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Jason Dearien


College of Engineering
Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Pullman, WA.
Senior Software Engineer


  • Biography

    SEL Web site: 
    http://www.selinc.com/


    Professional Profile: 

    Jason received a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Math from the University of Idaho in 1993. His early years were spent in south eastern Idaho.  Later on his family moved to the central costal region of California where he graduated from Paso Robles High School.


    When Jason was in the second grade is dad bought the family an Apple II Plus computer with two floppy drives and the memory upgraded from 64K to 80K.  "I didn't do much 'real' programming, but I do remember typing in some BASIC programs that were printed up in Nibble magazine.  When I was a bit older I wrote some little programs that basically just messed with colors on the screen."  When Jason was in high school he had the opportunity to take some programming classes.  "California schools had lots of money so they actually had computer labs filled with Apple II's.  In the class we would get an assignment and I would whip it out quickly and then spend time improving it.  I would also have the teacher stop by and say, 'How did you do that?' or she would ask me questions about things the other kids were having trouble with."


    By the time Jason finished high school he'd had enough of California and college there was considerably more expensive.  "In the California system I would have had to go to a community college first. I didn't like that idea, so I came back to Idaho where I already knew some friends.  My dad had ties with the University of Idaho, as an adjunct professor in Civil Engineering at the Idaho Falls Center, so he knew the engineering programs well."


    "I was challenged in my classes which taught me how to learn on my own to solve problems. We were not led by the hand to the solutions."


    There were certain things about the Computer Science Department that created a lasting impression in Jason's mind. "The Department was full of excellent teachers that really took an interest in making sure that I had exposure to a wide variety of topics and that I also had a solid foundation in the basics, such as data structures and algorithms. I was challenged in my classes which taught me how to learn on my own to solve problems. We were not led by the hand to the solutions. After I graduated I knew I had the ability to build anything I wanted or needed to because of the success and challenges I had in my studies."


    In addition to his academic studies, Jason participated in the University of Idaho Student Chapter of Association for Computing Machinery where he served as the treasurer during his senior year. He also had an interesting diversionary interest, serving as the president of the University of Idaho Juggling Club for several years.


    "After I graduated I knew I had the ability to build anything I wanted or needed to because of the success and challenges I had in my studies."


    Reflecting on how his Computer Science education prepared him to enter the profession, Jason had this to say, "I received a high quality education in Computer Science. I was exposed to the tools needed to do a good job. I was taught how to analyze and solve problems and I was also taught core programming practices that I could put to use in the workplace."


    After completing his degree Jason stayed in the Moscow area, to work as a Software Engineer and becoming a founding member of First Step Research (FSR). At the time, FSR was working closely with Fujitsu on their network management product. After two years, Jason took on the position of Senior Software Architect with responsibility for all of the software development in the company, including the InfoArk web server product, which at the time greatly surpassed the functionality of its competitors. "During my 5 years at FSR, we build one of the first web browsers, the best (at the time) web server, created the region's largest ISP, and started a successful web development business. FSR was a fun place to work. It had that startup feel where you do whatever it takes to get the job done, and you have a TON of fun doing it."


    In 1998 Jason left FSR to join another local company, Advanced Hardware Architectures (AHA) as a Senior Software Engineer. AHA specializes in the design of custom integrated circuit solutions, including patented technology for performing data compression and high speed error correction in data transmission applications. "I started at AHA, but six weeks later the company downsized and I was the only software developer left. Over the next three years we grew the company back to 80+ people, with three geographic locations: Pullman WA, Portland OR, and South Hampton, England." Jason had a significant role in developing tools to support the company's hardware design and validation work. He eventually advanced to the position of Software Engineering Manager, responsible for all software development in the company.


    Seeking additional opportunities, Jason joined Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) in 2001 as a Senior Software Engineer. SEL develops products for the electric power industry which were quite different from the advanced technology chip designs he supported at AHA.  As Jason discovered, changing jobs can present some interesting challenges.  "One thing that I was not used to was embedded development. I had been working on Linux, Solaris, and Windows systems with as much memory and disk space as I could ever use. Now I was getting thrown into a world where new products containing 2 MB of RAM were something special! It was a completely different world for me."


    "After I graduated I knew I had the ability to build anything I wanted or needed to because of the success and challenges I had in my studies."


    Not only was the world of embedded system development different for Jason, he discovered that the software development culture was significantly different as well.  "When I started at SEL the company had very little software reuse strategy. At the time, all of the product development was done in C and assembler with no abstraction layers to allow reuse." His passion for leveraging technology and improving productivity through effective reuse was put to the test.  Over the course of the next four years Jason and other passionate developers successfully created a Software Components Group that was responsible for creating a reusable product architecture. "I'm proud to say that we've created many components that have greatly reduced our time to market, and significantly increased the quality and reliability of our new products."


    "It is in my nature to improve what I see needs improving."


    Time has shown that Jason is a problem solver at heart.  "It is in my nature to improve what I see needs improving. I can't stand to see inefficiency, especially when it comes to anything dealing with computers. Computers are built to do boring things easily, and correctly every time. All you have to do in teach them what to do. At most jobs there are many manual processes and tasks. When someone's job is to do something that could be done better by a computer and would therefore allow them to be more productive, with higher quality, then I see a situation I want to improve."


    The transformation of SEL's software was not only about reworking some very concrete software architectures.  It required significant investment in updating the skills of the software development team and the processes they used to develop products.  "I gave many presentations on object-oriented design and reuse. I also worked to get in place many new software development processes and policies. As you might expect upper management was skeptical and wanted to see concrete evidence that the changes were beneficial."  Recognizing that revised policies and practices were of little benefit if the engineering staff was not up to speed on the new concepts, Jason spent lots of time mentoring other engineers.


    Jason is now acting as a technical lead for a large project at SEL where there are 25+ developers, testers, and specification writers on the project, all under his direction. He is responsible for making sure the PC software works correctly with the new embedded device, that the new OS will load on the new hardware they develop in house, and that the product will actually meet the needs of the customer by meeting specifications and operating extremely reliably.


    Being able to use a variety of different computing languages to implement tools and applications is an important skill.  "During my time at SEL I have used at least 4 different embedded compilers. I have written production code for dozens of products, in C/C++ and Assembly. I have written database systems and countless scripts, in a variety of languages, to help improve our tools department and to do automated testing of our devices and PC software. I have also written production code for PC GUI products in Delphi (Object Pascal), C/C++ and assembly language. "


    "Being able to use a variety of different computing languages to implement tools and applications is an important skill."


    In summarizing what his primary role at SEL is all about, Jason says, "What I really specialize in is system architecture, the 'seeing the big picture' type of thing. I know how to take big, complicated development projects and break them down into bit size chunks that can be assembled to solve the problem and form an elegant, reusable, and extensible solution. I also can write lots of good code, but without putting that code in the right spot it doesn’t do us much good. I also enjoy mentoring new engineers. It is great to work with them and help them develop."


    April 2008

    The views expressed on this page are those of the individual being profiled and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Idaho or the employer. References to specific organizations and companies does not constitute endorsement of their products or services by the University of Idaho.


    Copyright © 2008 University of Idaho Board of Regents

I was challenged in my classes which taught me how to learn on my own to solve problems. We were not led by the hand to the solutions.