An interview with Clarity’s cloud services expert

Mike Keith

Senior Software Engineer

“Creativity is at the core of the work I do in software development, engineering, and problem solving. You have to be creative in order to take a limited set of information on why a system isn’t working and — through trial and error — find exactly what is the issue.”

As fall approached this year, Senior Software Engineer Mike Keith, became Clarity’s Director of Cloud Services. Mike has more than 18 years of engineering experience, spanning software development, systems engineering, and technical leadership. He has been at Clarity since 2015. He is a responsive, creative problem solver — someone who enjoys working with new technologies and figuring things out. Here, Mike talks about his work and what’s ahead for us in cloud technologies.

 What did you want to be when you were a child?

“I guess my first serious interests were computers. I began to teach myself BASIC programming when I was in 6th grade on our family computer from the programming manual that came with it, which was my start to learning as much as I could about how computers worked.

“In high school I remember having ideas that I wanted to be a chemist, but quickly realized once I was taking A.P. Chemistry that it was not at all something I was interested in spending my life doing. At that point I turned to computer science, which I hadn’t even really thought of as a career.”

 

What excites you about your work?

“Simply put, I love building things. I like to make solutions that help people solve problems. I enjoy having a hard problem, or piece of software that isn’t working correctly, and being able to figure out exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. I also really enjoy telling people about how something works and helping them understand the system.”

 

What is the best thing about your job?

“Working with new technologies and solving hard problems.

 

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career in tech?

“You always have to have a passion to keep learning new things.”

Which of your traits or skills are you most proud of?

“My ability to quickly understand patterns and how things work together.”

Your job is technical, but does it involve imaginative/creative thinking too? Is what you do partly an art?

“Creativity is a core piece of the work I do in software development, engineering, and problem solving. I have to be creative in order to take a limited set of information on why a system isn’t working and — through trial and error — find exactly what is the issue. You can’t just follow a list of steps you have to imagine why and understand the patterns you’re seeing.”

What processes or steps have you taken to push boundaries in your work/technology?

“I think the recipe to create new and better systems, is through accepting that there can always be a better way to build something but never getting caught up in trying to build the perfect thing on your first try.”

Ahead in cloud

In his new post, Mike will provide strategic direction to Clarity’s cloud services partnerships and projects. He will stay informed of enhancements to platforms like MongoDB and Elasticsearch and identify opportunities for Clarity’s technical personnel to advance their training and certifications in modern cloud technologies, computing platforms, and database technologies. His leadership aims to broaden Clarity’s capabilities, contributing to new business and growth throughout the company.

 

More about Mike

When he’s not at work, Mike enjoys spending time with his family, and he gets into activities like tea parties with his four-year-old daughter, taking his nine-year-old son to the driving range, mountain biking, and playing board games.

 

… of course, like a lot of technical people, Mike admits “computers are in all parts of my life… I continue in my off-time to be the constant tech support for all family members.”

 

Mike recommends the book Ready Player One. He says it is an excellent read — “So much fun in the nostalgia and science fiction.”

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Driving innovation at Clarity

Ryan Hendrickson

Senior Software Engineer,

Director of Innovation

“I wanted to be part of a small company. I was looking for a place where I could be a significant contributor.”

Recently, Senior Software Engineer Ryan Hendrickson became Clarity’s Director of Innovation. Ryan has 11 years of software engineering experience, and he has been at Clarity since 2015. He is a Software Project Co-Lead, collaborating with a team on complex data challenges. An innovator since childhood, here’s how Ryan got here, and why we’re excited about his guidance as we reach for new frontiers.

Perhaps he would have traveled to the moon…

As a young child, Ryan wanted to be an astronaut, an archaeologist, or a “computer person” — by fifth grade, when his dad brought home a PC, Ryan had figured out that he wanted to pursue work with computers. “My dad got us a computer, and then I knew I was interested in computer science.”

 

Programming origins

At his high school in Pittsburgh, Ryan took an impressive selection of programming classes including Visual Basic, Pascal, Java, and C++ (a course he completed at the local community college). During the summers of his junior and senior years, he took part in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools of Excellence, a program designed to provide summer enrichment for talented students. Ryan lived at Drexel University for five weeks — “It was a formative experience. We were immersed in the college curriculum and experience, doing hands-on, college-level work. It was amazing.”

 

“I was always very practical.”

At Robert Morris University, while majoring in software engineering, Ryan dove into relevant, practical extracurricular projects. He was a founding member of the college’s Society of Automotive Engineers — the group built a mini off-road vehicle from the ground up. Ryan and a team with RMU’s Association for Computing Machinery built a robot the size of a small trash can — it could move around a room and map the space. For two summers during college, Ryan worked as a software engineering intern with Boeing. He admits that he was “always very practical.”

 

First stop: Space City

After graduating, Ryan moved to Houston to work on Johnson Space Center projects. His work contributed to the guidance, navigation, and control system for the International Space System. Ryan eventually moved back to Maryland to get married. In 2015, he began working at Clarity. “I wanted to be part of a small company. I was looking for a place where I could be a significant contributor,” he explains.

 

Today — still exploring (& sharing)

Ryan says that his current job requires imagination and creativity, and he is open to tackling challenges with foresight and a long-term view.

“I like the idea that you have to find a way. It might be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You have to take the long game and build up foundationally. Our team is very successful because we work this way… And, we’re constantly looking for ways to increase value for our client and thinking ahead.”

Ryan participates in Data Works MD Meetups where he and his coworkers, Bill and Elli, are presenting on NiFi. Ryan spoke about the capabilities of Apache NiFi at the CodeMash conference in 2019. Ryan gave a NiFi primer when he was the featured guest on the At Scale podcast. He will return to CodeMash in 2020 to give a talk about horizontal scaling of graph databases. He is active in AFCEA’s Central Maryland chapter. In his free time, Ryan likes to spend time with his young family.

 

Directing innovation & driving improvements

In his new post, Ryan will explore, research, and report on emerging technologies, trends, and methodologies, helping us continue to expand our technical offerings. In addition, he will develop process improvements, driving informed and efficient operations throughout Clarity. “I’d like to identify opportunities within the company to bolster our depth of knowledge to help us win contracts,” he says.

 

Some patently cool facts about Ryan

  • If he wasn’t a software engineer, Ryan says he’d like to be a medical doctor. “It’s a way to help people, and I’d want a job that helps people.”

  • He enjoys playing hockey and working on his 1966 MGB. Ryan bought the car on eBay a couple of years ago. This fall, he hopes to rebuild its engine.

  • A member of Robert Morris University’s Engineering Board of Advisors, Ryan provides his alma mater with input on curriculum development and technical workforce readiness.

  • Ryan is an inventor, he holds two U.S. patents. Curious? Learn more about those here.

 

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Clarity to present at November’s Data Works MD Meetup

We’re pleased to announce that three of our technical experts will present a talk and demonstration at the November Data Works MD Meetup. Senior software engineers Bill Farmer, Ryan Hendrickson, and Elli Schwarz spend the workweek collaborating on complex technical challenges — they will bring their dataflow expertise to the Data Works group with their presentation, Connect Data and Devices with Apache NiFi.

 

The Meetup is scheduled for Thursday, November 7, from 6:30 pm until 8 pm in CACI’s auditorium at 2720 Technology Drive in Annapolis Junction.

Sign up here: www.dataworksmd.org.

 

What is NiFi?

Apache NiFi is an intuitive, scalable, and customizable system used to process and distribute data. It comes with an easy-to-use and appealing management UI, a large market of standard processors, and a vibrant Open Source Community supporting it.

 

About the presentation

An accessible how-to

Clarity’s team aims to provide an accessible how-to that will walk participants through NiFi basics, showing practical examples that are easy to follow. The Meetup group will learn how to use NiFi to move data across servers and networks, as well as how to manipulate, enrich, and stream data using custom processors.

 

Data manipulation and open-source tools

Specific how-tos will include performing data manipulation using:

 

  •       a custom Java processor
  •       the ExecuteScript processor, with JavaScript and Python
  •       the JoltTransformData processor

 

The team will demonstrate open-source tools, such as Jolt, jQ, and JsonPath. The presentation will explain how to prototype a REST service with standard processors. Expect light bulbs to flash from (exciting) things happening in NiFi!

 

About our presenting engineers

Bill Farmer is Clarity’s Vice President of Engineering and a Senior Software Engineer. He is responsible for seeking innovative solutions to his customer’s most challenging data problems. Bill has over 20 years of experience building data processing and visualization systems across a variety of domains including finance, transportation, and government. He specializes in full stack web application development using Java, Spring, Python, and various JavaScript frameworks. Bill has experience with a number of ETL tools. His roles have included Software Engineer, DevOps Engineer, Technical Lead, and Engineering Manager. Bill has worked with NiFi since its inception as an Apache project. He holds an M.S. in Information Technology with a focus on Software Development from Carnegie Mellon University and a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ryan Hendrickson is a Senior Software Engineer and Clarity’s Director of Innovation. He has 11 years of software engineering experience. Ryan is a Software Project Co-Lead, and he participates in Data Works MD Meetups. He presented at CodeMash in 2019 and will return in 2020 to give a talk about horizontal scaling of graph databases (the NiFi team is also collaborating on this one). Ryan earned an M.S. in Information Systems Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S. in Software Engineering from Robert Morris University. He has significant experience developing dataflow pipelines, enriching and manipulating streaming data, and in the storage of large dataflows. Driven by an endless desire to “find a way,” Ryan is also an inventor, he holds two U.S. patents. In his free time, he enjoys his young family, playing hockey, and working on his 1966 MGB.

Elli Schwarz is a Senior Software Engineer at Clarity. He has 15 years of experience developing Java applications, creating custom data processing solutions, and applying specialized data models and ontologies to facilitate data exchange. An Apache NiFi enthusiast, he pushes NiFi to its limits to perform complex ETL tasks for his clients. Elli has experience with various NoSQL databases such as MongoDB, ElasticSearch, AllegroGraph, Neo4j, and Redis. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

 

More on Data Works MD

From the website: Data Works MD is a monthly gathering of professionals, students, and enthusiasts living and working in the Maryland area that come together to discuss diverse topics related to data science, data analytics, data products, software engineering, machine learning and other data engineering topics.

Meetups are held locally, usually once a month. Each event includes time to network with other members, sponsors and partners.

Sign up for the November 7 NiFi talk and learn more about Data Works MD at www.dataworksmd.org.

 

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UMD iSchool Collaboration — Spring Update

photo of TJ Greenier presenting information about running a small business to iSchool visitors

 iSchool at the Loft: TJ Greenier talks about running a technical consulting firm.

Our work with students at the University of Maryland’s iSchool in College Park continued this spring. TJ Greenier participated in the iSchool’s Capstone Mentoring Panel — a discussion with undergraduate seniors that took place as the semester progressed. In April, we welcomed the students to our Collaboration Loft for two special presentations.

 

What is the Capstone Project?

During their final year of study in the iSchool’s undergraduate and graduate programs, students must complete a Capstone project. Some of them worked with Clarity on an information management challenge we provided.

 

Advising Students

At the iSchool’s recent Capstone Mentoring discussion, along with three other panelists, TJ provided details on his background and experience, some of the work opportunities and challenges he has faced, and the management processes he has used. He talked about collaboration, project management, and consulting in technology. TJ gave the students advice about seeking experience through internships, entering the tech workforce, and interviewing for jobs. After the panel presentation, students asked thoughtful questions about careers in technology.

 

A Field Trip to our Collaboration Loft

In late April, students and staff from the iSchool joined us at our office space to learn more about what it takes to start and run a successful small technology company like Clarity. In addition, Bill Farmer, VP of Engineering, presented our team’s 2019 NiFi CodeMash project and demo. He also provided a machine learning demo that processed images to determine the different types of dogs pictured.

Bill Farmer uses a screen to present information about a NiFi project and demo to a room of seated guests.

Bill Farmer shares Clarity’s NiFi project & demo.

 

“The experience was designed to give the students some insight into what a technical small business does — hopefully getting them excited about the types of work opportunities out there in a technical field.” — TJ Greenier

 

More on UMD iSchool

The University of Maryland College of Information Studies (iSchool) is located in College Park. It was founded in 1965. From the institution’s web site: From labs to libraries, we are combining principles of information science with cutting edge technology to foster access to information, improve information interfaces, and expand how information is used in government, education, business, social media, and more. The College is ranked in the top ten nationally by US News and World Report. Visit ischool.umd.edu for more information.

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Beyond Coding & Consulting — Our 2019 Fun (so far)

When we’re not coding and consulting, our team enjoys getting together in pursuit of fun. Check out what we’re up to outside the office:

SNOW is a Weather Phenomenon & a State of Mind

At the start of the new year, we reintroduced a collaborative three-month wellness initiative: SNOW (Start Now On Wellness). The effort is designed to encourage participation in healthy activities for the body, mind, and soul. We share activities, personal progress reports, and more. There is a monthly prize drawing for participants. The biggest reward? — Inspiration from the team.

#Siplocal — Brewery Tour & Tasting

We enjoyed a taste of Ireland and Baltimore at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery this winter. Our guided tour group learned all about how one of the world’s most loved beers is made here and in Dublin, the history of the Baltimore facility (originally a distillery, it was the first to open in the U.S. after Prohibition ended), and more. There were tastings, slow pours, and delicious Maryland seafood appetizers as well.

Start Your Engines — The Clarity Cup Returns

A handful of years ago, we began what became a racetrack tradition, Clarity’s outing to The Autobahn Indoor Speedway in Jessup. In a friendly and fast competition, we race around the track in electric go-karts. After three rounds, one of us is declared the winner of The Clarity Cup. This year’s race is sure to be another thrilling championship. We’re heading back to the racetrack for our fifth annual Clarity Cup in April.

Great Wine & Food in Annapolis

It’s no secret that we’re into teamwork and business partnerships… We also enjoy a perfect pairing. That’s why every May, when the weather is just right, we plan an outing to Annapolis. Employees and their guests enjoy delicious appetizers and wines that complement the food.

#claritygear Photo Contest

We love our Clarity gear. The almost-IG-famous #claritywaterbottle kicked things off a few years ago with appearances in our travel photos and sports pics. To share team fun, every summer, we run a contest — employees post photos of Clarity gear on social media and tag them with #claritygear, #claritywaterbottle, #claritymug, or #clarYETI. Each month, May through September, we draw a winner for a gift card.

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