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MATLAB in industry – Customer Success Story

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Alaris is a technology group customer of Opti-Num Solutions specialising in Defence and Specialised antennas and Digital Television broadcast equipment with Chris Vale as their  Chief Technical Officer & Head of Engineering.

Chris and his team at Alaris use MATLAB® tools on a daily basis. Below he expresses the importance of introducing MATLAB into Universities in order to give students the competitive advance in industry.

At Alaris we intentionally favour candidates for engineering positions that can claim a solid background in MATLAB. In fact, it is quite likely we would not hire someone who has not been exposed to MATLAB in their training. We particularly want to see applicants that know how to use MATLAB as an engineering design tool, that know how to develop GUIs and toolboxes of their own, and that know how to work with our existing codebase, that is entirely written in MATLAB.

Although we have occasionally been tempted to use some of the open source or free equivalent options that can be found, the simple fact of the matter is that in practice companies that try to be penny rich ultimately become Pound poor. The value of our engineering hours and the critical mission of delivering products on time and with the best possible quality simply overshadows the attractions of being free. With us, speed is EVERYTHING and this demands FOCUS. We want our engineers to do product development using the software we have as a tool. We don’t want them to be software developers who care about discovering the inner beauty of Python programming more than the product that needs to ship next month.

It’s the same rationale that drives us to purchase instruments and lab equipment from reputable manufacturers and not use home brewed network analysers made of op-amps and Veroboard or hacked out of USB dongles and WiFi detectors. All of these things are beautiful and elegant in their cost efficiency and sheer bravado but I suspect (I hope) that you would never teach your students with such equipment and therefore wonder why one would select software on the sole basis of economy.

I’m not saying that the alternatives are bad, or that they can’t do very much the same thing that MATLAB can do with some exceptions (I think Simulink is not yet matched). But, I’m saying that in industry we have to favour the responsible route. Very seldom do we find an acceptable excuse with our clients to be that our free development software caused an unexpected delay or failure in project execution. What happens when the volunteer team that is developing a specific new library loses interest, or the next freeware fad comes over the horizon and we are left with an unsupported and untraceable codebase – a codebase that used to be an asset – a codebase that shareholders paid money to own?

Another consideration is that young engineers seldom get recruited into a vacuum. They will be inserted into an existing years-old engineering ecosystem. In all likelihood they will be destined to work alongside with and to learn from senior engineers – senior engineers who quite possibly grew up with MATLAB and have been mastering it for years, developing code that will need to be understood and perpetuated to drive the company forward.

As CTO at Alaris, I can speak for a comparatively small company with maybe 11 MATLAB users, but I suspect that organisations such as banks and larger development houses with truly deep pockets would follow similar thinking. In fact, I have contact with CTOs from a variety of other industries, such as fintech, and a lot of what I hear is ‘MATLAB’.

I’d like to see young graduates emerging with a balanced experience of all the available tools out there. Teach them the free tools but also teach them the tools that very many of us professionals use. The fight for more reasonably priced software, one that I hold no less dear to my heart, should be fought on a different battleground.

Dr. Chris Vale
Chief Technical Officer & Head of Engineering
www.alarisantennas.com

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