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Firmware Unplugged: Delve Deep with Our Engineer in an Exclusive AMA Session

In this blog post, we’re excited to share the insights and expertise gleaned from an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with our Firmware Engineer, Fin Orr. Dive into the world of firmware engineering as we unpack Fin’s responses to a range of intriguing questions, shedding light on the intricacies of this essential field.

Q: What initially drew you towards firmware engineering at Blacksheep, especially considering it wasn’t your original role?

Fin: My engineering background began in RF engineering, where I focused on life-critical projects like search & rescue, satellite communications, and combat communications. This experience ignited a passion for impactful technology. While I enjoyed working with these complex systems, it was specifically the intricacies of firmware, where hardware meets software, that captivated me.  

This realisation led me to pursue a full-time career in firmware engineering and Blacksheep’s unique expertise in scientific instrument development is what truly drew me to the company. There, I saw an opportunity to not only delve deeper into firmware engineering but also contribute to the creation of groundbreaking scientific instruments. 

Q: Can you share an interesting project or task you’ve worked on since taking on the firmware engineer role?

Fin: One intriguing project involved the development of a piece of scientific equipment, where the customer required minimal cable clutter in their lab. We designed the devices to connect modularly like Lego, but data communication remained a challenge.  

The solution? A custom, miniaturised router embedded within the system to control and connect the devices. This allowed for full backwards compatibility with their existing equipment. The project involved both creative problem-solving and reverse engineering due to a dated system and missing documentation. 

Q: What challenges did you face while adapting to the firmware engineering role, and how did you overcome them?

Fin: There’s a lot to learn in firmware engineering: programming languages, embedded design patterns, interfaces and protocols, electronics and design, sensors, digital signal processing, control theory, build systems, testing and CICD, security, operating systems… and that’s just the basics! Firmware involves a broad skillset that combines electronics and software engineering, which was quite intimidating and presented a steep learning curve. But this also makes it incredibly interesting and rewarding to work with. It’s difficult to get bored when there’s always more to learn and the more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn. 

Q: How do you stay updated with the latest advancements and best practices in firmware engineering?

Fin: I rotate between several great podcasts (such as when I’m doing more mundane tasks, to get entertaining insights from industry experts. I also follow blogs such as embedded artistry, interrupt blog by memfault, and embedded related, which are packed full of great material (free courses, blogs, webinars and training). Finally, there are many conferences throughout the year, such as CppCon where I can continuously learn best practices and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the tools I use. 

Q: What do you find most rewarding about working as a firmware engineer at Blacksheep?

Fin: Unlike pure software engineering, where your hard work often exists in a virtual world, firmware engineering lets you witness the physical impact of your code. Seeing your ideas come alive within a tangible system, especially one contributing directly to advancements in medical research, is incredibly rewarding. It’s a privilege to be part of a team developing solutions that have the potential to improve people’s lives. 

Q: Can you share insights into the company culture at Blacksheep and how it contributes to the success and satisfaction of the employees?

Fin: Blacksheep’s culture is all about fostering a collaborative and innovative environment where employees feel empowered to learn, grow, and contribute their best work. The collaborative environment sees engineers and scientists from different backgrounds come together to tackle complex problems in the medical device field. Personally, I enjoy the open communication at Blacksheep, which encourages everyone to share their ideas and concerns freely.  

Q: Outside of work, do you engage in any personal activities or hobbies that you find interesting or fulfilling?

Fin: Work-life balance is key for me. When I’m not coding, I switch gears with city runs and bike rides to keep me sharp, and weekly football games to scratch that social itch. But my favourite hobby is exploring Vietnam’s incredible countryside. Throwing on my backpack and venturing into the wilderness with my partner and our dog is the ultimate way to de-stress and reconnect with nature. There’s something truly grounding about getting lost (well, not literally) in the beauty of the landscape. 

As we wrap up our AMA recap with Firmware Engineer Fin Orr, we want to extend a big thank you to Fin for sharing his expertise with us. It’s been a fascinating journey through the world of firmware engineering!

We hope you’ve enjoyed diving into the nitty-gritty of code and learning from Fin’s insights. Stay tuned for more updates and exciting content from our team. And don’t forget to keep exploring and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in tech!

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