element14: Hi Shabaz. Why don’t we start by discussing your background? From your e-mail address I see you work for Cisco.
Shabaz: Yes, that's right. I have been working for Cisco for quite a while actually. I was originally a software engineer and now I'm in technical marketing, which is basically talking to customers, trying to find out what their needs are and helping the company meet those needs.
element14: What about your educational background?
Shabaz: I studied in the UK. I did electrical engineering at Imperial College and I have got a Masters degree in that. When I started working I was doing military radio type stuff and then after that I started doing software programming for voice over IP and video applications. And then about four or five years ago, I became a technical marketing engineer because that's a natural progression if you want to stay technical but also have customer contact, meet the customer, talk with them regularly and so on.
element14 : The ability to communicate verbally and in writing is, I guess, helpful when you're participating in forums on element14 Community and things like that, as you do.
Shabaz: Yes, that's a good point, I hadn't thought of that. But you're right. I mean, yes, it is part of my job since I'm trying to communicate information and ideas to customer either in presentations or white papers. A lot of these products nowadays are quite complicated especially when you are talking about networking, user application experience and the like. You try to find out what’s useful and relevant to the customer and then just explain how it works and you try to simplify things.
element14: How did you come upon the element14 Community site and why did you decide to become a member?
Shabaz: I was always into hardware. I mean when I was doing radio type stuff that was all hardware related. It was HF radio, communications and DSP stuff. I was already aware of Premier Farnell because that's where I used to purchase my bits from. So when the element14 Community site came along I joined it and thought it was just great. It's been fun making contacts with other members-- it's now really just an extension of who I am and what I do. I keep in touch regularly with some of the contacts I've made at element14 Community. And it's nice because if you want to talk technical then you can-- I mean yes you can also do that with your work colleagues--but sometimes you just want an opinion from people working elsewhere as well. Just to get an idea on how things are used in the field. For example if I've got any problems in different areas, like Linux-related or something else then the input is great, I know if I put a question out there on the forum I’ll get help. And so that's been really helpful to me. Plus, I think engineers just naturally want to share what they are doing with other people. If there's someone doing anything with regard to engineering, other engineers love to give ideas and express opinions. After all there's only a finite amount of time to get things done and we can't all work on everything we want to. So it's actually nice to see other people doing things that you yourself would like to find time for one day but if you don't it's still great just to see what they're doing.
element14: You anticipated a question I was going to ask. You just indicated that through element14 Community you've made some contacts with other engineers and you keep in touch with them apart from the forums. Is that correct?
Shabaz: Yes. Yes. And it's great.
element14: When you keep in touch with them, is it just a professional, is it a friendship, is it both?
Shabaz: I'd say both. I mean friendship and professional. Yes it's absolutely been brilliant like that. Sometimes you may be interested in similar things. It's just great being able to keep in touch. In engineering, from a professional perspective it does help to have a network of friends or colleagues. It's just brilliant that we can now do so on a worldwide basis. And it doesn't have to be just in the area in which you're working.
element14: The site can be a great resource especially if you're doing projects on your own where you're challenging yourself but your level of expertise may not be what it is in other technical areas and so you have a resource of other people who perhaps are more experienced and who can help you out. Would you agree with that?
Shabaz: Totally. And I think it's just that the whole community is extremely valuable. I mean I hope I try and help others as well and as much as people help me. But yes, I've learned so much over the last couple of years from element14 Community.
element14: Apart from the forums, and you're been quite active in helping out and answering member questions, which of the areas of the site do you find yourself gravitating to? I mean is it RoadTest is it Ben Heck are there any particular communities that when you go on the site you say, "I want to check out what’s going on there?"
Shabaz: Yes mainly single board computers. I've done C++ programming in the past. Mainly on applications on large servers. And now technology has improved so much. Now. you've got performance, very good performance and full blown applications on smaller platforms like the Raspberry Pi or theBeagleBone. These boards I find really useful and interesting so I follow that a lot. And I really enjoy that. That's probably the main area that I like about element14 Community.
element14: Which projects that you worked on and may have blogged about or discussed an element14 Community did you find most interesting? I guess what I'm saying is do you have a favorite project that you've worked on?
Shabaz: Yes, I think probably there are two favorite projects I have worked on and talked about. One had to do with direct digital synthesis (DDS) connected to a BeagleBone Black. It just reminded me back in my past when I worked on radio type of stuff since the project’s many use-cases were radio related. We were actually trying to see what else we could do with the digital direct synthesis chip (Editor’s note: the Analog Devices AD9954) beyond the basic DDS functionality. The overall project was about building a frequency synthesizer for various uses such as for a home lab or as a module for a larger project. It turns out that it's possible to make the direct digital device actually output FM. Over the air. So that was a fun thing to do. It was also a challenge because I hadn't seen that done elsewhere, so it was kind of new stuff.
Another one had to do with motor control. Again using the BeagleBone Black. There I got to use some of the unique features on that board because it's got real-time capabilities and separate processors on it, which run in parallel to the main CPU, which is running Linux. So, you can actually hand off tasks to those real-time units. And, in this case, I was getting them to control normal brush motors but to control them with closed loop feedback. In theory that was all fine it had been done before but I just wanted to see how it accurately it could be done. That was a bit of a challenge. And I wasn't very sure if it was going to be very accurate or not. I was amazed that it was in the end. I want to make use of this in some future project.
element 14: Both projects you mentioned involved BeagleBone Black. I see that you've also either commented or been involved in Raspberry Pi andArduino as well. Is the BeagleBone your favorite of those three? If so why?
Shabaz: Yes, it's the one I'm the most familiar with now, but for me, they've all got their uses. I find that (BBB) has been particularly useful; I think I can find uses for it in my day to day career as well. So for example if we want to do demonstrations, BeagleBone Black is really good for those. There are some projects along the way that I'm planning to use that device for. Also because I like the real time control capabilities of it. That helps. I don't really use the video capabilities too much on any of these boards. So that's something that I’ve really got to explore.
element14: Just one last thing. Since you were an element14 Community Member of the Year, I was wondering If you had a chance to improve what element14 Community does and how they do it—and I know this is just off the top of your head and you haven't had a chance to think about it-- what would you like to see on element14 Community that perhaps isn't there, or is there but could be done better, if you can think of anything?
Shabaz: Honestly I think I would be nit-picking if I could find anything. The core things are just done so well. The main thing is we should be able to share information. We've got lots of ways of doing that. Probably if you want to share projects, some things that you've been working on, or files or diagrams and everything, I can't think of a better platform to do that on. Even at work, we use similar types of platforms where you can paste a complete piece of information, have people comment on it, add to it, add information, et cetera. All of this stuff is just, I think really helpful. It’s just the collaboration and to be able to do that with people that are outside of your organization, which is what element14 Community lets you do. I think it is absolutely fantastic. I can't think of another platform or another organization, which has got that capability for engineers.
element14: Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to talk with us.
Shabaz: No problem, it was fun talking to you.
Check out what Shabaz is up to on the element14 Community by clicking on his profile here.