Jef Claes

On software and life

08 Aug 2011

High Hopes

Last week, I resigned from my job at Ferranti Computer Systems. Three years ago, days after receiving my Graduate Diploma in Applied Computer Science, I had my first real-world working experience at Ferranti Computer Systems.

The first project I was assigned to, was a project for the Antwerp fire department. Along with two other graduates and four seniors, I was thrown in at the deep end. I always had solid grades in school, and was fairly confident that I grasped the material I was taught. Was I misguided (!): it only took me a few days to realize that I knew nothing about building software. It immediately became clear that I had to start learning and probably would need to keep at it forever, if I ever wanted to get remotely good at this.

The Antwerp fire department project turned out to be an immense and complex project, which I have worked on throughout my whole career at Ferranti. Not always that intense though, in the meanwhile I have had a few smaller, more shippable projects and a very similar project for fire department Ghent.

Today, we are a few months into building a promising product for fire departments, which has the potential to be big (in Belgium). Although my role in this project was fun and fairly satisfying, I still felt like it was time for me to move on.

Many might think I’m a fool for throwing away a career where I was actually helping to save lives, building software. There are some frustrations that come along with building software for the public safety sector though. Firstly, how perverted it might sound, this sector has a lot less money to spend on innovation compared to other, commercial sectors. This often leads to solutions which are not perfect, built to meet very tight deadlines. Secondly, making progress is hard. Firefighters want to extinguish fires, save people… Most of them don’t really care about software, making the adaptation and integration process painful. Although, I like to believe that this will change in the future. Our solution has been able to reduce station start-up times by 50%. It’s impossible to ignore those numbers.

This isn’t the real reason I quit my job though. Every sector has its own problems. The real motivation for me to change jobs was that I felt stuck. I have been working with the same team, on the same problem, mostly using the same technology stack, at the same desk, on the same chair for more than three years. This is not what I want, not yet. I want to solve other problems, meet new people, learn from others, try out new technologies and change chairs.

In September, I will start working for Euricom as a consultant, which should give me more opportunities to experience new things.

Will this job be able to give me personal satisfaction? I really don’t know. Will I regret this decision? Probably not, I’d rather make the wrong decision than do nothing.

Anyway, I have high hopes.