was still only working 3 days a week, but after Meg went to school, I asked for more time. They allowed me to work 5 half-days, and then eventually full time. I was deploying telco systems, programming them for clients. I was in charge of organizing project logistics, configuring systems, inputting data, liaising with the client, providing customer service, training. It was a lot of fun.

As VoIP grew, they started doing more contact centre deployments and maintenance. And that’s when I realized I really enjoyed doing the scripting for the call distribution and routing. All contact centres are different, it’s not a cookie cutter situation.

You go in deep, finding out how they want to do it.

Some projects are dull and little, so you think, “I can do that blindfolded.” But the complex jobs that give you challenges are the ones I really enjoy.

I find it hard to explain what I do. My daughter does not know what I do, nor do my friends. First, a contact centre solution will get sold to a client. I will then be part of the project team delivering it. I will take the lead on installation, implementation, design and training.


I will talk to the client about the expectations for the centre: how many agents, what features are needed, what time of day will they be working, what will they do, do they need an emergency service, what message will the caller hear.

I make a flow diagram that maps every possible caller scenario. Design doesn’t have much to do with technology itself – it’s like the client’s ‘wish list’.

Then I and my team must configure the system, the product to do that. That’s the configuration part. You figure out the agents’ roles and responsibilities, the skills they have. You have tiers of people. You create the call routing – who gets the call and how, under what circumstances. This is my favourite part.

Then there’s the ongoing management from the customer point of view. They need to know, if there is an emergency, what do we do? How to do it?

Say your call centre opens at nine, but there’s been a traffic jam and there’s no one there. What happens? You need to have a solution for things like that.

You get all that planned, written down, documented. Then you teach the supervisors and managers how to manage the system. Some embrace it and some prefer to use the helpdesk. Every customer is different.

Sure, some days are really boring, when you have to write up documentation. That’s probably my least favourite. Actually, timesheets are my least favourite. I also don’t like doing helpdesk. When the phone rings, and it’s the service desk, you know it’s going to be a fault.

Mostly the pain is the users who have not been trained properly. That can actually be quite funny sometimes, you can share the stories later and have a giggle. And thankfully, I don’t deal with end users. I was not born to deal with public, I don’t have enough patience.

Sometimes, it can be a little anxious. For instance, when you’re doing a cutover for an important service, maybe an emergency service. You can’t miss a beat, you can’t take them offline.

I get excited about new gadgets, and about learning something new in order to put something together in a new way, and make it work. You do a little “whoo-hoo!” It makes you feel clever!

I ended up specializing in contact centres because I really like that you have a deeper relationship with your client. The clients are generally IT managers, or call centre team leaders. You mentor them until they can stand on their own two feet and run the system, and then sometimes they don’t need you anymore!

I’m really content at this stage. The culture at VoIP is great, I feel supported and appreciated. You want a company that makes an investment in you and your future. I’m 55 and I spent a good part of this year getting trained on a new product. And being a female in a male-dominated industry, I appreciate the opportunities I have been given to become such a qualified and valuable specialist.

I am grateful for being given the support and flexibility with working hours in the early days. I feel lucky that I am able to to specialize in something that I really enjoy.

I’ve always landed on my feet career wise.

I am not the bravest of people, to go and take huge risks. Until recently, my pay-check has been paramount to me, so that made me risk averse. I don’t know if that has served me well, or maybe held me back from some bigger opportunities to make better money or have a more illustrious career. I really can’t complain, I am happy just where I am.

I feel like now I have time and means to explore life’s possibilities. I’ve taken up dragon boat paddling two years ago. At first I didn’t feel good enough to go to regattas, but last season was my first regatta season. I didn’t make it to the nationals though, due to work and my own timings. This year though, I’m going to the nationals!

And one day, maybe when I retire, I’d love to represent Australia.

I like working though. I’d be bored not doing anything. And unless I’m really broke, and have to work for money, which I don’t anticipate, I will probably end up in a volunteer role somewhere, doing something to help people.