Get to know Propeller’s world-class team in our ongoing employee spotlight. Today, we talk to Rusty Harding, who serves as a software engineer on the data engineering team. Rusty is based in Sydney, Australia
What do you do at Propeller?
As part of the data engineering team, I’m helping to solve problems in processing of customers’ inputs and getting them into the output formats they need for their workflows. My team manages that pipeline of source photos going through to GIS assets that are handed over to the Propeller Platform for the customer experience of the measurements.
My babies at Propeller are data upload and validation. A customer would know that as “creating a dataset.” The uploader, where customers add their photos, is what I work on most closely. A big part of uploading is checking the data. I built a lot of systems to ensure good-quality data is going in, so we can provide accurate 3D maps.
I also maintain the site setup flow on the Propeller Platform. It’s a shared responsibility between the dev teams, but a big part of that is setting up the coordinate system for your site.
What’s your career background?
I started my adventure doing mechatronics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I was super into robotics. I wrote a thesis on controlling a robot with an Android phone. That gave me a bit of an entrance into software development—at the very academic-centric, just-get-something-out-the-door level. I started doing a lot more coding in hobby projects after that. I did also one internship per year through my studies, which taught me a lot about what I didn’t want to do.
After finishing uni, I ran away overseas and landed in Sweden, where I decided to stay and work. I got lucky with the options available to me in Stockholm. It’s a bit of a mini Silicon Valley there, with Spotify and some online gaming platforms. Without knowing anything about the industry, I got in with a well-funded startup. It was a game-changing year.
When it was time to come back to Sydney, I talked to Keat, who was an old friend from uni, and he told me to check out what they were doing at Propeller. I’ve been at Propeller for about three years now.
You are in charge of getting new coordinate systems into Propeller. What is that process like?
We have a large out-of-the-box support offering for the US state plane systems, the Australian grid systems, and various systems across countries in Europe. We ensure new systems play nice with all our products, like AeroPoints. Basically, using the Propeller Corrections Network in your country is something that occasionally needs a bit of tweaking and development.
It’s a job that’s never done. As we expand, new customers are wanting to use weird and wonderful system that either we had no idea existed or we do know something about, but need to take extra steps before they’re usable in the Propeller Platform.
We also work with arbitrary or local coordinate systems. It’s a big selling point for us because, as I understand it, we’re the only ones who do it properly in photogrammetry.
Where did you grow up?
I’m a Sydney kid. Lower North Shore. Kind of beach-y, kind of suburban. I played a lot of tennis and music as a kid. Had the tennis circuit dream. That was three hours a day, every day, for many years.
I also spent a bit of time in Uppsala, Sweden, as a six and seven year old. That was an eye-opening time.
Before working at Propeller, what’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve held?
I delivered the local newspaper for eight years. That was my cash cow from third grade until 10th grade.
It wasn’t a bad gig, considering that no one actually cared if their paper arrived in any kind of readable condition. I scooted around on my bike and threw papers out at the rate of 8¢ a paper. So, do a few thousand of those, and it was a nice little pile per week—for a fourth-grade kid, anyway.
What’s your favorite Slack emoji and why?
It’s definitely one of our custom ones. I like a very obscure one for when you push code that breaks. It’s called “Fred Fail,” and shows a picture of Fred tinted in red with an X his face.
It came from the deployment tool we use to ship code. It knows who pushed the last change, so if a problem crops up, it’s generally that person who’s responsible. And this tool actually shows their mugshot on the UI with a red overtone, indicating this person has pushed this code that’s now gone red.
What’s your favorite Propeller memory?
Definitely the ten weeks I spent in Denver. Meeting the whole new—and previously mysterious—cohort of employees that had been building up on the other side of the world was great.
We have a corporate apartment in Denver, where I stayed. At one point, I remember descending on the apartment block spa wearing Harry Potter robes with Dan, our financial controller. It was unforgettable.
Any talents, secret superpowers, or fun facts about yourself to share?
My talents are definitely music. I’m a pianist. Self-taught. I play jazz by trade, but, in my pretentious opinion, that means you can play anything. I also play drums and percussion with a few busking troops.
What’s one thing you wish people understood better about Propeller as a whole?
There can be a perception that the only industries we work with are not totally environmentally friendly ones. Yes, we do work with mines, quarries, and landfills, but what we provide is a surveying and worksite management solution.
It happens that those kinds of industries do a lot of surveying and need to care about how their site changes. I’d love to people to know about all the work we do with EPA, environmental authorities, and solar farms too. We help those kinds of sites do environmental compliance, as well as tracking their earthwork.