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Behind our in-vehicle connectivity software: an intern’s perspective

by | Sep 12, 2019 | Blog

VNC Automotive

12th September 2019

Ever wondered what it’s like to work at an emerging tech firm? Just ask Justin Hou, who has just completed a summer internship at VNC Automotive. Come with us as we take you behind the scenes…

We love our interns. Here’s why.

It’s hard to say a bad word about taking on interns, which is why we do it as often as we can. After all, they get valuable experience and the opportunity to cut their teeth at a pioneering tech firm. Also, we get exposure to new ideas, fresh energy and feedback on what it’s like to become part of the VNC Automotive team. Sounds good? Take a look at our current opportunities.

Okay, over to our recent intern Justin to explain what life is like at VNC Automotive.

“I was never bored; there was always something new to discover or learn every week.”

What was your position, and what did you do on a day-to-day basis?

I worked as an intern on the pre-sales team. My main task involved an open-source connectivity protocol Smart Device Link (SDL). I helped to improve further the team’s demo that they use to showcase to potential customers around how VNC Automotive’s SDK works with SDL. I also implemented more features for their demo app and demo user interface that customers have previously indicated interest in.

What sort of people did you work with?

My work was mostly done independently, which means I had the freedom of deciding what aspect or feature I would like to focus on each day. The pre-sales team works on several projects, and the people are easy to approach for help or advice when I was stuck.

What kept you motivated to go to work each day?

At the start of the internship, I was motivated by the prospect of delving deeper into technologies that I have never engaged with much before. I was intrigued at how the protocols worked from a higher-level point of view and were determined to figure out enough to start building on the app and implementing new features.

The middle few weeks were filled with many short-term goals, such as implementing features or fixing bugs that I had inadvertently created. Enjoying the iterating process of problem-solving motivated me the most, from figuring out the initial “plan of attack” to implementing a solution and improving on it. The satisfaction gained from seeing your ideas work without (much) issue is what I love about software engineering.

Towards the end of the internship, the key motivating factor was the desire to see my work fully fleshed out in the actual system that is shown to prospective customers. Having everything work in a development environment is great, but being able to see it implemented as it should be, on a physical board gave the best feeling of accomplishment.

What did you like best about your job?

I loved the wide variety of things that I could work on, and the freedom to choose which areas I would like to work on each day – be it Android development for the demo app, web development for the user interface, or delving into the lower-level C++ protocols. Each area had its own challenges, and whenever I got stuck or felt relatively burnt out on one area, I was able to briefly put it on hold and work on another area before returning back to the original task.

There was also great diversity in the features I had to work with; I loved how I was able to work on different things every couple of weeks. I started out with establishing wireless connectivity, before moving on to handling video and audio data, speech recognition and then finally embedded systems and cross-compilation. This meant that I was never bored; there was always something new to discover or learn every week.

How did your education or past experiences help to prepare you for this position?

Both education and work experience played a helpful role in making the learning curve for work much gentler for me. Because I have only had a year of university education (in Computer Science) so far, I was concerned that I would have insufficient technical and domain-specific knowledge for what I was doing. However, some of the courses I attended in my first year, particularly those on Java, Operating Systems and Software Engineering, provided a good foundation.

My past internships have helped immensely for this role as well. My first internship involved some Android app development about five years ago, and even though mobile app development has radically changed since, it was definitely helpful. I also did some web development last year on a development stack similar to the stack that VNC Automotive utilises, which meant I was relatively comfortable with working on the web development side of the project.

How did you handle challenges in your role?

Being an open-source protocol, the issues commonly encountered with SDL have publicly accessible solutions. But there are downsides. Because it is a rapidly updating project, public documentation is not always up to date with the latest features and issues. It was often the case where I had to read and understand the source code itself instead of relying on the documentation. The benefit to this was that I was able to understand how the system worked in greater detail, such that I could plan a better way to implement new features.

As the internship progressed, I encountered more concepts and technologies where I lacked the domain-specific knowledge required, such as speech recognition and embedded systems. For these areas, the best I could do was to experiment as much as I could and read up on documentation and online resources to get a basic grasp of what I was dealing with.

Reflect back from your first day. How have you evolved? What have you learnt?

Technical skills-wise; I gained a lot of experience and knowledge in app development and embedded systems. Reading up on the documentation and investigating the source code made me understand certain concepts and reshaped my perspective on them as they are applied to a real-world context.

With regards to work ethic; because most of my work was done independently, I have become better in goal setting and planning. There is often a lot of things to be done to achieve an end-goal, and I have become better at outlining a good approach to tackle the task.

I’ve also gained a greater understanding of the industry as a whole. Prior to this internship, I had a very limited view of the automotive industry and the technologies being used. Listening in to the monthly All Hands meetings gave me valuable insight into what the industry is focusing on and what challenges the industry has faced or will face in the future.

Where do you hope to go with this job, and your career in general?

This internship has been invaluable to me in terms of gaining experience and exposure to the industry. Although I have not fully decided on what I would like to do career-wise, this line of work remains a viable and interesting area to consider in the near future.

Where do you think the automotive industry is heading?

I think that the industry is in an interesting transitional period. While interest in various areas changes over time, common concerns of safety, security and privacy have been raised more frequently and given greater importance. These concerns might mean greater difficulty in pushing out better products with new features rapidly, but I think that once these concerns have been addressed in full, the industry would be able to enter into a phase where we would witness unprecedented progress.

Interested in working at VNC Automotive? Take a look at our careers page.


12th September 2019