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Iain Barton is a man with many skills. A freelance IT developer, working primarily with Microsoft tools, he also runs a farm in Cheshire and rents out holiday cottages to tourists. That is what is called working 24x7. "I just never go to bed," he admits.
Barton first got into the IT industry in 1988, when he set up his own business selling computer hardware. "I wanted to do something that would enable me to live where I liked," he explains. Because of shifts in the market, he changed the company's focus after a few years. "In the early 1990s, the computer hardware business had changed so much that I moved out of that kind of computing into general consulting and creating applications," he says.
These days, Barton concentrates on programming work for small to medium-sized enterprises. "I build things such as contacts databases or financial applications, using Microsoft products. One of my clients is an insurance company for which I extract data from a mainframe application and provide a user-friendly front-end for local staff to access. I am producing management information really."
Barton specialises in Access, Visual Basic 5 and 6 and Foxpro, although demand for Foxpro skills is low.
He is also the regional co-ordinator of the North West Visual Basic (VB) user group, part of a national forum for VB professionals. The group provides a variety of services, including seminars, conferences, a technical helpdesk for members and VB contracting work. Barton is keen to increase the profile of the North West division and expand its membership.
When he is not busy doing all of this, Barton has 1,300 acres of arable and dairy farmland to run. Some of it he farms himself, the rest he oversees. It was only five years ago that Barton took on the farm. "I am farming the farm that belonged to my parents and grandparents," he explains. "It has been in the family for about 200 years and I took it over in 1996 after my father died."
The biggest issue Barton has faced since he took over the farm has, of course, been foot and mouth disease. At the height of the crisis, cattle at a farm three miles from his were diagnosed as having foot and mouth and slaughtered, but he has fortunately remained untouched. "The threat has now receded and hopefully it won't come back," he says.
Barton is relieved that he is able to diversify and thinks this mix of IT and farming offers him the best of both worlds. "With farming, I like being outside and with IT, I enjoy the intellectual challenge," he says.