In this episode I interview Dan Farthing, Program Manger – Digital Solutions at Bradken.
Dan is a Newcastle local who has been involved in the tech scene for quite some time and has worked in both software and hardware through his tech startup Kegit and in his role at Bradken.
Hope you enjoy the episode!
Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.
welcome to episode 38 you e-tec people today we got dam filing who’s currently program manager digital solutions at Brad Caen welcome death thanks James good to be here make New Leash role for you pretty exciting about yeah you’ve been a local member of the Texan your cost for some time now I think most people would know of you you’ve been involved with a couple of different startups various different tax but for the for the small population that doesn’t you can give us an overview who are you where of you wherever you been what have you done yeah I’m so yeah we’ve been in Newcastle now for nearly 16 years grew up on the mid-north coast and little town called Terry yeah I’ve been down here I can enter Newcastle to start in my IT career of network engineering sysadmin sort of stuff so my first job in uni was at Porto Ercole rolling out Windows XP all right we all start somewhere that’s good it maybe you’ve obviously you you’re involved in various different technologies at the moment but I know Fred one of the things that you and I got to know each other quite well through liking your startup you start up kick it in around that IOT space yeah right okay it’s still alive okay it’s still alive developing hardware I discovered throughout that journey from 2017 2018 is a really expensive and potentially slow process especially if you don’t have a lot of money so ya got in kicked kick it off which is a logistics and asset tracking solution for the brewing industry and I kicked that off got into a slingshot program got a little bit of seed funding to kind of get some MVPs off the ground and then hardware development and traction with that is something that’s pretty hard so that’s kind of in an R&D mode at the moment got I pee there around the hardware yeah but yeah it’s it’s just it’s over there being an app that’s available for use on mobile for tracking kegs yeah and we’ll see what happens with the hardware as the as the IOT space develops at the moment battery life is getting a lot better coms are getting a lot better and a lot cheaper so you know it’s um it’s there but it’s not I’m not doing a great deal so it’s my uh my hobby yes I project a side project yeah may you mentioned hardware they I think most people that definitely most people I have on the podcast and I would say most people that that’s outside of you in core technology have an idea about technology’s always software right so I software related you know so we saw that it’s big hardware side to him a lot of startups don’t touch the hardware because of the challenges regarding our costs and getting things up why I guess you went plain mix off software and hardware what why that for you well my background is in network engineering so I did network engineering at TAFE for deployment network engineering and so I’ve always been in the networking kind of hardware end of the IT world did that for sort of ten twelve years so I was pretty comfortable with the calm side of IOT and then just through the sort of building the solution that that kick it was around mobile asset tracking and understanding the industry understanding the problem really well meant that it had to be a hardware solution yeah and then I was comfortable getting into the hardware because of my background yeah and so that’s the path that I took and that’s for other people right startup staffs anyone in that sort of space or has got an idea you know highway of place is there any advice he gives a people there’s obvious challenges there but is there any advice given your experience that you give to people that looking to go down that path down the path of hardware yeah I think the hardware space is you know is really exciting at the moment so in my my role now I Brad Caen they’re traditionally a big foundry business so they make big steel things for the heavy industry and not the biggest steel things so turning liquid metal into big cast metal products and then that stuff wears out and you know mining customers who buy more and more of that over and over and over again so that’s that’s their business we’re now bringing technology into that space to to understand how that product works and wares and whether when it’s going to wear out next and all that kind of thing so hardware is now infiltrating traditionally you know very non tech spaces and I think in new car in an awesome spot where there’s a lot of traditional manufacturing industry that is becoming more and more tech focused because the customers want more data about what’s happening on the physical products so my advice is if you’re interested in hardware or interested in tech have a look at the mechatronics side of things there’s a lot that you can do in that space there’s a lot with things like you know raspberry PI’s and and Arduino and these kind of things where you’re playing with hard hardware and you’re plugging in sensors it’s still very plug-and-play it’s almost like in a high-tech Meccano but it’s a great way to get started to understand what you can do and it all kind of starts to gather data and then from the software integration piece between the hardware and the sensors and turning that data into useful information to make decisions and and gain insights that is the space that’s you know really exciting and progressing really rapidly at the moment you know in my role Brad can that’s what we’re investing a lot of effort into you know one getting the data and building the the tech and the hardware that gets the data but then we’ve got to do something with that to improve you know the business and you know the decisions that are being made so if my advice is if you’re interested in that stuff if you like playing with physical stuff gets an electronics grab a Raspberry Pi grow some sensors grab some Arduino gear you know get it have a play it’s really easy and quite inexpensive to get into probably get along to blast furnaces blast furnace is great opportunity parents kids whatever both go along Eliza don’t know blast-furnace the local meetup run by Cameron has been on this on this podcast and pass really hands I’m probably the the most hands-on of any Meetup yeah it actually does try to teach practical skills yeah for sure and there’s there’s programs like that that are filtering their way into school so kids are coming are getting the opportunity more and more and I think we’re going to see an even greater penetration of that of getting the experience of playing with these electronics back when I was first going through school there was some opportunities to do a bit electronic stuff you grab a Dick Smith book and a Dick Smith kit and you’d solder some stuff together and you know you’d make a switch that turned there’s some LEDs on and off now you can grab a Raspberry Pi and put a moisture sensor in a plant and you know have an automated watering system set up so all with it with a simple kit so there’s pretty cool stuff that you get out there and get your hands dirty and start to understand how what that space is doing and ice I’ll switch gears slightly the industry you run into with carrot in the beer industry right I know you have a keen interest in the craft beer scene and then you’ve applied your experiences to that industry you’ve done a gap in the market how did that come about to start with yeah so that came about because I had had enough of the sort of hardware industry the traditional IT industry had been doing network and sysadmin and consulting roles for sort of 10 years got to see a lot of businesses enjoyed helping businesses change the way they did things but I it was around the time when software as-a-service started to take off so rather than just putting your servers in a data center and doing everything the same that was kind of the revolution that I got to experience and be a part of then there was things like zero coming out and you know software as a service based system tool on business systems that were really changing the way that you did business so you didn’t need a server anymore you don’t need a file server he didn’t have documents and printers you just did everything online yeah and you know it’s great and it’s now common practice and it’s the known thing I wanted to be a part of that I wanted to help businesses transition into that space so that’s what I did I am I got a job consulting in that space and helping businesses change the way they did things did a lot with inventory inventory management ecommerce that got me into the brewing industry seeing the back office of breweries I went from knowing some Brewers and you know having an appreciation for craft beer to understanding the industry and really getting to know the personalities and I love the brewing industry it’s an interesting mix of you know chemical engineers you know very science-based mixed with are the you know the art of gastronomy you know delighting people senses from a taste and smell point of view and I so I love that this is really interesting mix there so there’s some great characters in it’s a really enjoyable product who doesn’t like um you know delighting your senses with a with a cold frothy beverage ah definitely one of those that’s interesting I and I think I think what you did though is combining your experiences and your passion you know it’s something that you see a lot of people have success in their careers if they can they can get a combination through their passion and what they’re good at or where their experience is I I think it does lead to a lot of success yeah absolutely I think it’s um it certainly gave me an opportunity to make genuine connections so sometimes you see somebody in an industry that they don’t connect well with the industry they can do the job but they don’t connect well with the industry the the brewing industry particularly the smaller craft or industry you don’t get very far if you’re that kind of person because you know it’s very there’s lots of relationships it’s a pretty tight community you’ve got a feeling you’ve got to love what’s what the product is about what the industry is about and there’s a lot of other industries that are like that and so if you are enjoying what you’re doing you’re genuinely enjoying the product of what your job or what your industry is about and you’re going to engage with it so much more you actually going to be enjoying it so I think that’s a huge thing and it also meant that for me I enjoy my work I enjoy the job I enjoy working with those with those businesses because from a back office point of view that difficult businesses to work with they’re not particularly efficient they don’t use tech very well so it was hard but I enjoyed the industry and and you know had a passion for what’s going on there so yeah nice but I think the other thing there is and this is something I talk especially younger people is having a side project and that leading to your job right the job you’ve got right now you wouldn’t have got without Kagan right that cared that int experience II software hardware you know mix all the experiences you got through Kerry and say you aren’t really well to go into your own now where you once again playing a lot of the same experiences a lot of those learnings that you had from that industry and applying it to a new industry I’d say you out there that the side projects LED you know your fault on wrong yeah absolutely absolutely it was like doing um you know an MBA in product development and hardware development yeah for sure and in having the opportunity or taking the plunge everyone probably has the same opportunity that I had I took the plunge and said I’m gonna have a red-hot crack at this it started off by saying I’m gonna apply for this accelerator program and I’m gonna give myself three months to decide what’s going on and that sort of turned into a more like 18 months bumbled along the way towards the end deciding you know do I kill it or what do I do that’s a difficult time for anybody who embarks on a new idea but I took the plunge and learnt so much lucky you can’t you can’t learn some of those lessons if you just dabble you know because you don’t push yourself hard if you back sign up against the wall so yeah there’s a lot to be said for scrappiness and and what you do when you need to do it right 100% yeah yeah yeah if you know you don’t get innovative when you’re comfortable no yeah great I hope I’m trying to place a tiny bit you mentioned you’ve been in a new cast for some time right now you also mentioned and the rise of more traditional businesses starting to investing technology technology seen in Newcastle’s growing as a whole yep and that’s not happening purely because a technology of pure software business is growing here there is a rise there but there’s also that significant rise of more traditional businesses investing in technology to stay relevant yeah what have you seen over you know the past five years in Newcastle let’s start there and then we’ll move into your current current role yeah well I guess over the last five years a new case as a whole has really evolved in the tech scene so gone from being very kind of two ends of the spectrum you got your manufacturing businesses over this side and then you’ve got you know your software and digital agencies over that side a few big industry players like you know the building societies or NI be in the middle who have got you know a traditional business with the heavy tech team but other than that you either or what we’ve started to see is one the the digital agencies and the tech shops who are pure tech and dev get more and more involved in the local industry businesses manufacturing businesses and the manufacturing business is just evolving no matter where you go in the world as tech involved all the best tech getting involved because people want data on on what their products are doing they don’t just want to make a widget and send it out the door and never see anything about it again they want to you know they want to know what’s happening particularly in commercial industry so you we’re not just making you know escalator buckets for instance we’re not just making train carriages we’re not you know we’re actually making that would just be steel cast things or you know there’s lots of industry throughout the whole Hunter Valley region that’s always just made you know big mechanical things they’re now attaching IOT to use a generic term to all of those products to understand how they function and so many of those industries are getting autonomous and robotic to do that you need to know so much all the time you need sensors and things like that out there so that that side of the industry is growing then the software slide is also coming closer because we’re generating all of this data with these Hardware sensors but then we’re going to do something with that data so you know there’s software that needs to be able to integrate with hardware so and you’re not just a pure data data analyst because you’ve you’ve got to get the data out of the machine and you know cleanse it and you know code it up in a way that you can manipulate it and use it ones and zeros on a page don’t mean a lot you’ve got to turn that into something so there’s there’s some roles there that are that are you know dev roles that are working with embedded systems and IOT and things like that so it’s an interesting industry it’s growing a like that you know Newcastle’s well well poised to continue growing those two things together a lot of our manufacturing in heavy industry is quite mining related and the mining industry is going very digital very quickly you know I think we’re in a great position to to leverage our engineering expertise and blend it with our tech expertise and really you know be it and be a powerhouse in terms of developments that are accessible and people might want to know about things that we’re seeing are like rapid prototyping type businesses like Yui Ventures or the meltdown at Warner’s Bay the guys over robotic systems those guys are specialists at helping industry or anyone really rapidly products up hardware so they’ve got multiple disciplines inside you know one organization around hardware and software integration but those guys are spinning up prototypes that your other businesses are then turning into mass-produced products that are very tech focused so we’ve started to see some really cool projects come out of like purely out of Newcastle and I’m I think that’s great we’re seeing more and more of that if you haven’t seen it the melt facility down it wanders by is a fantastic initiative between Reza’s tech who’s a local engineering R&D business it’s part of amp control slingshot who are experts in spinning up startups and turning them into profitable businesses and dancer you’re down there at Lake Macquarie and they’ve got a bunch of funding to go and you know help startups and businesses that are hardware focused turn those ideas into to real products yeah so yeah I definitely think we’ve got some strengths in that area you mentioned a couple of players there and yeah I think I think they go into the radar thing they fly under the radar until you scratch the surface you realize how how big a strength we do have in that area yeah for sure yeah I think the most exciting part is that Brett’s breadth of industry I think that’s technology infiltrating really for every industry including pure tech place and I think Newcastle starting to have spots of that across the board which is becoming more exciting for everyone yeah for sure sure that’s me I’m you obviously have seen that the rise of that and how you’re involved with her and you’e startups in the early days off I think over the past five years we’ve seen a bunch of startups go from ideas to legitimate companies hiring 20-plus people and we’ve got at least half a dozen companies that at significant rounds of funding now got a bearing good solid teams here what’s your thought on that sort of startup scene in Newcastle yeah I think the the pure software startup saying in Castle is is thriving you know we’ve got some great examples I mean I’ve had a few founders come through the podcast who are who are on the riding that wave you know starting off you know five plus years ago as a couple of founders now as you said with teams potentially across across the globe and they’re really punching out in a good product and their high productive teams they’re growing teams so I think you know you can’t before eyes you live Tango’s you Dicky’s and switched in and those guys in in Newcastle are really kicking goals cause I think the other exciting part of that is they’re starting to feedback and provide information and education to the next the next round Oh Justin for example from camp flies on the board of a couple of smaller startups that are going through the growth stage so he’s allowed or he’s in a position to give a lot of his learnings throughout his processes and like experiences to that you know that makes the next wave and I think that all I only give you no greater opportunity for success to that you know there’s next way the Starks coming through oh there’s heaps of opportunity there and most of these founders are keen to get around either people who want to be in those teams or who have other ideas you know there’s there’s plenty of there’s so much opportunity and I think as a community we’re gonna we’re gonna keep growing those kind of businesses so if you’re interested in tech whether it’s product management whether it’s you know UX whether it’s just pure dev or there’s so many roles and marketing and and those kind of things where they’re really lean agile teams fast paced highly productive you know new new generation workplaces as heaps of opportunity happening around here compound I haven’t talked about all the good things happening what’s the biggest challenge for us in the tech side Newcastle
probably the talent pool it’s hard you know we’ve got we’ve got businesses they’re growing faster then experience is available though I think you know we’re seeing everybody who’s looking for in a leading edge experienced product managers or or tech roles looking to Sydney and trying to draw those those kind of people up here it’s not necessarily a hard sell if you find the right person but not everybody wants to leave a big city and I think that’s probably one of the toughest things proximity to Sydney some people think that that’s a problem I think that’s just a mentality and a perception I spent a long time jumping on the train and going to Sydney and it’s if you go around the world it’s it’s no different to you know most places around the world that have got a big city and two hours on the train to the CBD of Sydney is is actually pretty achievable so our proximity to everything that’s available in Sydney whether it’s corporates whether it’s investors whether it’s you know peers universities all that kind of stuff international transport it’s all right there so I don’t think we need to get closer to that and our digital infrastructure isn’t even holding us back anymore after five years ago it would have been having a conversation about not having enough NBN in in the region generally speaking I don’t think that’s really a problem anymore not for the majority of people certainly not if you’re a tech startup that just does everything inside a browser so you know I think it’s we’re in a good position to draw people from big cities but we certainly don’t have enough yeah yeah I completely agree we’ll go a little bit more about you for a second all right you’re now in a space that that you couldn’t traditionally learn the skills you need to learn through traditional sources I wouldn’t say there’s a degree out there that provides you no specific IOT experience or specific embedded experience or experience you know emerging hardware and software what’s your thoughts on educational formal education to start with for the software or the technology industry yeah well for me I my formal education is a bit alternate half I I was home-schooled for most of my early schooling and then I jumped into a diploma of network engineering when I was just fifteen so I want to kind of get some references and things to get my way into TAFE so I started my career really early but with a relatively high education in a diploma but that’s where I stopped and the reason I did that was because it was very practical and hands-on yeah and interesting enough I was at River crossroads right do I want to go down the road of tech or do only go into Ag and be a farmer so I chose tech and Here I am but um the rest of its just I’ve learnt along the way yeah you can learn a lot at University particularly if you’re if you want to really get into the the the techie side of hardware you know chip design and you know embedded systems and there’s a lot to be learnt there if you want to go and study mechatronics or something like that if you really want to be at the front of that industry then that’s probably not a bad way to go you know does I’ve mentioned earlier if you want to understand what it’s like and what you can do and if you do or don’t like hardware it’s easier to just get started don’t wait to uni go on get some hot off the out-of-the-box IOT and start playing around and see you see what you can do because you can do a lot without a university degree yeah and I think that’s the that’s the real big thing for me is try before you buy when it comes to education don’t go and buy a degree and then go and try the industry out try the industry at first and if you need the degree go and get the degree yeah it’s a lot of what you don’t you did this for the Iscariot yeah it was getting in there and getting hands-on I was it was actually playing in the industry and that that’s where all of your learnings come from it’s you forced yourself to to have to pick up those skills yeah absolutely and I I haven’t gone deep on the on the AIT technology I’ve stayed at more of a product manager level of understanding so I’m very big on from industry suppliers let’s trial and test your product yeah I don’t have to build it I have to design the chips I know enough about the battery specs and the chip specs and the comm specs to know is that going to solve my problem I don’t need to design it yeah and that enables me to build a solution quickly because I can then go and grab that device test it out does it give me the information that I need yes or no no it doesn’t okay find something else there’s so much available off-the-shelf and where I’ve needed I’ve sought to build my own network of experts we’ve actually got some really top notch experts in those fields right here in Newcastle and so for me I made it my mission of my goal to know those guys and build relationships with those guys which meant I could catch up for a coffee or a beer and talk about the problems that I was having and ask their advice on which way to go yeah which I think he’s a big team from an educational perspective and also career perspective is you network 100% is something that well we always promote meetups here yep I think meetups are a really good opportunity to build a network or to build relationships but I just cannot I cannot overstate the the importance of building a network absolutely for me it’s the reason why I am where I am now and in the position that I’m in because I I had to have a network for anybody who’s tried to get involved commercially in the craft brewing industry would know that it’s a tight circle to crack you’ve got to be a good networker you’ve got to be a good relationship builder to to have conversations with the people that matter I guess and then from the tech side of things yeah I was pulling together solutions from with multiple different things in mind so I had to be able to find those people and have those conversations and not have to I guess walking as a customer every time because I wasn’t in a position to be a customer from the first conversation so it was really about finding out how am I going to understand who I need to talk to and start the conversation to work out am i potentially going to use those services in there in the game that I mean now it’s all about problem solving it’s so we’re looking at what’s the problem and understanding that problem really well to then narrow it right down to a key couple of components and that’s what you’re going and finding a solution for so they’re soft skills they’re soft skills that don’t get taught at university problem solving I think can be taught at university I think University can be extremely positive from a hard alone and had a problem-solve perspective I think there’s an element there that it can be taught really well through all you learn that through universe yeah there is it there is a part of the problem solving can be taught but it’s hard to teach empathy and the end of the day you are solving a problem for a person yeah and if you aren’t solving a problem for a person then who’s paying you yeah so you could develop an amazing solution or a problem that somebody doesn’t care about I’ll never pay for it there’s an app story out there with millions of apps now her extremely well-written who the software is extremely well written has worked really well produced that people just don’t want them yeah so knowing who you bought her you making something for knowing your customer it’s phenomenal yes that’s it so I’ve had countless conversations the more that people noticed that I was solving a problem was in IIT so many of you would hit me up so hey Deann love to catch up and talk to you about you know my thing so many of those conversations are somebody who has overton engineered the the solution to a problem that they saw existed but they actually didn’t know who their customer was so they knew how to solve the problem but what they didn’t know it was whether or not anybody had the problem so if nobody has the problem and no one’s gonna pay for the solution so it’s firstly going I think that’s a problem who has the problem so if I take my keg at example kegs get lost who has the problem well I think breweries have the problem I find the person in the brewery whose job it is to manage the keg fleet turns out they do have the problem they hate the problem ok cool now I need to get to know them really well why do they hate the problem what are the intricacies about what they do who is that person you know what tools do they like to use you know what do they not like to do have a more of a delivery driver or are they more of a brewer or are they an Operations Manager kind of middle management guy or is it you know that yeah so many things yeah so many questions but get to know the person behind the problem yeah for sure completely agree my problem solving cannot be once again not just it’s so important in any facet of any role right here pay for yeah yeah closely and we’ll rapid-fire it toward you know you personally what you do in your day is be successful by any technologies or otherwise use from productivity perspective each day yes I guess there’s a couple things I’ve spent a lot of time over the last years on personal development because having an entrepreneurial vision is pretty full-on and if you’re not you know being the best version of yourself throughout that then you’re going to struggle and it’s not a very sustainable a place to be if you’re not looking after yourself and improving yourself so I spend a reasonable amount of time you know making sure that I’m sharp as a person so listen to a fair bit of self-help kind of positive sort of stuff loved my lewis howes podcast and those kind of things and I’ve been getting into you know the power of habits books and those kinds of things it’s not a tech tool but I can guarantee you exercise is a massive productivity tool if you exercise every day particularly in the morning to get you get yourself going you will be more productive through the day that doesn’t mean you on do a two-hour workout and exhaust yourself but do something physical every morning is probably the biggest productivity hack I have and then in terms of keeping organized and keeping focused I love the three things methodology so don’t have a work a big to-do list that you work off every day have three things that you want to get done today and I use Trello to organize that I have a bit of a Kanban board set up in Trello I’ve got my three things that I want to get done today I’ve got the things that I’ve already done so I want to do something I move it to the done column I don’t just delete it and then I’ve got things I want to do tomorrow there’s usually half a dozen things on tomorrow and then you know this week and later on so that helps me stay focused and the other thing I’ve just started doing basically this year and it was a.m. it was off the back of reading a post from Jason Calacanis and that was the three things I did today and and what the walkers have I got that stopped me from getting something done and he implements that with his with his managers to say I don’t want a progress reports I just want to know there’s three things that you got done that moved the needle closer to the goal yeah so I was not you know I sent an email it’s like the three things that move the needle closer to the goal today I’ve got in the habit of using that and I shoot that off to my my manager and I’m getting the team to do the same thing that’s huge because it keeps you accountable three o’clock comes around and you’re like what am I gonna put in my three things some days I mean suddenly you’re like actually yeah I have moved the needle or I haven’t just you know spent the day in my inbox so that’s huge I love slack from a communications point of view I don’t like email I hate printed material I don’t do printer I say I do my best of now in a bit more of a traditional business as a yeah that’s a painful one but I’m dealing with it slack love it keeps your threads topical stops email storms yeah and then the other one is his last pass I’m someone who’s had I have countless sass accounts logins for websites I I recently got one of my bank cards hacked and a bunch of unauthorized transactions made to be able to jump in and go I’ve just changed my banking password and I’ve just changed all these other passwords I don’t know any of my passwords yeah but LastPass looks after them they’re all twelve characters and randomized it’s secure it’s great it’s brilliant yeah use that keeps just keeps your information secure and keeps your memory free to remember the things you need to yeah I like it man I like it you know the first person that said that there’s a couple of people that are actually standing it to talk about actual importance of that especially security yesterday’s and their rise the rise over you know potential hacks and how important your information is are for sure yeah sure awesome man we got a last question if you had one piece of advice to our younger version yourself anything in particular you’d want backing I would say to my younger self have a crack yeah I took me a long time to to jump out of security of just having a nine-to-five I never thought that I wanted to be a small business owner in fact I loved the idea of it but I realized as I got older that was actually something that I had just inherited from my parents so yeah I wish I got in and had a crack earlier at doing something that I I wanted to do rather than just you know doing something secure yeah I like it if people want to catch up with you it’s talk I pick her brain another thing you mentioned today I what’s the easiest way to get in touch LinkedIn is always great and pretty easy to find on LinkedIn I’m on socials as well if you find me yeah hit me up happy to have a chat or yeah that’s probably the best way and get trying it around to the a lot of the the meetups around Newcastle as well so awesome yeah yeah it’s coming in now alright Cheers