Engineering and Product
Alastair Bain, Principal Firmware Architect at Halter
Dreams of becoming a fighter pilot morphed into a career as a Firmware Architect and Alastair Bain couldn't be more happy with the direction. Having spent his summer holidays milking cows, it didn't take a long pitch from Halter Founder, Craig Piggott to convince him what they were working on was going to be revolutionary for the farming industry.
Alastair shares with Matchstiq some more insight into how he got into tech in the first place, what he loves about his role at Halter and some great career advice for anyone interested. Thanks for sharing your story, Alastair.
Firstly, how would you explain to a five year old what it is you do?
I’ve got kids about this age and I’m not sure I’ve managed to explain it to them yet, something along the lines of making the collar keep the cows where they should be.
And for the adults, what does a typical day-in-the-life working as a Firmware Architect at Halter look like?
I lead the technical development of the software that runs inside our collars, known in the industry as firmware. Like a lot of firmware, implementing any new feature requires a lot of trade offs, for power consumption (the collar is solar powered and must keep running 24/7 through the darkest winter days), memory, compute power and communications bandwidth.
As well, we're always striving to improve our development process to get new features out to farmers faster and more reliably. Finding the source of issues is a challenging process, you literally have a black box device, and problems could be hardware, software, people or cow related.
What are some of the common misconceptions about working as a Firmware Architect?
That I’m in IT! I probably can help you fix your computer, but it’s not what I normally do.
“Thankfully I changed my interests from being a fighter pilot to tech at a pretty young age and since then it was definitely my major interest.”
Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not what was?
Thankfully I changed my interests from being a fighter pilot to tech at a pretty young age and since then it was definitely my major interest.
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at Halter?
I started out studying electrical engineering and my first role was as a product development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. I worked in a smaller department there, which gave me the opportunity to get involved with many aspects of product development, from designing the electronics, building production line testers and jigs to writing firmware and application software.
After several years I decided to focus on software, keeping my hand in the physical product development game by specializing in firmware. Firmware is everywhere these days, there’s very few products out there without at least a little sprinkling of it.
“..it’s rare you find something that is as challenging and satisfying on so many fronts.
The next (and longest) chunk of my career was spent developing firmware for military training products, this has a great range, from designing novel, fault tolerant and low power wireless network systems to engineering a software development platform to support rapid product development with a small team and a large number of products.
Ultimately I ended up at Halter due to the persistence of an old colleague who was convinced I’d be right for the role. I’d grown up on a dairy farm and had spent most of my summer holidays milking cows so I was pretty well acquainted with the challenges of the job, and after a quick pitch from Craig (Piggot, the CEO) I was sold.
We’re in such a fantastic location to be developing this technology with the most advanced dairy industry in the world and it has the ability to significantly improve the lives of farmers; it’s rare you find something that is as challenging and satisfying on so many fronts.
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
Come and work at Halter obviously!
“One of the core values of Halter is hunger over experience; this doesn’t mean that we don’t value experience..”
What do you love about working at Halter?
Being a part of such a fantastic crew, everyone is so passionate and skilled and pulls together to get the job done. The pace of change means that a feature you working on one day is in the hands of customers the next day, the pace is both exhilarating and sometimes a bit scary, but you know you’ve got a great team to back you up.
Lastly, Halter continues to grow and evolve. What kind of candidates do you think Halter is looking for in terms of experience, attitude and character?
One of the core values of Halter is hunger over experience; this doesn’t mean that we don’t value experience, but that nobody who wants to take ownership and drive a project through to achieve a good result will be held back. Halter best suits candidates who want to do their best work and grow personally and professionally.