Monday, 20 October 2014

Goodbye to Surface Mount Technology

As a new academic year started in September I was also making a leap into a new industry. I have moved back to a town where I consider my second home and where strangely I had move to exactly ten years to the day.

For the last seven years, which has been the majority of my twenties, I have been working developing SMT (Surface Mount Technology) printing equipment. This was a company that I originally joined in 2006 as a software engineering placement student but re-joined in 2008 after a graduate scheme with Siemens fell through due to the financial recession.

It’s fair to say my time there was interesting; there were three redundancy rounds, a lot of uncertain times, a new solar division that never got off the ground and the company was eventually sold by parent, the Dover Corporation.

During my time there I didn't see any growth due to the financial climate coupled with a focus on the government subsidised solar market but I did learn how the company had grown in its heyday. A lot of the practices that helped it succeed were latterly becoming a handicap and some had developed bad habits.

Fire Fighting was a classic habit. To the sales team it meant customer interaction, to higher management it meant simply getting the job done but it negated any level of engineering excellence or project management.  

With the company’s top down hierarchy approach the only thing one could do is watch it all unfold from the sidelines. It is fair to say this was at times highly frustrating knowing that the software industry had solved similar issues along time back so one had only needed to copy and recreate these within a traditional engineering environment. Issues would range from simple people management and working environment issues to more complex road map decisions.

I could never say there was ever a power struggle, far from it, but the lack of ownership was at the heart of most challenges. Ownership gives you quick decision making and the ability to fail quickly, as well as to simply understand what the rest of the business is doing.

Good and Bad, the company taught me a lot of business lessons which I will take forward when I eventually start my own business in two years time. The future of the electronics manufacturing industry is based around killer software that enhances automation. This goal isn’t new but hasn’t been achieved yet as Chinese hands were cheaper than complex systems. As we see the Mac Pro being made in the USA and the Raspberry Pi being made in the UK, Onshoring is now a big drive and so again is automation.

My concern is can a company that has a lot of ageing traditional hardware managers and values manage the deployment of killer software? We only have to look at the demise of Nokia and the success of Apple to conclude that question.

I leave focusing on beefing up my technical career and personal life but I see in the short future that I will be needed back to lead their software strategy and deploy a tied development approach to aid outsourcing. In the meantime I hope their new partnership with a sister company will guide them in the right direction.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Welcome to the start of the rest of my life

Graduating in November was a surprising shock. I knew that the end was near of course but as it got closer and closer the work load increased so it became easy to forget. Now twenty-three I realise that I am already knocking on the door of the mid twenties and while this may seems nothing to someone reading this blog I have set myself a goal that I would be clearly on my career path and hopefully had created a product, service or business by thirty. The last four years has flown by and I bet the next seven years will also. I put myself under this unnecessary pressure because the past has shown me that the only way I achieve good things is if I push myself. I look back now and I have realised I have always pushed myself for the benefit of myself, obvious you may say, but I realise now I have left University that there are a lot of people in the same boat who have pushed themselves with the intention to impress others, namely their parents. Now they have ticked the box of education what now for them? Many that I have talked to are in limbo, they have a degree under their belt but are suddenly realising they may have been going down the wrong path. They also no longer have the pressures of expectations from others as they have already been met; the foundations have already been made. Some are ‘travelling’, probably for the second time, some are thinking about enrolling on yet another degree and others have taken the plunge into a job that is nothing to do with their studied degree. Getting back to me, the reason I am happy to say that four years ago I knew where I would be in regards to my career now is because I set myself goals and had large amounts of self drive. My parents would have always been happy with me taking a more mundane job so I could never say they have been pushy, though my dad often uses reverse psychology to get me to prove him wrong. I now am working professionally as a Software Engineer while also working on projects in my spare time that hopefully I will be able to take further once this recession is over. I have already dodged two redundancy rounds and every day of work brings me opportunity to learn about work politics and generally how to behave and interact with my colleagues. I have to remind myself what I idealistic situation I am now in and that I am doing something I have chosen to do, not a lot of graduates can say that at this point of time, which maybe is a sad fact of our education system.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Chicken and the Egg

Working in the software industry it is very easy to think that software is king. Electronics courses are declining while the software discipline is becoming more defined creating excellent graduate computer scientists. I wouldn’t however describe the average computer graduate as a scientist as most are building on existing technologies and forget they can create their own. Apple’s success is that they created their own platform and luckily for them it became fashionable to own something different from the norm. Of course it isn’t always wise to stray away from the norm and even Apple had rocky periods where the company was struggling. My point though is one of software versus hardware. We forget as software engineers that the hardware we use contributes lots to our success and maybe we should focus our efforts on developing hardware too. While I don’t expect everyone to suddenly switch their approach to development I whish it was stressed the importance of hardware so that the hardware industry doesn’t swell up. I have never liked demonstrating software as it always feels so silly; lots of people staring at a small computer screen just doesn’t have the wow factor. Compare this with pulling out of your pocket a shiny new iphone. It has the wow factor because it is something you can touch and as a Software Engineer your software can make something move and light up. The fact is that development in hardware drives the technology industry along and software simply fills the gap. I do hope that it is not only the big boys that shape the future of hardware development as this in turn drives the progress of software development.

Monday, 14 April 2008

And I'm done

I finally submitted my major project at the end of March. I have been working on it for over a year and I am very happy with the outcome. It is detailed over at Grahamsoft Labs under the Waddon project name. It has taught me a great deal about microcontrollers and embedded software design, and more importantly it has given me a good idea of what I am interested in. Exams start in May so my next job is to begin revision; well I have already started just not very successfully. During my breaks I will be tidying up the BridTEC site as well as catching up with TV via the iPlayer. Little update regarding that; a separate kservice-clean application fixed my problems with the iPlayer, if you need more information about that contact me. So Summer is in the air, Spring is a pointless season, and it starts making me think about my future options as I am coming to the end of my degree. I definitely need more industry experience for a few more years but after that who knows. It will depend on where I physically am and how far I have climbed the corporate ladder, My dream has always been to run my own company. On the Job front interviews have been great however I let myself down with the aptitude tests. Most have not even been related to Software Engineering and often time is an issue. As I am dyslexic, something I never use as an excuse, I often run out of time with exams which is something unfortunately I can't practice to overcome. Hey, ho, someone will eventually accept me, lucky the jobs I have previously applied for haven't been my dream job. So I guess its back to revision.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Making the unmissable, unmissable

Last year I blogged about the BBC integrated Media Player, a IPTV application developed so UK residence could catch up on TV programmes they have missed. Well now renamed the BBC iPlayer, this application has been launched and I have been using it for some time now. It's been a bit of a boom for IPTV in the UK with Channel 4, ITV and Sky also launching their own versions of their catch up TV service. All apart from ITVs version use the Kontiki peer-to-peer software and the now famous kservice. ITV simply provide a streamed catch up service from their website instead of a standalone application. As I said I have been using the services for a long time and have continually used them through their beta periods. On the whole I had no problem. The quality is brilliant, downloads where fairly fast even with less popular programming and the range of programme choice is fantastic. A big however follows; after a software update, I think, of the BBC iPlayer the kservice started to use up to 100% of the processor like it was locked in a loop. This obviously reduced the performance of my computer and I had to shut it down. After many reinstalls and even tinkering with the registry I haven't come to a solution. As I said because the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky all use the same technology this means all applications are broken. So until I see a fix I am resulted to the streamed version of the iPlayer which was originally intended as a stop gap for Mac users as the Kontiki software isn't available for the Mac. So on the whole IPTV is shaping up good in the UK . The above described are the computer application versions but we are also seeing standalone set top boxes being launch like BT Vision and also BT Vision for the XBOX 360. There is an interesting time ahead and I look follow to future developments.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Merry Christmas

I've been quiet busy in the latter months and the amount of blogs clearly shows this. I'm back at university for my forth and final year. The work load certainly shows it's my final year but I'm just about coping under the pressure. The year consists of four main units and also my individual project. The project is weighted so it's equivalent to two more units, so it's large. The project its self is a model railway controller which is detailed at I'm learning some exciting stuff and strangely it's the first time in a while I have really enjoyed computing. This may sound odd being someone who promotes technology on a daily basis but after a while things become a bit samey. After you have got through the hype and marketing of any new technology you find that it's the same old thing repackaged and this becomes very disappointing when I see it time and time again. So with the project I am learning a new skill set and it's very interesting. Firstly I'm fiddling around with electronics, something that due to my brothers, who both studied it at university, I have always been interested in but never actually studied myself, not even at GCSE. There's bit of a learning curve here, and unlike software, one mistake and you create irreversible smoke. Secondary I am programming embedded firmware to be loaded onto microcontrollers. Unlike desktop computers, these microchips have limited resources so it has improved my skills as a programmer and has made me be not so wasteful. So far everything is going well. The summer just gone I spent prototyping and testing the platform I built to see if it could do everything I wanted it to do. Hopefully no major problem will occur but I have been developing software products for long enough to realise that something is bound to happen, I can only wait and see.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Why I do what I do

I am often asked why I enjoy what I do, to be honest most of what I do is frustrating, tedious and very repetitive. Lets face it anyone can do what I do, but then with leaning and experience I can do anyone else's job too. Using technology you defiantly have to be patient and I find as technology gets quicker people expect faster results which results in low tolerance towards slow responses. The fact that you can't do things in a flip of a switch puts a lot of people specially the older generation off using any type of technology. High tolerance is of course what I have, I have watched many progress bars in my time and unfortunately its something I have had to get use to. Ok, so I am not painting a very nice picture of what I do but there is an event that happens now and again that keeps me going, I call it “The Eureka Moment”. It mainly happens in Software Engineering but can also happen in most fields of IT. In Software, programming and design go hand in hand together as by the time you have finished the design you would have already started the programming as there is no strict line between the two. The low level design of a program takes a lot of thinking through, and I literally mean sitting and thinking how something is going to work. Paper and pen doesn't really help as you often experience white paper syndrome where you don't know where to start. Once you have solved how the jigsaw puzzle of your new software will fit together you have reached the eureka moment. It's such a great feeling and better more as thinking can be done anywhere, the moment can also happen anywhere, in the shower, on the bus or just before you go to bed. The reason I call it the eureka moment is because strangely enough it's normally unexpected, simply everything fits together which is ideal in software as normally one thing relies on another to work. Not everyone can visualise something in there mind so I believe that this is a key attribute of a good Software Engineer, lucky I have that skill.