The greatest accomplishment of my career

A few months ago, a customer reported an issue that caused users major inconveniences when operating a software tool developed by Siemens. My colleagues and I sat together and decided that I could be the person responsible for checking what was happening and implementing a possible fix. What I didn’t know was that this would become the biggest 

Close of Weber Amaral, wearing glasses, a black suite, gray shirt and blue tie.

challenge of my whole professional career. In technical terms, I would have to add two parameters in an XML document and change the algorithm to stop performing its pre-existing calculations using hard-coded values. In other words, that specific routine, which had initially been designed with a mixture of C#, XSLT and JavaScript, should now fetch the parameters dynamically defined by the user in the mentioned XML file. Achieving the expected result, however, was not easy at all. For that, I had the support of a few members of my team and worked hard for two long weeks to be able to present the solution to the client. In the end, everything worked out well and I was able to celebrate the delivery of what I consider the greatest accomplishment of my entire professional career.          

I imagine that after reading the previous paragraph, some questions must have popped into your mind. So to better clarify the reasons behind all this, I believe it is necessary for me to provide further details about my professional and personal life background.

 

Despite having worked for a while at the Brazilian Postal Services, my career was entirely built inside the industry. My first employment was an one-month job at Schindler Elevators, where I updated material records in SAP-MM. Besides that, I had my internship with Renault Spain, in a gearbox plant, where I was responsible for recording production and downtime entries, in addition to generating industrial performance indicators and reports for the entire engineering sector. After returning to Brazil and finishing college, I started working at Siemens, first at Chemtech, an engineering and software company of the group. Thus, over the past 13 years I have specialized myself in Industrial IT projects for large companies in product transformation sectors, all very sensitive and diverse, such as Energy, chemicals, petrochemicals, metals & mining, pulp & paper, water treatment and distribution, beverages & food, and others. I participated in and coordinated projects of various natures within software engineering, from blueprint and conceptual work, through pure development of new systems, user acceptance tests, solution architecture design and, mainly, integration and orchestration of industrial systems. I engaged with large teams, as well as one-man projects for several clients located in different countries around the globe. My work has always had the focus on high critical industrial solutions, such as manufacturing execution systems (MES), laboratory information management (LIMS), historical databases for shop floor (PIMS), automated warehouse control (WCS) and statistical process control (SPC). Six years ago I transferred from Brazil to the United States, where I FOLLOW THE SAME PATH with Industrial IT projects for large manufacturing corporations, with both continuous and discrete processes, but now more focused on operational intelligence (OI). Hence, as I believe that I have always delivered my projects achieving cost, quality and time expectations, I do consider myself, so far, a professional with relative success in the area of ​​industrial information technology projects.

In case you are not an IT professional and are perhaps feeling out of place in the middle of my narrative, it's as if an experienced builder, who has already participated in the construction of major structures such as bridges, highways, tunnels or skyscrapers, suddenly said he has just finished hanging a painting on a wall, and that this is the greatest accomplishment of his career. Even worse is he exclaims that, even with the help of a few people, the frame was only firmly fixed after two weeks of hard work.

Those who follow this blog may already understand the apparent contradiction of my story, but in any case, I will try to better clarify the facts.

I have been living, since the age of six, with an autoimmune and degenerative eye disease called parsplanitis. Because of that, I never had good sight, but my vision was able to at least reached the minimum requirements throughout my life. I went through more than fifty surgeries to try to postpone something I always thought was inevitable in my destiny. In 2015 I totally lost the sight in one eye, while the other entered into a deeper phase of degradation three years later. In early 2021, when I completed three decades of ophthalmologic treatment, the remaining eye got so bad that I was then declared blind. I spent a few months away from work to try to adapt to a new world that was opening up before me, even though this was not my will. I dedicated myself to studying Braille and orientation and mobility, that is, how to walk using Filomena and Severina, my white canes. Furthermore, I delved deeply into the study of assistive technologies, and how I could be productive again in my profession, as much as this concept got a whole new meaning for me, discussion much covered here in this blog.

When I returned to work, I was aware that, even as an experienced professional, each movement and activity in my daily life would now be unprecedented, no matter how many times I had done that in the past. I can attest that replying to a simple email or editing a formula in Excel turned out to be potential frustrations. And yes! That is the correct word, as there is no better term to define the feeling of knowing that you only need to click on a button, which you are sure where it is, but can't put the cursor on it. Therefore, everything needs to be relearned and readapted, and that is extremely frustrating.

When I met with my Siemens colleagues to decide whether I could be the person responsible for solving the minor issue mentioned in the first paragraph, I confess that I was very concerned. I had already spent some time trying to read some source code with screen readers, but I had no idea how I would do using a complex IDE like Visual Studio. As the output of the script that needed to be fixed was graphical, I agreed with a colleague that he would be responsible for validating whether the final result was actually what was expected, but, in any case, I should be precise when coding and test the change flow inside my mind. That's the equivalent of me having to call someone to look at the picture I've pinned on the wall and tell me if it's actually well-aligned. In my defense, besides having other activities running in parallel and in addition to changing the algorithm, I should also re-adapt the Visual Studio configuration to my new needs, such as learning shortcut keys, downloading and resolving code version conflicts (TFS in this case), and so on. In other words, it's as if I had to go out of my house to choose and buy a hammer, nails and the frame itself to be fixed to the wall.

In practical terms, programming languages such as C# and JavaScript tend to be very readable, especially for experienced professionals, so despite how overwhelming is to not have the vision to understand the algorithm, this task is a little simpler compared to markup languages, such as XML and XSLT, since the excess of symbols contained in these latter ones make understanding way more difficult. And to better illustrate my story, you can try to do the exercise of reading aloud the line below, which is far from complex, and you will soon have a glimpse of what I am narrating here.

<xsl:value-of select="QHXDeb:LogMessage(5,concat('WAA: defaultVariable: ',string($defaultVariable)))"/>

In addition, something that has become extremely important is the deep concentration I have to maintain when trying to read a logic expressed in any routine. Not to mention that memorizing line numbers has become a requirement that was not so essential before.

Although I am already able to digest these very important points about the difficulty of programming with a gigantic physical limitation, I also cannot keep myself from sharing the mental and emotional overload this experience generates. I remember that I spent almost an hour on the first XML line I came across to try to understand what was written there. For that I was forced to change the screen reader speed to as slow as possible and scroll character by character to finally understand its complex logic. In the midst of this whole process, there were countless times when I thought about giving up, but instead I simply stood up, took a walk and had some tea (or Brazilian coffee) to resume the reading later. Also, numerous times I bent over my desk and fell asleep as I was totally exhausted.

I know that stories like mine can (and even should) be used as motivation for those who happen to go through something similar. However, as much as I am here stating that the story in the first paragraph means the greatest accomplishment of my career, it is not simply because I managed to reach the expected result. On the contrary, hanging the picture on the wall was just the logical consequence of the facts. What really made this journey spectacular for me was the journey itself. It was discovering that there is still something I can achieve despite the vision loss and that, with this great support of the company and my co-workers, this will never be an insurmountable barrier for me.

I don’t take myself for a fool though. I know that, just like in the two weeks of the small story I told here in this article, frustrations will still happen all the time. However, the feeling that something is still possible, that a path can still be pursued and that my career will not be thrown out the window is what motivates me to keep my head up and move forward.

 

Weber Amaral

Industrial IT Solutions Architect

 

Notes:

·        You can also read this article in Portuguese

·        Only this article and Tips on how to socialize with the visually impaired were published in English, but if you want to read all the content, there are links to automatic translate this whole blog on the left side of the screen. After click on any (English, Spanish or Italian,) you can also change to any other language available within Google Translate.

Comentários

  1. Hi Weber,
    I am Leandro (Pepino). I was your intern back in Brazil. Your story of dedication, resilience and achievements is a huge inspiration. I would like to say that you teach me a lot and helped me to start my career in IT. I never forget you. Thanks for everything.

    ResponderExcluir
    Respostas
    1. Hello Leandro - Cucumber (hahaha). Thank you very much for your words and also for being a great coworker. Everything today in our life is a sum of experiences and people who passed through our lives. So, be sure you are also part of everything I wrote above. Hope everything is ok with you and that you continue to be the excellent person and professional I met years ago.
      Cheers and thanks for everything.

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