Thursday, September 5, 2019

Employment Opportunity for Application Engineer

Welty Automation, an innovative company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is hiring a full-time forward-thinking Application Engineer to assist in developing next generation machine control software and in documenting, testing, and maintaining existing production code.

We offer an excellent opportunity to work in a small team environment where you will be part of a fun, dynamic, high performance group which works closely with service, sales, engineering, and manufacturing for a world-wide leader in HVAC Equipment Manufacturing (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning).

Candidates should have excellent communication skills and be comfortable making management level decisions in a timely manner. We also seek people who are creative and possess strong customer service values.

Travel requirement time is approximately 25% of this position and may include 3-5 day service trips within the U.S. and into Canada. The frequency of service trips will vary with business needs. Some travel will be short notice and some travel will be required for occasional continuing education and training.

The Application Engineer will perform a variety of tasks including:
  • Developing and documenting control application designs
  • Developing program automation applications
  • Developing and executing formal test plans and scripts
  • Troubleshooting and resolving application issues
  • Tracking and reporting project status
  • Resolving technical problems at customer locations
  • Reviewing automation application needs and documenting requirements
  • Estimating implementation effort to develop automation applications
  • Creating project plans 
Requirements include:
  • Bachelor's degree (BS) in Computer Science (CS), Computer Engineering (CMPE), Electrical Engineering (EE), Mechanical Engineering (ME) from a four-year college or university, or equivalent work experience
  • Application development experience in a high-level language, preferably C/C++ or equivalent
  • Current passport and drivers’ license
  • U.S. citizen or national, or an alien admitted as permanent resident, refugee, asylee or temporary resident under 8 U.S.C. 1160(a) or 1255(a)(1). Individuals with temporary visas such as E, F-1, H-1, H-2, L, B, J, or TN or who need sponsorship for work authorization, are not eligible for hire
Additional preferred experience and interests include:
  • Experience in motion control systems
  • Understanding of IEC 61131 programming languages (ladder diagram, structured text)
  • Experience with real-time operating systems and programming in real-time environments
  • Interest in PC- and PLC-hardware applications, mechanical and electrical systems and physics
  • Desire to work in an international team environment
  • Experience in project management
Welty Automation offers competitive compensation commensurate with education and experience with a benefit package including health, dental and vision insurance, maternity and bereavement leave, and flex-time.

Cedar Rapids has a population of 131,000.  It is served by the Eastern Iowa Airport, just minutes from downtown Cedar Rapids. Driving time is approximately 4 hours from Chicago, IL and Minneapolis, MN.

Cedar Rapids has high quality public education and excellent, accessible medical care. Two private 4-year colleges and one community college offer academic opportunities. We are 30 miles from The University of Iowa in Iowa City.  We are home to a first-class symphony orchestra, an art museum with the largest Grant Wood collection in the world, and a vibrant arts community.  Sports fans can follow the University of Iowa athletic teams.


*Welty Automation is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, age, gender, disability, medical condition or marital status or other protected status.

Please apply on Indeed: https://www.indeed.com/job/applications-engineer-be3f7f87b761655c

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Machine Control Programming Adds Layer of Puzzle Solving to Software Development

I like that machine control programming has an added layer or two of puzzle solving when diagnosing machine behavior. The operator can't see my code executing. They see the machine behaving. My program watches inputs and controls outputs. The actual behavior has electrical and mechanical dependencies.

When a machine is not working properly, it can sometimes be difficult to know who to assign to troubleshooting. I spent the better part of a day trying to remotely help a customer diagnose a problem he was having. I could tell there was a bad signal coming from a part sensor but he couldn't find a reason why. He had replaced the sensor and checked every wire connection.

I flew out that week to help them in person. I quickly proved that it was a signal problem which was causing unexpected behavior. That behavior changed the speed at which a third party piece of equipment was running which made it difficult to troubleshoot. While my software wasn't causing the problem. My program wasn't helping to diagnose the software.

I altered my program to be more forgiving of the signal quality we were seeing. As soon as we did that we were able to focus troubleshooting on that 3rd party machine. This led to the discovery of some bad components (relay, potentiometer) and ultimately to find that their wiring harness had been rubbed raw and wires were shorting out.

Trips like this teach me that I need to be more mindful of edge cases when writing control software and to provide better options for remote troubleshooting. I was glad to be able to restore some control to the situation which proved helpful to their very capable maintenance person.

Great experience using TDD this week

I had a great experience with using TDD (Test Driven Development) to implement a new feature this week while at a customer site. I started by going into the location the code would need to execute. I did this to gather available information that would be needed for the feature.

I felt like what I was adding was easy enough in my mind and started, by habit, writing in a solution in spot. I stopped and thought back on an experience the week before where I was able to use a new function to improve old code. I reset my file (using git) and set up a new test environment instead.

In this development environment, I write my code in Structured Text (IEC 61131-3 standard) and my tests have to be written in c. So I started with a test that couldn't compile and then added the function it was calling without any behavior. I did only what I needed to get to green until I had all of the tests in my inbox (as J.B. Rainsberger teaches in his World's Best Intro to TDD Course: https://online-training.jbrains.ca/p/wbitdd-01)

I was able to write it test first and do final integration tests by hand in simulation before every putting the change on their machine.

I installed and ran it with confidence while the customer watched. I had no doubts when we ran off the first part to his specifications.

In the past I would've had something ready to test sooner but would've had to debug it in front of the customer. I would've ended up adding to the section of code with a procedural solution instead of having a few useful functions .

It felt slower up front but the confidence it gave me when I was ready to install it on the machine was fantastic. I suspect it would've taken at least as long if I'd done it on the machine but it would've taken time away from the operator being able to run the machine while I was working it out. So I'd say this was a force multiplier as it gives the customer confidence to see that we can make a change confidently.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Focusing experience on a customer service call

I shared this with some colleagues who found it inspiring and I thought it might also be generally interesting to others:

On a recent trip to Dallas, I arrived at the customer’s business on a Monday morning. They’d been down in production for more than a day the week before. As I walked in, everyone in the shop looked relieved; their shoulders relaxing. They were a smaller shop that depended on their processor for making blanks to run their plasma tables and to make rectangular duct. So, the entire shop was out of commission while that necessary machine was down and essentially inoperable.

I quickly connected with my laptop and let them run the machine for a couple of hours off that. They were elated to learn that this was an available service option. Within just a couple of hours they’d built up enough blanks and ran enough duct to get the rest of the shop back up and running and profitable again.

Those were hardworking people. They were on the floor busting their butts every day in a hot dirty duct shop suffering the elements and rewarded with reduced hours. Not a ballistic owner present voicing concern over profit margins, but real people who share in those ventures. In fact, the operator’s wife was pregnant and actually went into labor towards the end of my trip and he couldn’t make it in that last day. The magnitude of lost work falls to those that are the most vulnerable; the family.

So, on this trip I gained a better perspective of just how important our machinery, controls, and software are, both personally and professionally. I saw a dozen lives with families and mortgages and car payments tightly tied to our ability to provide quality equipment and expedient service.
I used this as a wake-up call for myself and I put together documentation while waiting for my flight back. I wanted to make sure that no one ever has to be affected like this again because of a lack of insight. A point in fact, this document proved immediately helpful with another customer having a similar problem but then being able to function from their own laptop thanks to that document.

I’m sharing these notes to encourage each and every one of us to keep the thousands of lives that depend on us each day in mind. It’s more than just those of us here at the factory and our lives and families. We have many hundreds of installations which multiply that demand on us to continually look for better ways to communicate to one another and make sure there are no roadblocks to continuously improving our products, services, and customer experience.

Best Regards,

John Welty

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Joined Toastmasters yesterday

Looking forward to working with the Marion Sunrise group in Iowa. 

I'm looking to improve my communication skills and ultimately plan to do some technical presentations while also working on my leadership skills. 



Sunday, June 23, 2019

SQL Saturday

I had a great day at
SQL Saturday yesterday in Iowa City, Iowa.

This was hosted by the I-380 PASS SQL Server User Group and they always do a fantastic job.

There are SQL Saturday events all over the world and if you haven't been to one and have an interest in all things related to SQL Server and Azure Data Services, you really need to look into these free learning events. The volunteers do a great job and I dipped my toe in the volunteer water by being a room monitor for one of my sessions on CosmosDB.

The icing on the cake was winning an Ember Temperature Controlled Ceramic Mug in the raffle at the end of the day.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Getting Started with Getting Things Done

I came late to GTD and was introduced to it by J.B. Rainsberger.

GTD (Getting Things Done) is a system from David Allen published in his book, "Getting Things Done"

I began slowly with the 2-Minute Rule and started using the FollowUpThen.com service. These two things alone proved to provide immediate help with dealing with my e-mail inbox and staying on top of commitments.

The 2-Minute rule goes like this, "When work arrives at your door, if you can’t avoid it and you can do it in two minutes or less, then do it now; otherwise, schedule it for later."

So the first part is easy... if I can do it in 2 minutes, knock it out and be done with it. But the second part is where I needed better tooling. I've always found it difficult to keep track of things I need to do later. I can focus on one thing for days on end and forget everything else that needs my attention. This was a problem I knew I had but not one that I was trying to solve. I was too busy trying to cope with the problem. It was consuming me.

Enter FollowUpThen.com (or fut.io for short).

I learned about this tool after receiving a post from J.B. called, "Change Your Life One Habit at a Time". In this article, he explains how he used this free service to help him establish a new habit into his routine. I found this to be quite intriguing and signed up for the service.

I found it very useful for exactly the situation J.B. brings out in his article but as I explored the use of this simple tool, I saw it had far reaching benefits for me. When I found something in my inbox that I couldn't deal with in 2 minutes, I would forward it to tomorrow@followupthen.com and sure enough, I would get that email back to me the next day with clickable links to postpone it if necessary. If that reminder was timely, I would take care of it and that would be the end of it.

FollowUpThen gives you the option to use many version of the email address to get nearly anything you want. I can forward to 3pm@fut.io for instance and get that email back at 3pm either today or tomorrow depending on what time I send it.

I can also add one of these in my BCC field on an email. Let's say you need my help and send me an email. I reply, "Thanks for the email. I'll get back to you later today on this." I don't want to forget that I told you that so I add a BCC to 2hours@fut.io and BAM... two hours later... after I'd long forgotten that I'd promised to get back to you, I have a reminder.

This has removed a lot from the back of my mind which would nag me at night and it has also made me more reliable with people I make commitments too. This builds trust and confidence. I can't stress the importance of this enough.

If you want to remind both yourself and the person you are sending the email to, you can put it in the CC field instead. So if I send you an email saying, "Let's talk about this tomorrow at around 3", I can add a CC address for tomorrow2pm@fut.io and we'll both get a reminder in our inboxes an hour before that time.

So the next challenge was J.B.'s post on "Get Stuff Out of Your Head: Now!" This was something I'd seen him demonstrate in his "Worlds Best Intro to TDD" course. I experimented with best ways to accomplish this and have always had a problem with pens and paper. Keeping them handy was always a problem for me and the more I come into contact with paper the less it likes to work when I want to write on it. This has always been an issue for me and must have something to do with natural oils in my skin or the type of paper that I tend to have... maybe the pen. I've tried many things and have always been frustrated by that.

The solution I came up with was the Remarkable Paper eInk Tablet. While this was pricey, it proved to be easy to keep with me, quick to use, never ran out of paper, and I could use it to get things out of my head quickly so that I could review and process those notes (later to become one of my GTD inboxes) later.

Any and all of these things could prove helpful to you if you are wrestling with any of the same issues. When I have some time I'll write up my experience with the David Allen book, "Getting Things Done"

This was when these first few helpful steps were kicked into high gear and started freeing me up to think about what else I could be doing better.

Stay tuned!