Eastpoint’s consulting engineer (and Xamarin developer) Oli tells us how his guitar teacher unlocked a career in engineering and programming.
When did you first become interested in software development?
It started when I was about 12, in Japan where I grew up. My father was a musician and my mum was keen for me to learn music from an early age.
I had a guitar teacher and she had an interesting method - instead of a one hour lesson every week it was two hours every two weeks. The idea was to learn to concentrate in substantial blocks of time. Inevitably there were breaks during the session and that’s when she introduced me to making websites.
She gave me a copy of a Japanese website building software – similar to Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver at the time.
Did you study computing or IT to further this interest?
When I was 15 I had moved to Edinburgh and eventually I had to choose my Higher certificate subjects. Computing was the closest subject but I specifically chose not to do it! I looked at the curriculum and felt I knew enough about IT already and had been disappointed by Computer Studies in the years before.
When I had to choose a university subject, I had a feeling I wanted to work with mobile phones or robotics but becoming a programmer wasn’t something I considered as a career path.
But I knew I wanted to spend my energy in digital technology innovation so I chose Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) at the University of Strathclyde. My understanding at the time was that it was a broad enough subject that you can choose your specialism later on, and opens doors into the many industries related with technology.
My grades were good so they recommended I did a master’s degree. They actually offered me to skip a year. But I knew university life wasn’t all about academics so I did the full five year course.
What was the course like?
I loved it. We really did cover the broad subject space of EEE and I got a distinction with my MEng by the end.
One of the many great outcomes was rekindling my passion for programming. Every year we learnt a new programming language, such as Java, C, C++ and hardware languages like VHDL and I became very proficient at Matlab to do signal processing.
I also chose to study business subjects like entrepreneurship, project management and change management. This was a happy coincidence for me - Strathclyde are strong on engineering but also acclaimed for business studies. I still carry these lessons with me.
What was your first job after university?
In the third year of university, out of curiosity I asked one of my favourite lecturers if I could do a summer placement. I ended up with a research grant from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and was working with the Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering (CUE) department, where I was paid to do a project during the summer. That was the beginning of my professional career as a research engineer.
I worked with the CUE department for projects throughout my course and I learnt so much through those experiences.
What was your favourite project during this time?
Definitely integrating an industrial robotic arm with various equipment to do automated inspection of carbon fiber composite plates using ultrasonic waves.
I learnt to programme a very expensive and possibly lethal industrial robotic arm, solder up some intermediate circuits so all the involved hardware was able to communicate, write some automation scripts to make sure the correct data was collected, and then apply my own signal processing algorithm coupled with my understanding of ultrasonics to find defects within the composite plates.
You were considering a PhD, why did you decide against it?
During my final year of university, a couple of my professors approached me and asked to consider doing a PhD with them. But I felt if I did a PhD it would be for the wrong reasons, just to stay a student and maintain that lifestyle.
I wanted to move on to a new challenge and I became a project leader in an engineering consultancy firm. It wasn’t a graduate position but a straight up job in a competitive environment, so I was really proud when the job was offered to me.
When did you decide to move to a more software-based role?
I worked for five years at an engineering consulting firm for heavy industries, specialising in non-destructive testing and mainly working on innovation projects.
It was a dream first job and had bit of everything: client interaction, the consultancy on the physics side, project management, designing, programming and manufacturing electronics, developing software for automation, signal processing, data visualisation, and academic research.
I felt the strongly academic approach to innovation was limiting the development speed, and the outcomes from these projects were a long way from competing in the market place. I wanted something different, more market ready.
The aspects of the job I loved were the project management and interacting with clients, so I wanted to do more on the consultancy side and use my broad range of skills across software and hardware if possible.
It was around that time that I met Eastpoint - I loved the energy put into the consultancy and the fact that products developed were taken to completion. I made the jump and don’t regret it.
You wanted to be a Xamarin developer in particular, why is that?
At my previous job I was working on an internal project for a bespoke sensor. I needed to gather data and display it nicely in an iOS and Android app. Using Xamarin, I could write the code once and deploy it to multiple platforms, which was exciting.
I was sceptical with the Xamarin platform at first, but it turned out to be very robust and the real deal, even before Microsoft bought it.
Growing up in Japan, I was fascinated with mobile phone technologies and the internet. Especially during my early teenage years Japan’s commercial technology evolved so fast. I’ve always wanted to work in those industries and so mobile apps – that completes the loop of my ambitions before I left for university.
What do you like most about your job?
Since I’ve been at Eastpoint, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of things, and I like that. I took the Xamarin University lessons and became a certified professional for mobile app development. I also learnt and applied ASP.NET Core and related technologies for web app development, with great help from my colleagues.
I have a passion for games and in the past few years I’ve been teaching myself Unity and Blender to make 3D games, those skills are transferable and I’ve been able to use them to work on AR/VR type of applications.
It’s crazy for me that I can do all of that using the one language, C#! I love it. Combined with my hardware expertise, I think I cover the broad spectrum of digital product innovation and that’s exactly where I want to be.
I love walking our clients through a project all the way to production and worrying about maintenance and coding practices. I like products that need to be competitive in the market, and challenge myself to do better on a daily basis.