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What's our virtual firmware game plan?

Posted: 20 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:firmware? Social media? Troubleshooting? debugging? MCU?

We are all aware of the buzz about the "Internet of Things". We all know that although cloud computing may be in its infancy, this child is a prodigy. Social media has hit its stride. So what do these three things mean to us firmware types?

It's a trifecta, my friends.

As a firmware engineer running a consultancy, I work with clients and consultants who are local but also national and even international. Location of a client no longer limits the geographic range of our businesses because we can all work remotely. But what does the client lose as a result of your team being remote? I proposed this question to the firmware consultants group that I facilitate on LinkedIn.

Here are six issues that my colleagues on LinkedIn have with working remotely, followed by my six game-plan mitigations for working in a virtual work world. Tell me in the comments section below how you handle some of these situations.

Issue 1: An inability to get to know the team on the ground better.
Game plan: We all know that getting to know the team is hard do when you're all working remotely. One thing to help is this gadget called the phone. No, it's still not as good as sitting in the office, having a beer after work, and so on. But it can be very effective in establishing a trusted relationship. The other thing we can't rule out is having at least someone from your team local so that that they can have those after work beer(s) with your clients and get to know one another face-to-face.

Sitting around the scope
Issue 2: Ideas come by "sitting around the scope" (the engineer's equivalent to the water cooler). When you're all looking at "that trace" on the scope scratching your heads, not only do ideas arise, but actions can come from it that lead to solutions. Now you could mitigate this via teleconferences, screen sharing, and so forth. But the problem here is that this is spontaneous. You walk by Greg's cube, he looks up. You say to him, "Hey buddy how's it going." The next thing you know you're finger-greasing up the screen on his scope, logic analyser, frequency analyser, who knows.

Game plan: OK, this is a tricky one. Hard to spontaneously walk by your colleague virtually. But! What about a chat tool? Skype for example. Perhaps it has to be a bit more deliberate then just the occasional "walk by." You can still simulate the walk-by with a chat tool. "Hey Brett, how's it going ;)," you type. Got to add in your emotions!

No engineer is an island
Issue 3: Those times when you're stumped and have no one in sight to bounce ideas off of.

Game plan: I'm stumped! It is a problem if the engineer is isolated. Here are a couple of thoughts. Screen sharing has become so easy now. Screen share and talk it through. If you're in consulting as I am, hopefully you have good reach into the consultant marketplace. Then you can contact a colleague in that engineers location to get some real-time, side-by-side help. Skype chatwe hold Skype chat meetings all the time. The dynamics of a Skype chat meeting are interesting. Everyone gets a word in! No more the loudest in the room gets his way! You would be surprised what you can accomplish in a Skype chat meeting.

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