Rusty Programmer

My secret admission: I’m a rusty programmer.

In high school, I compiled my own kernels in Linux, bundled & contributed packages for Debian, wrote extensive documentation for Jabber, and hung out with some brilliant programmers. On the side I learned the basics of PHP and MySQL to build my own little sites and help maintain jabber.org.

Microcomputer In Action!

Microcomputer In Action!

In college, I enjoyed and did well in Data Structures class. We delved into C++ structures, objects, and pointers. I found I was good at thinking like a programmer and solving programmer problems. But, for various reasons I decided to switch over to Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering to pursue circuit design and embedded processors.

After college, I found an interesting niche that fit my skills well: manufacturing automation. But the tools are way different than the rest of the programming world. At the lowest level is PLC programming with ladder logic and PID loops (which I learned about in mechatronics class). Higher up, is HMI design with light scripting. Even higher in the food chain is various Microsoft-related platforms (Reporting Services, custom .NET controls) and business connectivity (think SAP).

Making Liquor

Making Liquor

At this point in my career, I’m pretty adept at technologies that are only known in manufacturing such as Rockwell RSLogix ControlLogix, Wonderware ArchestrA, Wonderware InBatch, and, of course, Wonderware InTouch. I can put together pretty much any application a factory might need to run their machinery, monitor equipment, and evaluate line performance.

A few rungs of PLC logic

A few rungs of PLC logic

Over the last decade while I’ve been building factories, I’ve been reading all the web development and iOS/Mac blogs. Ruby on Rails has sprung up, MVC-style platforms are abundant, and everyone has learned Objective-C.

I feel like I missed the bandwagon. Off over here in the strange sideshow of manufacturing. Sure, every factory in America runs Wonderware or Rockwell software…but there’s no StackExchange for manufacturing software, and there’s barely any mention of these technologies on Twitter or ADN. In short, there’s not really any public community.

I have urges to design and create things that the world can see…but I’m rusty. I don’t know how to make an iOS app, or even install Ruby on Rails. I don’t fully grok git (but my coworkers are finally adopting Subversion!).

I’m not complaining. I have a solid career that is very valuable and useful. But, I’ve let my “real” programming skills get rusty. And programming seems to have changed a lot in the past 10 years. There’s a lot of new concepts I am not familiar with and a lot of terminology I have to look up. Scripting in Wonderware products is basic and simplistic. My latest achievement was to write a function to parse a string that looks like an array (because InTouch–a 20+ year old product–doesn’t have array capabilities).

6-9-2013 11-46-36 PM

At the moment, I’m often baffled by JavaScript and I never got very far in my iPhone 3.0 (!!) programming book (gosh it’s hard to not skip boring bits).

But… when I tear apart WordPress themes and plugins, my old PHP knowledge starts to resurface. (I’m still amazed at how quick and dirty you can make things with PHP.) I’ve been running WordPress sites for a long time, and have become very familiar with modern themes and how to manage these sites. And recently I’ve realized that this might be the very outlet that I can create things that I own…even if they are small at first.

Setting up this site was an important little step–it’s nice to be able to have my own space to play and write and create. I’ve been connecting with some WordPress developers in real life and on ADN, and it’s nice to start plotting an alternate course.

Here’s to the future.

4 Comments

  1. Daan Kortenbach

    June 10, 2013 at 10:44 am

    It might be obvious but why don’t you build a “stackexchange” for manufacturing software? With WordPress of course :)

    Anyway, welcome (back) to PHP & WordPress & all the other stuff that comes with it…

    • eliot

      June 10, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Daan!

      The culture of privacy around manufacturing software has kept me from really exploring any options like that. However, I feel like it is becoming more open as the crowd becomes more Internet-savvy and younger. I am unsure if I would have the energy to make that happen, but it’s definitely something I will think about.

      I wonder if there is a StackExchange-clone for WordPress. I’m sure there is…

  2. Have you ever toyed with LabView or LabWindows? The latter is a very powerful pure-C instrumentation environment. I use it for my new job and it rocks.

    I’m not a huge fan of PHP’s syntax.

    • eliot

      June 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      I learned LabView at LU during senior design. We designed a fuzzy logic controller for a pneumatic skeleton arm. I mostly enjoyed working in it, but we seem to hit its limitations often.

      What’s your new job?

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