Our workshops play host to, not only a plethora of technologies, but innovative thinking as well. At the heart of this thinking are our team of experimentalists - the guys making stuff happen. If you'd like to know more, and why these guys spend their days tucked away playing with code and machines... meet Fred Tucker, our head technician in the workshop.

Tell us a bit about your background and what led you to work for NBT?

Born in Wales, UK, joined the Army for 10 years. After leaving the army, I studied in India for 14 months in a wide range of subjects, all tech based - networking, programming, design, and then moved to Germany. I was moping about working for a delivery company and someone who I knew was working here, they said do you want to come and experiment with some hardware, and I said yeah. And then I ended up running the NBT workshops.

What projects have you been working on recently?

We’ve just finished the big M-bus project for a new heating system. And have recently started working on an automated door opening device for an old people’s home.

For the heating system project which we’ve just completed, we had to use an old bus connection, a 1980’s M-bus. We had to hack that, use protocol fuzzing. We took a lot of the concepts you’d learn from generic TCP type hacking and brought it to an old bus and then we made some hardware connectors connected them to it after we’d hacked it and then used Raspberry Pi to take all the information out. And then held that information in an Azure cloud, then took it back down, and then used some C sharp and some WPF to display it to a user, and Telerik graphs to give it a nice display. So everything from C, old bus technologies, C Sharp, Sequel, Telerik.

For the keys we’re using Arduino’s for the start, some hardware which we haven’t made yet and I’m not sure how that’s gonna be, we’ll probably have to 3d print some stuff. We’re using MQTT, we’re using IoT in an Azure cloud, maybe! Some web space stuff - javascript type HTML nonsense for the front. We’re using MVC, we’re using Node.Js, we’re holding a MicroServer and some general electronics on that as well.

"I get to take a project idea, think for a little while... and then make some stuff, however I choose to make it."

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

As a technician here, you have to know everything all the time. I never know everything. It’s challenging in a good way. Every day you’ve got to learn a new thing. Today, I had to make some architecture for the key app, I had to fight to make MQTT talk to an Azure cloud, I had to fight to make Sequel talk to Azure cloud, then I had to make some Javascript talk using some Web Sockets from a phone to an Arduino which aren’t supposed to communicate with each other then I had to learn electronics to get the right voltages from the other side to make the Arduino control something and show a display. Outside of that, I had to learn locksmithing; I had to learn about keys and locks at quite a deep level. So yeah, every day is a fucking challenge. It's great!

How much autonomy do you have?

How much autonomy do I have?! I make the entire programs myself. I get to take a project idea, think for a little while, sometimes I talk to my little assistant and then make some stuff, however I choose to make it. There's good and bad on that side, I'm free to make it, however I want I make it as long as it works at the end. And, yeah you get to take a product all the way from one task: ‘I want this, can we make it happen?’, all the way to an actual presentation which is pretty cool.

What do you enjoy the most about being a technician at NBT?

Learning new stuff is great. Always a completely different project. You’re taking stuff from nothing all the way through to a prototype and each project only lasts about 3 months so you get to do new, exciting ones. And I really enjoy learning other stuff in the industry. I’ve learned about metering (I know quite a lot about how and why you meter out things, why people don’t like sometimes their house being metered out. I also know a lot about locks. So it’s quite varied for a technician, you wouldn’t normally learn some of this stuff. Not just industry skills, but completely random skills as well. That’s quite cool. And it’s fun being a technician here…

Thanks, Fred!