If you are using Minemax software, chances are you have been in contact with Minemax Software Engineer Leon Blackwell at some point. Leon has been one of the core software developers behind Minemax software for years. This year, he celebrates his 18 year work anniversary at Minemax which presents a perfect opportunity to reflect on his journey with Minemax in this short interview.
Why did you join Minemax back in 2002?
My PhD was stagnating, teaching work was drying up, and I had a newborn daughter to care for. It was time to leave the safety of university and join the “real world”. In a small town like Perth, it can be tricky to find real computer science work, but Minemax just happened to be advertising. Their office didn’t have a wall of coke cans or a giant inflatable penguin, but they were working on some pretty cool stuff.
Luckily, they saw past the long-haired weirdo that walked through the door and decided to hire me anyway.
Do you remember your first day?
When I first started at Minemax, it was a very small company. I joined 3 other employees (including the boss’ wife, who worked admin). Somehow, I found this more overwhelming than lecturing hundreds of students. Within the first week, I managed to completely break several pieces of important code, and I forgot the boss’ wife’s name.
And yet I’m still here! Isn’t the world a funny place?
What is your current role at Minemax?
My current role is officially “Software Engineer”, but I spend a bit of time on just about everything. I would probably do more if I could just find the time. Perhaps I should spend a weekend looking into having myself cloned.
How has your job changed over the years?
I was initially hired to work on iGantt (due to my background in Java and 3D graphics), but moved on to working on all of Minemax’s products. As new technologies have come along, I’ve enjoyed adapting and learning. I’ve worked with teams of various sizes, taken up leadership roles, and tried my hand at just about every task within the company, from graphic design to sales.
These days I’ve decided that I really just prefer to “get my hands dirty” so I’ve resisted the pull of management and try to keep myself as deep in the code mines as possible.
What has been your biggest achievement at Minemax?
While I could claim many things, Minemax is a team. Each and every one of my achievements is due to the support and hard work of the people that I work with every day.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I like solving problems, and Minemax doesn’t disappoint. Every day it’s a new set of problems to solve: math, algorithms, engineering, user interfaces, design, and more.
Sitting down with a new problem, pulling it apart, working it through, and (eventually) solving it is great. Getting to solve these problems and then see that it makes other people’s jobs and lives better is the best feeling.
Which part of your job is the most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of software development (and therefore one of the most interesting) is to understand what the users of the software actually want to do. It’s very easy to get caught up in the math and engineering of making something amazing, only to find out that it doesn’t really help anyone.
Being able to understand an audience, anticipate their needs, and then build something that makes their life more awesome is still more challenging than all the math we deal with.
(The math is still fun, though.)
What’s your favourite memory of the last 18 years?
After 18 years, there are so many memories: dancing around like idiots while at a charity event; the (completely inappropriate) office mascot of “headphone dude”; staying up until 3am working with team mates on the opposite side of the world; and eating far, far too many muffins and cakes.
Looking back, have you seen many changes in mining software over those years?
Over the years, mining software has evolved considerably. As computers have become more powerful, the capabilities of mining software have also grown. We’re now solving models in minutes that once took days. This leads to models becoming larger, but it also leads to new and interesting dimensions being added.
Mining engineers have also grown, and are no longer content with quickly built tools that “just get the job done”. They now see the benefits of well-engineered and beautiful software that supports them in their tasks at every step.
I can’t wait to see where the industry is in another decade or two.
You are known for your passion for Halloween and the best Halloween house in your neighbourhood. Can you share some highlights from this year’s Halloween with your family?
Normally we’re the “Halloween House” for many kids in our neighbourhood. However, like most of the world, covid-19 means that this year is a bit different. We didn’t feel it was wise to host a huge number of people in our front yard, so we’re just handing out pre-packaged treats to anyone that felt brave enough to go trick or treating. Hopefully the world is less crazy next year, and zombies will be chasing dinosaurs down the street again like last year.
Thank you Leon for taking the time to answer these questions and congratulations again on your work anniversary. We wish you all the best for your future at Minemax!