Back To Work and In the Field Again – Employee Spotlight Ryan McClure
June 9, 2020
This week we are excited to share the story of one ClearBlade employee who had the pleasure of getting back into the field after so many weeks working remotely in quarantine. If you haven’t met Ryan he is one of ClearBlade’s highly skilled IoT Consultants who works directly with customers and at times in very remote and fascinating locations. Ryan joined ClearBlade almost a year ago and in that time has not only become a leading expert in Edge Data and Compute but is also a leader in railway innovation.
You recently were able to get back out into the field after a long work from home quarantine. Tell us about what the first visit back to the bungalow was like.
This was our first time to actually get back out in the field since early March, this time we not only went onsite but got out into a Bungalow. I think they are so often overlooked by civilians as just these odd metal structures near crossings, but what’s going on inside them is actually quite complex. From relays to servers to power converters and track monitoring screens, those Bungalows are mission critical operation centers. They’ve even got Heating and AC so it’s pretty comfortable even in a Texas summer or Canadian winter. Being able to connect my state of the art MacBook to view data from a 90’s era logic controller was absolutely fascinating – definitely not an experience I could get from my quarantine home office!
Out in the Bungalow, any good stories to tell?
The bungalow we were in was at a very interesting crossing/switching station. Several tracks went through this one spot and the supervisor explained how one of them was basically never used, but was put in as a convenience so they can use it to move trains on occasion. Not even a block up the road was another crossing which spanned an unusual intersection of 3 roads. It was a reminder that there are so many different kinds of crossing and switching stations across the globe – each one complex in its own way based on its environment and surroundings.
Obviously in an industry like rail, safety is taken very seriously, any new safety procedures you took in your first visit out?
We planned our trip to be late in the evening after work hours to minimize our exposure to others. We worked only with our contact the whole time and I believe I only saw one other person in the building aside from him. Naturally, we wore those cool bright colored orange safety vests when we went to the bungalow with matching masks.
Life has been interesting for everyone during these times. Any good news to share?
For the first two months of quarantine I went home to see my parents. My Dad is 72 and I didn’t know when I would otherwise get to see them at the beginning of all the uncertainty. I know they enjoyed having me around – it’s certainly time we wouldn’t have gotten to spend together otherwise. My 2 year old nephew is growing so fast and they’ve got another boy on the way. Due to this, their quarantine has been incredibly strict. I was able to see him while I was quarantined, but after the first 2 months I lost access to them when I returned to Austin. One of my roommates is a nurse so even though I stay home, it’s not technically a quarantine. My mom has been the only one able to go babysit her grandson. Once I isolate at the lake for 2 weeks I’ll finally be able to see him again.
You have been at ClearBlade for almost a year. What has surprised you the most?
How much hands on work is done!
Also it’s proof that with the right team of people and the right size of team, we can build and iterate on groundbreaking solutions at a rapid pace. Coming from a large corporation, I know that some things can take weeks/months to achieve. Having many different departments and internal processes and the simple fact of not knowing the person you are trying to procure something from can really slow things down. When I got to ClearBlade most of our client solutions seemed totally custom and unique to each other. A year later, I see we have abstractions so that every new project allows us to utilize and customize our core Smart Monitoring and Asset Tracking offerings. Of course the features in those products expand daily.
What sort of customers are you working with?
It is very clear that rail is an industry that has been careful to adopt change, making sure each technology has value, and longevity. Half of the time I go onsite to rail customers I see equipment and hear about technology that seems nearly archaic. I feel like I’ve stepped into some sort of industrial time machine. On the other hand railroads are generally permanent once installed – or if not at least have a really long lifetime. There’s certainly some truth to the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Transit of people and materials via rail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So if ClearBlade can be an investment to keep things operating smoothly and try to modernize where possible/affordable, I think these companies are giving themselves a huge advantage and saving resources in the long run.
Other industrial customers I am actively working with are in the mining space. There’s tons of safety concerns when you talk about transferring molten slag from the mining operation to the pit in the ground on the opposite side of the plant. Think of a giant tractor carrying a bucket of lava, you can’t slow down abruptly and risk sloshing the material over the edge onto people or property. That’s why we are using GPS tracking and Geofencing to automatically lower newly installed crossing arms so these vehicles can safely make their trips to the pit without risking having to hit the brakes for an emergency stop.
Anything you are seeing now with those customers?
The ones we are working with now are seizing the day so to speak. Recognizing that technology and remote monitoring helps make it safer for everyone whether its keeping workers out of harm’s way, making sure things work and don’t affect the public, or just making sure we are all complying with new best practices.
As everyone has moved to this remote way of life I think companies are eager to stand up systems that allow them to do even more things remotely. There’s always been an interest in automation, but COVID has heightened the necessity for it and in some cases practically mandated it at this point and ClearBlade is doing everything we can to provide that automation and bring these clients into the future