About a year ago, Ultamation attended a Computer Science and EEE Networking event hosted by the University of Liverpool held at the Crypt below Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral.  You never know what might come from the random encounters you have at these things, but I am pleased to say that, on this occasion, I met an intelligent and enthusiastic Harry McNeill – a 2nd year Computer Science student at the University of Liverpool.  That conversation resulted in us asking Harry to join Ultamation for a couple of months over the summer break and he agreed.

Some months on, and Harry has already made a valuable contribution to Ultamation’s products (integration software for home automation) and it’s testament to his abilities that, being only in the second year of his course, and never having developed in C# or in a commercial development environment before, he has developed a driver for a popular brand of home cinema projectors and added important support for AV Receivers to Ultamation’s SIMPL Home product – a bridge that connects Crestron’s residential control system (“Crestron Home” - the world leader in high-end home automation solution) and custom Crestron automation systems, which provide boundless opportunities for integrating everything from lighting to rotating car-turntables and air quality solutions.

We asked Harry for his thoughts on his time with Ultamation:

Has working at Ultamation met your expectations?

Absolutely! I joined Ultamation seeking valuable work experience over the summer, and it has undoubtedly delivered. Observing real-world computing applications and working on challenging yet rewarding projects have been highlights. The environment here is great; as a smaller company, everyone gets along, making it a fantastic place to work. I’ve definitely learned more than I expected, including specific technologies like Visual Studio 2008 .NET 3.5, SIMPL +, and SIMPL Windows.

What has been the thing which you’ve most enjoyed working on and why?

The project I most enjoyed was writing a driver to act as a link for AVR’s between Crestron Home and Crestron custom. I enjoyed this challenge, both programmatically and conceptually, determining how various parts should connect. Additionally, I was thrilled to apply what I learned by experimenting with sending TCP/IP commands to my TV at home, successfully controlling it through my computer. The support from my colleagues, who helped me write cleaner and better code, enhanced my learning. I also enjoyed working on a simpler driver that sparked these ideas for home automation. Each project has been uniquely enjoyable and inspiring.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

One significant challenge was adapting to the company's software tools and methodologies, particularly as it was my first time writing C# code. By experimenting both in the office and at home, my understanding deepened quickly. Along with guidance from my colleagues, I rapidly became comfortable with the development tools, including Visual Studio 2008 .NET 3.5 and SIMPL +, helping me think about things in a new way.

What piece of advice would you give to another student about to embark upon a summer internship?

Embrace every opportunity with an open mind and a willingness to learn. An internship is as much about understanding the industry and company culture as it is about the specific skills you acquire. Don't hesitate to ask questions; everyone understands that you're there to learn. Also, seek feedback it’s just so important for growth. Remember, it's not about knowing everything from the start but about how much you can absorb and grow in a short time. Enjoy the journey and make the most of every moment!

Not only has Harry contributed to Ultamation’s growing success; he’s also picked up valuable experience in the software development world (not to mention some spending money along the way).  Ultamation have a strong ethos in writing well-designed, maintainable software so we’re strong advocates for methodologies such as Test Driven Development and Clean Code.

The work that Harry has contributed to will be available to Crestron dealers – worldwide – to coincide with the CEDIA Expo Home Automation event, held in Denver, Colorado in September 2023.  The SIMPL Home product moves the boundaries of Crestron Home to allow integrators the freedom to exploit the, already world class, but ever improving, user experience of Crestron Home with the freedom of expression offered by fully customisable custom Crestron solutions making it the best residential automation system in the world, without limits, without question.

Suffice to say, when Harry has completed his course, there will be a desk waiting for him at Ultamation.  Great work Harry; many thanks, and good luck with the rest of the course!

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