When it comes to his everyday work, software engineer Nick Weinandt spends most of his days in the cloud. And while sourcing cloud vendors and service support for APIs may be familiar turf to most cloud engineers, moving data from the cloud to devices in the field at the Raven Innovation Campus (RIC) is where Nick's work gets a little more uncommon and a lot more hands-on.
"The last time I was out there, we wanted to make a sprayer drive itself and spray," outlined Nick as he walked through a recent collaboration with teammates who work on the hardware, autonomous system, and the field computer operating system. "We went through the entire flow: we set up a path plan for the sprayer to follow, we filled the sprayer with water, and then got in the cab while the sprayer drove itself through the field and sprayed."
As a software engineer, Nick doesn't often get hands-on with the technology he's working with. But when he does, his access to the RIC and other members of the engineering team at large create memorable and incredibly valuable opportunities. "It's nice to go out there and actually see the end-to-end flow of someone running a sprayer and watch the data go into the cloud. It gives you a better understanding of the use case."
You get to come to work every day and you don't have to be concerned with 'does this really matter?' It definitely matters."— Nick Weinandt, Software Engineer
Even though he watched the sprayer execute exactly what he and his team of engineers intended it to accomplish, he can't help but liken what he witnessed to something from the sci-fi film Insterstellar. It wasn't something you'd expect to see in modern-day rural South Dakota. "It was crazy to see. Nobody's touching the steering wheel. The sprayer was turning around in the field and it sprays the entire field. Nobody touches anything. It's absolutely ridiculous." And though Nick was an integral part of the trial's success, helping create a future for autonomous agriculture wasn't on his radar two short years ago.
After graduating from the University of South Dakota and spending a year in grad school, Nick took his first job in Seattle at Microsoft. During those four years, he gained experience with API design and learned how valuable it was to have access to the engineers who built the software he was using or who wrote the language he was developing with. "If there was ever some weird discrepancy or we were having an issue, you could just go to the person who wrote it." That sort of engineer-to-engineer communication is also pivotal to his success at Raven.
"Learning from the mechanical, electrical, and embedded engineers is a great opportunity." An opportunity that extends to collaborating with other software engineers, explains Nick. "It's important because people are going to be better at certain things than you are. It's nice to have a feedback mechanism where people can have disagreements, provide engineering opinions, and you can actually learn from them."
Nick found himself in this collaborative environment after he and his wife decided it was time to move home and be closer to family. While he didn't grow up on the farm, he knew what Raven was working on in the field of autonomy and the IoT was not only incredibly interesting but extremely important. Over the past two years, he's discovered what's at stake for a growing global population when it comes to the success of his daily work.
"Efficient food production is an extremely important task. Efficient use of chemicals is an extremely important practice. The Earth's not gaining more land, so figuring out how to make our consumption of the current land more efficient for food production is extremely important."
With an urgent and lofty mission in front of them, Nick and his software engineering team rely on each other and their infrastructure to make rapid progress. "Cloud architects love this opportunity because we have ownership of all the infrastructure in our cloud. There's no going through another party if we need something provisioned. If we want something, we just stand it up and build it ourselves."
And while the day-to-day challenges offer plenty of excitement, Raven's dedicated ag mission gives Nick's work a greater purpose. "You get to come to work every day and you don't have to be concerned with 'does this really matter?' It definitely matters."