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Personal Post on My Continuing Journey with IoT Edge Computing

shawn deggans personal blog post

I made the biggest career change of my life recently.

I left the consulting firm I had been employed with for the past four years. It wasn’t an easy decision. I gave up a technical leadership role, I left a lot of people who I loved working with, and I gave up the security of a regular paycheck.

What was behind my decision?

Focus.

Focus was my primary reason for leaving. Two years ago I began a journey to learn and apply everything I would need to know to be a competent IoT Edge Architect. I began that journey with the hopes that my career would be heavily focused on helping organizations solve interesting problems using modern data analytics, IoT systems, and containerized machine learning on the edge.

That never really happened. I had the occasional opportunity to work with machine learning, Kubernetes, and some advanced analytics, but the bulk of interesting data work was done by other people while I focused on platform development.

I didn’t allow those IoT skills to go static though, because I did the occasional side work with partners focused on IoT, but my day job always came first. It reached the point that the day job wouldn’t allow time for anything other than the day job. I didn’t want those IoT skills to go stale, so I had to make the difficult decision. Do I stay where I am and try to be happy or do I pursue the career working with the technology I know actually moves the needle for organizations?

So here I am, completely independent. Ready to focus.

I got pretty good with infrastructure deployment and DevOps, so that’s the majority of the work the firm put me on. And they put me on a lot of it. Systems architecture and design became my everything for a while. Let me be clear that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with systems design work. It can be incredibly rewarding. It’s actually a big part of IoT Edge development. It just became clear to me that I was never going to have the opportunity to help build anything interesting on the infrastructure I was creating.

During my time with the firm, I went from a senior application developer to a cloud systems architect. It took me four years to make it happen, but it was definitely a necessary milestone for the next stage of my journey.

What is the next stage of my journey?

I’m returning my focus to IoT Edge computing.

What I want to do for my career is implement edge and IoT systems from multiple types of systems to multiple cloud and server solutions using modern communication systems, analytics, and security. I mean, for something that’s supposed to be a focus, that’s pretty broad. However, it all fits together nicely for certain, specialized use cases.

I have a lot of experience and a few certifications in Azure, so I have no plans to walk away from Azure any time soon, but I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few other products like InfluxDB, Milesight, Chirpstack, Eclipse Mosquitto, and I don’t want to limit myself to one cloud or one set of solutions. Much of my focus moving forward will be more on the IoT Edge System Design. The theory, the best practices, the understanding of why certain technologies are used over other technologies.

Basically, in order to improve my IoT Edge expertise, I need to say no to a lot of other types of work. Am I capable of helping an organization migrate all their SQL data systems from on-premises to the cloud? Yes, it’s completely within my wheelhouse. Could I build a distributed e-commerce solution using .Net applications in Docker containers for high availability using the best security Azure has to offer? Yes, also within my skillset. Will I take on any of that work? No. I won’t. And that’s the point I’ve reached in my career. I’m going to be very selective about the type of work I take on, and the type of clients who I work with.

That’s my goal. Focus. Be one of the best.

What can you expect from this blog?

It won’t change too much, but I will create more content. I do like doing technical deep dives, so you will see more of these. I also like to explore use cases. You’ll see more of that, especially in the Controlled Environment Agriculture industry. I believe this is an area that will need more help as our environment undergoes more changes in the coming years. If we want food in the future, we will need to know how to control our environments in a way that is economical and sustainable.

I will also write more about IoT architectures for multiple clouds and scenarios. sensors, endpoints, and power management. I want to look at how Claude Shannon’s Information Theory shapes the way we communicate between the cloud and devices. I will probably write far more about networking than you want to read, but it’s an area that I used to hate that I’ve now grown unreasonably in love with. Obviously, lots of discussion around Edge Computing, protocols, Fog computing, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, MLOPs, DevOps, EdgeOps, and of course security.

That’s the technical side, but I also want to start working more with the community. DFW, Texas has quite the community of IoT organizations and engineers. I hope to connect with these individuals and organizations and capture some of ways I can help them, or they help me and record those outcomes here.

What about money?

Ah, yes. I do actually have bills to pay. So I will need to make money. Luckily, I’m in the financial position that I don’t necessarily need to earn a fulltime income immediately. I’m also fortunate enough to have work from one of my business partners that fits directly within my goals. We’re building an InfluxDB for some time series data and using Pandas to build some forecasting. I’ve also had my own LLC for a few years now, so the business side of things won’t be a hurdle.

But I do have additional plans. Next month I’m presenting a few ways that we can partner together, if you are interesting in working on an IoT Edge project. I’m opening my calendar to a small group of people for bookings through my company called, “Green Nanny LLC.” That’s a name you’ll see me mention more in the future as I build it out to its full intention.

Here are just a few of the services I’ll offer:

  • Assessments – are you ready for IoT Edge? Do you know what it is and how it applies to modern, distributed solutions? What does it look like, operationally? This helps you make better decisions and pick a direction for next steps.
  • Architecture design sessions – let’s think through the art of the possible using machine learning, IoT, and modern data analytics. What does your future system need to look like to support edge workloads?
  • Briefings – if we were to implement a project, what would it take? Do you need a proof-of-value to start or are you ready for a well-architected IoT solution?
  • Implementations- how can I help your team implement an IoT Edge solution?
  • POV – let’s see if we can create a proof of value in a very short period of time?
  • Team training – how can I help your team learn how to implement IoT Edge?
  • Well-architected review and recommendations- can we improve your existing solution? Do you need help with reliability, cost optimization, security, operational excellence, or performance?
  • Managed Service – what are some options for managing your IoT products using a managed services provider? I don’t provide this service myself, but I still have many connections who can help make this a reality.
  • Retainer – Do you just need someone with a lot of IoT Edge knowledge to bounce questions off of? Not sure where you want to start on your own IoT Edge journey, but would like a guide?

I’m excited for the future

I think and feel that I made the right decision for this move at the right time. My skills as an Azure Architect have put me in an excellent position to transition into something more specialized. The consulting work I did with the firm clarified the type of work I like to do, and the type of work that I’m good at. I see a lot of promise in my area of focus and a lot of financial opportunity for myself, my partners, and the clients who I will serve.

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Are We Ready for the XR Cloud?

What is the XR Cloud?

To answer this question, I have to define XR. XR is extended reality. It’s actually a term that encompasses Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality. These are all technologies that alter our perception of reality in one way or another. Most people associate these technologies with bulky headsets and memes of people punching their televisions because they think they’re in a real fight with a virtual character.

I believe I’m using the term correctly when I state that XR is the portal to spatial computing. Ok, so what is spatial computing?

As complex as it sounds, spatial computing is a relatively simple concept. In fact, if you’ve ever used Google Maps or played Pokémon Go on your mobile device, you’ve already started using spatial computing. Let’s get the definition from the person who coined the phrase.

human interaction with a machine in which the machine retains and manipulates referents to real objects and spaces

Simon Greenwold

I’m defining an XR Cloud as a platform as a service that helps developers make XR possible with minimal effort. To me, this looks a lot like the IoT Edge development loop, with the exception that we’re sending out real-time changes to the XR devices. Or are we? I think we can probably learn a lot from the gaming development world here. Do we choose to create a fat client? A large executable that resides on the device and only sends small bits of telemetry to the cloud would allow for faster execution at the device. However, there are cloud streaming services that stream games. The clients on these are smaller and can often provide similar execution speed as the fat client. Many of these problems have been solved, so building out a XR cloud doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

Is it Already Here?

Sort of. There are a few groups working to make this happen.

Open AR Cloud’s mission is to drive the development of open and interoperable spatial computing technology, data and standards to connect the physical and digital worlds for the benefit of all.

Open AR Cloud

https://www.openarcloud.org/

Though it’s focused on AR, this could still be a good solution for an overall XR platform. Personally, I like the open-source approach for a platform like this. It will likely allow us developers to avoid vendor lock in, as well as participate in the development of the platform. At the moment, there are eleven different working groups tackling the challenges that come with an AR cloud.

https://arcloud.pretiaar.com/

Pretia has created a platform meant to make AR development easy. This looks a lot like gaming development, which will probably make up the backbone of early XR development. Gaming has tackled the issues around multiple people sharing space, both physically and virtually. And libraries like Unity have editors that work well with 3D objects and real spaces.

https://www.augmented.city/

Augmented.City is an augmented reality cloud & platform ecosystem that allows you to capture, enrich with data, and visualize it on location in basically any device.

Augmented city

This is an interesting approach that seems to take full advantage of the Digital Twins concept. This platform takes your city (if it has been mapped) and allows you to add content to the map. This feels more like a testbed, at the moment, but I can see the potential. Mapping physical objects in real spaces will be a challenge, for a while. There’s probably some sort of NFT angle that could be played here to get people to be the first to scan a thing. But from a data asset side, this creates all sorts of interesting opportunities.

At the Start of a Thing

It’s fun to be at the start of a movement or technology. Especially when you can see the potential. You can call this the Metaverse, MX, or just client/server with extra steps, but there is definitely a confluence of technology here to help with digital transformation. It’s definitely a journey I’m interested in exploring, and I’ll probably do more of it in this space over the next couple of years.