Beyond the Screen

September 5, 2019

I’ve been working on Critical Software’s railway projects for around three years and most of my work is done behind a screen.

futuristic train tracks

Every day I come to work and get myself a cup of coffee while thinking about the day ahead: are my priorities set for the day? What meetings do I have? Which emails are most urgent?

At the end of the day, I’m delivering yet another batch of bug fixes and changes to the client. All of my software is tested before delivering it to ensure that it works as it should but there’s only so much that can be tested at one time. The ultimate test – and the ultimate reward - is when the client downloads the software and installs it into an actual train, to check if it works in the real-world environment.

I’ve always relied on trains as a means of transport ever since I was a child but I never imagined myself building software for them one day – and yet, here I am! I got to know about how trains work and how meticulously the functionalities are designed in order to protect passengers from harm. One day, I got a request to travel abroad to help testing on a real-life train. I didn’t waste a second in letting them know I was available – you don’t get to ride and test these metallic behemoths every day!

I packed my bags and made my way to the airport, riding at least one train to get there. The irony wasn’t lost on me and I realised that I was starting to identify symbols and panels inside and outside the train. I was very excited once I reached my destination – working abroad was an incredible experience. It had always been one of my favourite perks of being a software engineer and I always face learning the culture and language of where I’m travelling with a very open mind. My attitude and posture changes immediately after I set foot inside the customer’s facilities: I’m there, first and foremost, with a sense of duty and commitment to do the best job I possibly can.

I was asked to join the testing tracks where the train was parked; this train was ready to be driven back and forth and the goal was to test multiple functionalities and validate any software updates that were made. My attention shifted towards the train right when I got there; it was way bigger and taller than usual and there was no platform to approach it from. I was greeted by a supervisor who gave me the usual introduction of how to behave within the testing facility, warning me of the many ways you can injure yourself. I climbed aboard the train and all the switches, screens and buttons were where they were supposed to be – everything I usually dealt with through a screen was right there in front of me.

Testing was done and we parted ways, each of us going back to our offices and report the day. As I walked home, it became clear: that train was there because hundreds of people came together to build it; because dozens of architects and engineers like me made sure that everything works in perfect harmony, dedicated testers were there to spot any failure, and safety engineers made sure that everything was safe. It wasn’t just a carriage on wheels – it was a symbol of team effort and dedication from all around the world, from people who strive to create a better future. I was proud to have been part of it.

Witnessing the result of what I’m building was the opportunity that allowed me to realise just how much we impact the world from behind a screen. Our software runs on trains all over the world, in countries like Germany, France, Austria, Italy and even Israel, where real people ride them every single day. And we all play our part in making that happen.