Why is it so much fun to work in software?
Yens: Before starting Bachelor’s degree course in Electronics and ICT I didn’t really get in touch with software. But as soon as I did, I loved it. It’s so rewarding to build something from scratch, without requiring a lot of resources, except perhaps a software license. And you can also delete and start over if it’s not good. If you build something physical, you need basic material and hardware tools like a soldering iron or so. As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming an art director in the games industry, but I lacked the graphic design skills. In software and the rest of my job, I can really use that penchant for creativity. As an IoT Engineer, you get the freedom to choose the path you take to reach a goal. For sure, you have to take performance into account, but you’re allowed a lot of technical creativity. Creativity is a very personal thing that doesn’t let itself be fenced in. I have always enjoyed tinkering and taking things apart. I do it less these days, my girlfriend likes to keep our equipment intact…
Learning machines to talk to each other
How would you explain what an IoT Engineer does?
Yens: The job description probably differs from one company to the next, but I take a broad view on the role. Of course, it’s about writing software, but integration also plays a large part. Mostly, you’re working with different environments and different machines that each have their own protocol. As an IoT Engineer, you ensure that all these different machines can communicate and exchange data. It’s important that data can flow in all directions. An IoT Engineer will also deploy the code, and put it into production. This requires some knowledge of what happens on the work floor. Understanding Operational Technology (OT) is just as important as understanding IT. You have to know the features of the different brands of machines and their specificities.
The great thing about being an IoT Engineer at Inimco is that you get a lot of freedom in defining your own space and role.
What specific tools do you use on a daily basis?
Yens: The full IoT stack, of course: Visual Studio (to develop modules), IoT Explorer (to see data flow between different systems), Microsoft SQL Manager, and specific Azure tools such as IoT Hub, IoT Edge-related tools, ADX Explorer… And, of course, anything OT-related, like tool stacks for Modbus, OPC, Kepware, KEPserver… I learned using many of these tools on the job, for instance when I saw people at the customer using them, or customers asking questions about these tools. And among colleagues too we share a lot of information on tools. Inimco also encourages us to take the certification course and exam for these tools. In all, I have four current certificates for Microsoft Azure: Azure Fundamentals, Azure Data Fundamentals, Development Associate and IoT Developer, of course. And I am also certified for Kepware and KEPserver.
What is the most important quality of an IoT Engineer?
Yens: Keeping a good overview of the entire process is key in IoT. Making a change in step 3 can cause something in Step 7 to fail. So you need to know what happens in all the different stages and machines. That is not something that you learn at school, you learn it by doing it and succeeding. Or failing from time to time.
Never a dull moment
Did your role evolve in the three years that you were with Inimco?
Yens: It certainly did. As I gathered more experience, I was allowed to take on more tasks, for instance listening to customer requirements, helping them with the planning of the project. And nowadays I even try to spot sales opportunities at the client that I am focusing on and helping draft a sales quote we make to the customer. I also play a role in support, viz. in the 24/7 support contract we have with them. This means being standby during weekends and even at night. So sometimes we work strange hours, for instance when we need to deploy something new in a production environment. You can’t stop their operations to do that, so we have to wait until they stop production in the evening. So sometimes you need to work till past midnight to get this done.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Yens: Sometimes I start the day thinking it will be a fairly quiet day and I will be able to focus on one specific thing. But then support tickets start coming in, and the day takes on a completely different shape… I’m fortunate to be able to work together with very competent team members who are always willing to lend a hand.
When I started at Inimco I sometimes found it hard when these unexpected things happened, but as once you know what to prioritize, you learn to cope better with these little ‘surprises’. Nonetheless, going home with a positive feeling of ‛a day well spent’ is easier some days than others!
What do you find most satisfying in your job?
Yens: When you’re in a live testing environment and you see the messages flowing in, or see a machine powering up and doing its job thanks to the integration we built - that is hugely satisfying. I just love to see my software kick into life on the production floor. Solving a Priority 1 issue ticket can give the same kind of satisfaction, especially if you can locate the root cause easily and correct the error. I also like helping colleagues. My area of expertise is in integrations and IoT Edge, and that is very specific knowledge that allows me to apply my expertise in other people’s projects too. We have a culture of sharing knowledge and best practices with each other, that is really a bonus for the job.
A piece of advice
Would you recommend friends or family to work at Inimco, and why?
Yens: Actually, I have already made these recommendations. I think Inimco is a great place to learn and hone your skills. Over my three years at Inimco, I have been able to seize different opportunities at Inimco, and it’s great that there is this openness to let people try out different things. You are offered a chance to get a taste of all the different parts of the lifecycle of a product at Inimco. Functional analysis, development, deployment, maintenance, support, project management, sales, coaching of new hires… That helps you grow as a professional. I am very grateful for all these opportunities.
It’s a two-way street, of course: we also need to grab these opportunities and live up to the expectations that we set ourselves. And that requires flexibility from everyone.
What advice would you give a young graduate who is about to start working and engage in ‘real life’?
Yens: Just do it. That’s my advice. Grab any opportunity you can get and just try it. Don’t be afraid of taking on a new role or responsibility. If you don’t feel comfortable in a certain position, talk about the options with your manager, and just go ahead and do it.