It was pointed out to me that I've reached a bit of a milestone, and it might be interesting to do a bit of a review. So I shall...
[Please note I struggle with the concept of time, so this may well be inaccurate]
Pre-history of my route to SSDC
I left school at 16 (1982) and started a 4 year apprenticeship at Bell and Howell (after various name changes I think it's Gems Sensors now). Wasn't I adorable!.
This was a very low pressure test rig, HP scanner, automated a few years later by me and where I learnt the lesson that complex is bad....it stuck with me.
Did some great work here with my SSDC colleague Adrian, mainly in HPBASIC or HPPascal.
Anyways I got into production management when project money dried up and hated it, left grumpily in 1995
Had some fun years and improved as a self-contained engineer here, for a small golden period I was actually a Principle Engineer which was the only job title I really wanted.
This job was mainly shop floor test systems testing Aerospace Transducers (Speed, Torque, Temperature and Pressure).
Here I met Jonny Conway and he introduced me to LabVIEW. We discussed design at length and Jon introduced me to the concept of Coupling, Cohesion and Information Hiding and how we could apply them to LabVIEW. This was my first introduction to proper design in software. We also both started studying an Msc in Computers in Commerce and Industry with the OU. This introduced us to proper software engineering techniques. We decided to apply these techniques to the projects we were working on in one project we both designed a system in this structured fashion without consulting the other on the design. Our efforts were remarkably similar and this confirmed that there was something to these techniques. I hasten to add that Jonny was miles ahead of me in these designs and if I remember he already had LCOD (LabVIEW Component Oriented Design) in his mind.
Incidentally this was the project where we made our own queues and ran the UI through them, decoupling the UI from the FP. LabVIEW 4.01 I think and 1997ish.
The factory started to feel a bit claustrophobic to me and I was getting frustrated, my kids were young and I was only seeing them for 10 minutes a day (their stroppy 10 minutes at the end of the day). Something had to give and Jonny gave me an exit for Jan 2000, I could join his company (SSDC) and go contracting.
I wasn't that keen on contracting and liked the idea of fixed price work. We blagged a couple of jobs early on, but neither of us had any concept of marketing or sales, we were just internal test engineers.
Parliament View - EPR Architects
This is our first fixed price job.
In August 2000 we decided to go to NIWeek and this was my first real interaction with NI, we behaved very badly and impressed nobody. Was funny tho'.
In 2001 we became NI Alliance Partners.
We did some really interesting systems and working in multiple companies really accelerated my capabilities as an engineer, I could feel myself getting better. One job in 2001 was a nano-positioning system for a company called Queensgate.
This was an LabVIEW API for their 100um XY table and we also wrote a raster scanner as an example. As a side note it also had unit tests as part of the deliverable. While we were working on this, Queensgate were struggling with a huge test system, where they had several experienced LabVIEW engineers contributing to one set of code. It was mayhem.
We showed them some design techniques, how to define interfaces and how to architect the project, they all said we should write a book and the seed was planted. I'm still quite proud of it, we were talking about queues and MVC, configuration, state machines a long time before anyone else.
We sat back and waited for the work to roll in....it didn't, instead there was a massive recession in 2002 and all the work dried up. Times were VERY tough! In 3 months I invoiced £200 and had to pay my mortgage on the credit card, being saddled with massive tax bills from the year before didn't help either.... it was touch and go. On the upside it taught me about cold-calling, sales, marketing.
Jonny had left and Adrian had joined, I've always like the dynamic of a partnership. With this new version of SSDC we only had one thing that we would keep coming back to as a company ethos.
We had seen tough times and we really wanted to tackle interesting work anywhere, fear was the thing that inhibits personal/professional growth. All of our proudest moments/biggest advances came from succeeding in a project we were scared about tackling.
Here's what I was afraid of in 2003
Not feeding my family and crushing debt
Speaking to strangers on the phone
Notice that technical fear was absent here, our methodology had mitigated most of this to a point where we were confident that we could solve most problems.
I needed to conquer 2 and 3 to ensure 1 didn't happen. I tried a scripted presentation to 200 people and it was awful. NI offered to send me on training, but I was too traumatised for that.
A couple of things changed my attitude, I started CSLUG and regularly presented and was never nervous. These presentations were technical in nature and on subjects that I could talk about unscripted. The other thing I observed was that the ripples you cause in life are tiny!, people barely notice you as they are wrapped up in their own stuff. To an introvert like me this was a massive gift, I no longer had to confirm to anyone's expectation.
I've now presented to peeps all over the world and some people enjoy it, I actually quite enjoy it now and don't get nervous at all.
With 2) I just had to suck it up and get over it, you would be surprised how hard it was tho'
I won't bore you with anything since I started blogging, instead I thought I would look back at where I am compared to 20 years ago.
I'm far more empathetic and this has made me a better designer. Viewing user feedback as a gift, rather than a challenge to my manhood has made a massive difference.
I don't feel the need to please everyone.
I'm more assertive and that has improved my relationships with everyone. (I've always been fairly assertive, I just never self-analysed that much)
I've nearly cracked what makes a design complex. I can feel it, it's that close!
I'm far more strategic and entrepreneurial.
I can now say that I'm good at design without stumbling over the words or getting self-conscious.
The main thing tho' is that I'm still having fun in this job and see no reason to change it.