Meet ze Engineer – Andi, Software Development Team Lead

Hey Andi, thanks for chatting with us. Are you able to tell us a bit about your current project?

I’d love to, but I have been sworn to secrecy by The Powers That Be. I can tell you, however, that it’s a medical device and super exciting to work on. Imagine the most amazing doodah in doodah history, then double the amazement, plus a badge labelled “Doc-o-tron 2500+ Deluxe” in 1950s future-tech chrome letters and you’re close. I might be exaggerating slightly, but seriously: it’s a lot of fun!

What sort of role do you have here at Bluefruit?

Managing a mixed-role team of 11 software engineers, test engineers, and quality analysts means I get to wear a lot of different hats.

With my manager hat on (a Victorian top hat from the 1880s, complete with moustache and monocle), I walk around with a little can of oil (coffee) and make sure that my team’s brains are well lubricated. Generally checking in and making sure that team members aren’t overwhelmed by the work that they’re doing and that things are on track. Unofficial team motto: “Have fun!”

With my engineer hat on (flat cap), I enjoy being called in when there’s a particularly difficult code conundrum to be resolved. I started programming at the age of 8 (so… 25 years ago, blimey!) and have always loved anything that has buttons and levers and motors and blinky lights. That, plus a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, give me the expertise to help my team tackle all sorts of fun problems.

With my analyst’s hat on (bowler), I’m the main contact for the client. Understanding their needs and what we can deliver in a project is pretty important. You don’t want to promise a unicorn when your team isn’t able to deliver one. Instead, we listen to our client’s needs and then agree on deliverable work items (horse, horn, a way to stick one to the other). This gives us a solid ground to work on and helps us manage our client’s expectations at the same time.

What are the skills you need to accessorise correctly with your hats?

Diplomacy.

Being able to manage both our clients and our team members’ expectations, ensuring we work together effectively. On the one hand, you need to be able to deliver what the project is calling for. On the other, we’re people, not robots. Everyone’s different, every project is different and you need to be able to navigate both in order to succeed.

Coding.

I don’t get as much coding time as I used to, but it’s still important to be able to understand what my team’s producing and be able to make recommendations when they come to me with questions. It also means I know what is possible when clients make requests.

General Engineering.

As vague as it sounds, it’s actually super useful. By that term I mean things like the general understanding of the technologies and physics involved in a project, be that motor controls, electronics, the likes. While I can’t claim to match the specialists, who have dedicated their lives to these fields, being able to speak their lingo and understand their challenges is immensely valuable when it comes to solving cross-discipline problems.

Project Management.

I keep our client projects on track, keeping an eye out for barriers that might get in the way. But I also keep an eye open for scope creep that has the potential to put projects over time and over budget and could actually lead to us delivering something that isn’t really what the client wanted.

How did you learn how to do what you do?

As mentioned above, I’ve always loved technology. When I was a little kid, my parents gave me a little electronics learning kit with instructions to make it into dozens of different things, from little blinking LEDs to building a simple radio. Back then I didn’t understand how most of it worked, but that didn’t stop me trying.

Programming came in not much later when I got a little educational computer for Christmas. There were dozens of these on the market at the time, and my Mum bought the most obscure model she could find. Apparently, this particular one was originally made as a Gameboy competitor by some company in Hong Kong, then later re-released in the shape of a laptop computer for children, but only in Germany. It’s a huge shame that it never really took off, because it was hands-down the best educational computer on the market at the time. Not only did it have a proper “high-resolution” screen (by early 1990s standards), it also came with a powerful BASIC programming environment that even let you do your own graphics and print stuff out on a little printer! Best prezzie ever! Thanks, Mum!

Oh yeah, I also went to Uni for a bit.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Being a Team Lead, I get to be involved with a wide range of things. Today I might be doing a spot of coding, tomorrow I could be out and about visiting a client, and later represent my team in a business meeting about The Future™. The latter occasionally comes with free ice cream – the job does have its perks!

What is your favourite thing about working at Bluefruit?  

Two main things, really:

Firstly, because we develop software for other people rather than a more or less fixed in-house product range, we have a great variety of projects going on, from flashy websites to circuit boards with lots of wires and electric motors and engineers staring very thoughtfully at an oscilloscope. That gives us employees lots of space to grow and learn new skills and keep things fresh.

Secondly, Bluefruit gives its teams a lot of freedom. One of my favourite examples is what is essentially pocket money for the team. Every month, we get a certain amount of money, which we can then spend in (almost) any way we like – no questions asked. This gives us the freedom to decide for ourselves what we want to do – blow it all on an escape room experience with the entire team, buy that extra monitor for someone, or try out some exciting new brand of coffee.

What do you do on the weekends or in your spare time?

In the summery months, you’ll often find me pottering around Cornwall on my classic motorbike (Read more about Andi’s journey travelling from Germany to Cornwall on his motorbike). During less summery times, I’m a big sucker for video games, in particular simulations and logistics management games – my favourite at the moment: Factorio.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in the software/tech/engineering space at the moment? 

That would be Deep Learning and AI for me, fields that are teeming with innovation at the moment. Suddenly, we have the means to automate abstract and complex problems that used to be the sole domain of the human mind, with amazing breakthroughs being published, from an AI writing Tolkien fan fiction and news articles to one that can detect cancer in X-ray images more reliably than a human can.

Truly, we live in interesting times.

If Bluefruit had an unlimited R&D budget what would you want us to work on?

Well, first of all, I would buy one of those teaching machines that plug directly into your brain, like in the Matrix movie.

Secondly, I would then use that to equip every one of our engineers with all the knowledge of AI currently known to mankind.

Thirdly, we would then design an AI that helps us engineer machinery and software. This, in turn, we can then use to invent a time machine and one of those teaching machines that plug directly into your brain.

Fourthly, we use the time machine to go back in time and sell back to ourselves the teaching machine.

Once these minor steps are complete, we can embark on our main mission of creating an AI that comes up with an infinite number of new and exciting ice cream flavours.

Thanks for your time Andi – let’s talk about how to secure that unlimited R&D budget…but that’s probably another story!