Welcome to the fourth instalment of Meet Your Maker Q&A! Meet Your Maker is a series of behind-the-scenes videos and blogs that illustrate the wide range of in-house skillsets used to design and manufacture our market-leading broadcast technology whilst exploring the amazing people behind Calrec.
This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Calrec’s Software Manager, Andrew Munt about his brand-new role. Andrew discusses Calrec’s agility and ability to control the entire engineering process from beginning to end, Calrec’s 60 strong R&D team focused on core design principles of reliability and ease of use, and how Calrec is staying ahead of the changing landscape.
1. What is your primary role with Calrec and what does it entail?
I am Calrec’s new Software Manager, which is a brand-new role that continues to drive and expand Calrec’s R&D output. I manage the architecting, design, development, and delivery of all software for new and existing products. Working with teams of engineers, I am responsible for specification through to release for shipment and support. I also develop code for the products where appropriate!
2. How big is Calrec’s R&D team (as a percentage of the workforce and sheer numbers) and how does that compare to equivalent companies?
Calrec is very focussed on R&D and we invest a significant amount in our product R&D. Approximately half of the staff at Calrec is directly involved in developing new products and features; this is around 60 people.
Also, as Calrec is part of Audiotonix which includes DiGiCo, Allen & Heath, and SSL, we have over 200 R&D staff within the Group. This is a great position to be in and we are lucky enough to be able to share ideas and best practice.
3. What does R&D consist of and what are their relationships?
Product management is where it all starts for us in engineering, but they also work closely with the sales and marketing teams. These staff members also keep a close eye on broadcasting technologies to define a roadmap for the engineering teams.
It’s great to be involved with a company where all the engineering is done in-house and having everyone in one place helps us to resolve engineering issues very quickly and efficiently. There is a huge amount of collective experience within the teams, which helps with the quality and reliability of our products.
The mechanical team is responsible for the physical surfaces and our electronic design team creates all our circuit boards, working closely to optimise space and thermals. On the software side, we have FPGA/DSP firmware, core embedded, networking, and web technologies teams and our dedicated product test team ensures everything functions as expected.
It’s a really interesting place to work from an engineering perspective. We have the ability to be very flexible because we control the entire process from beginning to end, which helps us to provide the best product for the customer.
4. How does the wider broadcast environment influence software development?
Broadcasters demand reliability and quality above all else; this is the main driver for our internal development processes. We maintain great relationships with broadcasters across the world and ensure we can flex with the exacting demands of the industry.
But interoperability and standards are increasingly important to our customers too, and they often drive the direction of our development. AoIP is a good example of the industry having a significant input on our development program.
5. What are some of the design principals employed in Calrec equipment? How do you ensure these are adhered to?
Our core principles are reliability and ease of use. Live TV mixing is hard, and so we try and make it as easy as possible for our customers to create the best product they can.
Our engineering ideas are thoroughly reviewed by experts from inside and outside the company, and we always try to extend existing libraries so they can be re-used on different product lines.
Day-to-day we run agile development workflows with daily stand-up meetings and an open collaboration between software and product teams, which means we remain flexible and quick to adapt to change. Our code is continuously built and we run comprehensive unit tests to maintain a level of quality before it hits our product test team. We keep on top of the schedule with regular meetings with all key stakeholders and this is where any changes with the feature map or priority are fed back to the teams.
6. How does software manage the development of feature lists? How much is feedback from customers and how much is planned in advance?
Calrec is strongly led by customer feedback.
Our Sales and Marketing team has an ear to the ground and our Product Development team ensures there is an ongoing dialogue with customers, industry bodies, and other manufacturers before deciding what features will be in the development roadmap.
In reality, we have to make a few choices for our strategic roadmap but right now we’re on a course that looks forward a number of years, and it’s good to see that level of investment.
7. What are the challenges of working with multiple software revisions?
Having multiple versions of code is quite normal for a software department and we have tools to help us manage them; however, we have a lot of products in the field and that often means many different versions of the same product line.
Calrec is well known for its excellent customer support but this, at times, can have an impact on the software department. For this reason, we need to be able to process field issues quickly. We use robust version control for all our software with strict rules on branching and versioning – as you would expect – but having experienced engineers helps a lot in diagnosing and addressing issues quickly.
Missed our previous Meet Your Maker Q&As?
Take a look at the following:
First Instalment of Meet Your Maker with Gareth Frimston, Product Manager
Second Instalment of Meet Your Maker with Darren Silcock, Lead Customer Support Engineer
Third Instalment of Meet Your Maker with Sally Baines, Production Manager