FACES #13 with Simon McCarthy, Head of Hardware/Embedded Team at NET2GRID
Next up in our FACES series is Simon McCarthy, Head of the Hardware/Embedded team. Simon is one of the longest-serving team members of NET2GRID, having joined nearly at the inception of the company. Over the years, he has been an integral part of NET2GRID’s success, having designed dozens of smart meters and other impressive hardware pieces. Let’s get to know more about Simon.
1. Simon, thank you for joining us! Let’s begin by taking a look at your unique geographical background. You were born in England, currently live in Germany, and work for a company located in Greece and the Netherlands. How has being such a global citizen impacted and shaped your life?
Overall, I just feel extremely lucky to have had so many opportunities to travel both for work and leisure. Being exposed to different people, places and cultures over the years has not only been hugely enjoyable, but I have also learned a great deal. I think the same is true for NET2GRID. The fact that we are an international company means we have a great mix of personalities, skills and values, all of which make us stronger when we work together.
2. Designing hardware is a unique mix of both creative and technical. Are there certain aspects of your daily work life that you find more challenging than others?
I really enjoy my work and although my role has evolved over the years as the company has grown, it has been consistently challenging in a whole variety of ways. For me, this is a very positive thing as I think I'd be quickly bored if it was always easy. If I had to highlight something specific then I would say the hardware production deadlines are tough. When we need to give the go ahead for a production run of potentially tens of thousands of units, we need to be sure that everything is tested and working as designed. Of course there are processes in place to ensure no mistakes are made, but it can be stressful nonetheless!
3. Even though you work remotely from Germany, your job is anything but solitary. In fact, you collaborate with various NET2GRID teams with regularity. Can you share with us how you work alongside colleagues outside of the hardware/embedded team?
As you'd expect we rely extensively on online collaboration. Developments over the last decade or so have made this much easier, and with a few simple tools it's possible to work together in real time with colleagues anywhere in the world. Of course face-to-face interaction is still hugely important. The NET2GRID Netherlands office is around a two hour drive for me, so it's always possible to visit even at short notice. Obviously Thessaloniki is much further but I try to make at least a couple of visits each year to talk with the Greek team in person.
4. You and your team are behind some of NET2GRID’s greatest innovations in regards to hardware development. One of them is the optical meter reader, tailor-made to Germany’s unique meter conditions. In fact, E.ON Germany trusted our hardware and implemented our solution to its customers. What are the unique benefits of such a tailor-made piece of hardware for utilities who are interested in implementing it in Germany?
The German market was always a challenging one, for a couple of reasons. Primarily because the meters are often installed a long distance from the consumer's WiFi router, and also because there is often no power socket in the vicinity of the meter, meaning we have to rely on batteries. After developing our solution to cope with these challenges, we also found during the early trials that there are a wide range of meter models deployed in the market, and many have small but important technical differences in the optical interface. After extensive development we are now able not only to offer our solution to the power and range challenges, but also a hardened product that is proven to work with a wide range of the meter types that have been deployed in Germany.
5. The hardware team's latest development is the piece of firmware installed inside ITRON’s Riva meter. In fact, this is really big since NET2GRID is one of the first technology partners invited by ITRON to develop technology for Riva meters. What are the benefits for a utility adopting our ITRON solution? Why do you think this activates value for end-users in the US?
This is a really exciting development for us because it allows us to offer our services to utilities without the additional costs and logistical challenges involved in shipping and installing extra hardware. Initially we have developed a real-time solution for electric vehicle detection and monitoring, but we have plans to widen the range of services we are offering on the Riva platform. Itron has done a great job in developing the hardware and the SDK, and now we have some experience developing solutions for this ecosystem. The sky's the limit!
6. If you could travel back in time and witness any historical event, which one would it be and why?
I'm a big cricket fan so my instinctive answer would be to go back and watch England beat Australia at Headingley in 1981. That's a bit of a boring answer for people who don't care about cricket (almost everyone), so instead, I'd like to go back in time and solve one of the world's great mysteries, like who shot JFK, or who gave Ed Sheeran a record contract.