I have had a section called Philosophy on my very first website, and I have maintained a page called Principles or Our Approach ever since. It sounds as if those principles had been decreed at one point in time. As if aliens from outer space had dictated them.
However, I could simply say this: Since decades I play with technology, science, engineering, IT and everything in between. I worked in different industries. Each of them had good and bad aspects - regarding the actual subject matter and re the way of working. My main goal and hidden agenda was to every evolve but keep the good and interesting aspects of each of them. I could spin a story about how everything fits into a grand and big picture, and it is not even wrong.
But it's a good exercise to look at everything as disjointed pieces. At some point in your life that stories should speak for themselves. I am running my own business now for a long time; I don't have to explain and justify how everything fits together - as if it was part of a great plan.
In no particular order, and without aiming at completeness...
Like the Cobol mavericks at the turn the last millennium, I support legacy Windows Public Key Infrastructures. I have migrated them over and over and over. I don't pretend I know all the latest buzz words but it seems I can catch up quickly and connect the dots.
I am herding all the software tools related to sizing heat pump systems, related numerical simulations, and data analysis - the so-called Data Kraken. I could call myself a software developer - I use languages from VBA to C++, and I use pointers and recursion now and then. But I don't mind if somebody insists this on this being 'just scripting'.
I have been doing down-to-earth IT system administration for one small business - my second ever customer, loyal since more than two decades.
I get Ask-me-anything questions related to How Stuff Works and If That Stuff is Secure or If That Stuff Can Work at All. For some of that advice people even want to pay.
If you ask what real physics I actually use, I'd say Heat Conduction. Accidentally (?) it was one my specialties at the university, a long time ago.
I work mainly remote. It's more efficient, it's cheaper for clients, I don't have to travel, everybody is more focused. I don't do political projects (anymore).
I enjoy to find the pragmatic middle ground. I don't take as gospel: Software design patterns, methodologies, engineering standards, compliance guidelines, best practices, 'what everybody says', 'what everybody does just to be on the safe side'.
Taking stock of what I had done so far, I found that two things were part of all my endeavors: Teaching/training and software development. I have also been a student in parallel, most of the time. After I gave an academic lecture about PKI for a few years, I ditched formal teaching, and having completed another master's degree I also stopped collecting degrees and certificates.
Since a while I am catching up on computer science basics in self-study mode, and this year I have discovered the joys of pen-testing.
Recently I've changed my story at some social profiles again - to this:
Specializing in: Control systems, software development for measurement data analysis, IT security, troubleshooting and reverse engineering systems with physical (hydraulic) and software (control) components.
I am running a small engineering consultancy together with my husband. We are both physicists, and we focus on designing, programming, and troubleshooting control systems for heating / solar systems, especially heat pump systems with a combination of uncommon heat sources and custom control. For more than 10 years I have implemented, reviewed, and troubleshooted public key infrastructures, and I still do this for some long-term clients.
I am blogging about this and about related science and engineering topics at https://elkement.blog.
In contrast to this blog, this site here is more of an extended profile / About Me page. It is my hand-crafted whoami machine.
I think about my exploration of layers of software. tl;dr: I am gradually moving down / back to the lower levels of software, the ones closer to hardware, electronics, control, field bus systems etc.
I've started out learning about micro-controllers in electronics class as a physics student. Then I programmed sensors and actuators for measuring the low-temperature electrical properties of superconductors as a staff scientist at the university (in Turbo Pascal). Yet I jumped up to the top of the software stack and switched to Microsoft scripting languages: VBA, VBScript, ASP when I went 'from research to IT'. Even the first version of my numerical simulation for our heat pump system was an Excel spreadsheet, then a VBA application using spreadsheets.
It seems I needed to trade 'IT' again officially for 'renewable energies' to be motivated to move down the stack again. When I was a non-traditional 'post-graduate' student in in energy engineering I was always been the 'Excel programmer' in group projects. Buth then I went down rabbit holes: Learning SQL Server and Transact-SQL for analyzing our measurement data. Re-writing the simulation software, now based on Visual Basic .NET, for the first time using a true object-oriented design. To get ready for this, I had re-written this website from scratch in .NET before. My so-called Data Kraken uses a combination of Powershell and SQL scripts today.
I finally learned to utilize all my processors in my simulation, and I fixed lots of performance issues. I read Joel on Software cover to cover to re-live the period I 'was in IT' and to catch up on fundamentals. He pointed me to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs which I consider the single best ever lecture / course I've ever 'attended'. It is both so deep and philosophical, and at the same time so useful: My simulations became faster by a large factor.
And all the time, I did reverse engineering and debugging. I think I have done this ever since, but always at the level I understood software at the time. Of all the tasks I had as an IT Security / Public Key Infrastructure consultant, troubleshooting weird issues with X.509 certificates was maybe the best one: Digging deep into network traces, reading up on RFCs. Every time I was theoretically only a user of software and services, I ended up debugging in detail - like using Wireshark to track down a weird compatibility issue between my e-mail client and a mail server, when just trying to sign my invocies via a digital signature solution using SMTP.
Then I finally learned C and C++, and I read about Assembly and the art of reverse engineering and malware analysis - to really appreciate the final chapters of SICP, about the self-referential wonders of compilers and interpreters.
Trying to visualize the stack and what happens to the registers, I picked up a very old book - the one I used decades ago in my electronics class - and I jumped into the chapter about micro-controllers. And then it hit me: Those fundamentals, they have not changed much. Yes, different processors have different instruction sets and you might have 8bit, 16bit, or 32bit. But the explanation about the stack, and how to return from a function - this has always been an eternal truth since that electronics book and SICP had been released.
All falls into place: Understanding C is really the pre-requisite for understanding field bus communications, and that is what control units use. Debugging skills are essential when dealing with abandoned engineering software from the stone age.
So I finally found the most logical connection between physics and IT, the place to be as a physicist in IT or in engineering or whatever.
Onword to Python!
Since 2012 I have published PKI status updates here, trying to answer the question 'Do you still do PKI?' (or IT). I have re-edited them often, and my responses were erratic - I was in a Schrödinger-cat-like superposition state of different professional identities.
Now and then I still get these questions. Can I answer it finally? I am still in a superposition state - I don't expect the wave-function to break down any time soon. I enjoy this state! But my answer to IT-related requests is most often no.
So yes, I am still 'working with IT' and 'with IT security' professionally. Not necessarily 'in IT'.
I am supporting a few long-term clients with their Windows PKI deployments and related X.509 certificate issues (after having done that for more than 10 years exclusively). Those clients that aren't scared off by my other activities, and clients I had always worked with informally and cordially. But I don't have any strong ties with specific PKI software vendors anymore, and I don't know about latest bugs and issues. So I don't present myself as a Windows PKI consultant to prospects, and I decline especially requests by IT security partner companies who are looking for a consultant to pitch or staff their projects. I am also not interested in replying to Request for Proposals for PKI or identity management and 'offering a solution', competing with other consultants and especially with other companies that have full time stuff doing business development (I hardly did this in my PKI-only time). I am not developing software anymore that might turn into an 'enterprise solution'.
Today I am working 'with IT' more than 'in IT' in the sense that I returned where I came from, as an applied physicist who was initially drawn into IT, armed only with experience in programming software for controlling experimental setups and analyzing my data: I call myself the 'theoretical department' of our small engineering consultancy - I am developing software for handling Big Monitoring Data. I am also tinkering with measurement technology, like connecting a Raspberry Pi to a heat pump's internal CAN bus.
Security is important of course: I have fun with awkward certificates on embedded devices, I sniff and reverse engineer protocols, and I could say I am working with the things in the Internet of Things. But I am not doing large-scale device PKIs or advising the IT departments of major engineering companies: My clients are geeky home owners, and we (the two of us) are planning and implementing our special heat pump system for them. An important part of such projects is monitoring and control.
So every time I feel that somebody is searching for 'a PKI consultant' I am the wrong person. But if somebody stumbles upon my CV or hears my story at full length - and absolutely wants to hire me just because of the combination of this - I might say yes.
But it is no good rationalizing too much: Finally it is a matter of gut feeling; I am spoilt or damaged by our engineering business. Our heat pump clients typically find our blog first - which has been mistaken for a private fun blog by friends. Prospects are either 'deflected' by the blog (and we never hear from them), or they contact us because of the blog's weird style. Having the same sense of humor is the single best pre-requisite for a great collaboration. So whenever I get any other project request, not mediated by a weird website, I try to apply the same reasoning. Years ago I a colleague I had not met before greeted me in the formal kick-off meeting, in front of all others, with: You are the Subversive Element, aren't you? (Alluding to my Alter Ego on subversiv.at). That's about the spirit I am looking for.
My nickname is Elkement - an amalgam of my first name and my unofficial job title: The Subversive Element.
I am running a small company together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology he is Chief Engineer and I am Science Officer. We live in the very heart of Europe, in sunny Pannonian Plain.
I am a physicist who has explored different professional biotopes. After having indulged in the corporate world as a so-called mobile knowledge worker I decided to reconnect to my roots as a scientist and engineer in 2012, and I have completed another master's degree - Sustainable Energy Systems - in 2013. In 2014 I am indulging in a weird combination of professional specialties: Modelling of heat pump systems and troubleshooting issues with digital certificates.
On numerous blogs and websites I am pondering on:
Theoretical physics versus engineering.
Off-the-wall geek humor versus existential philosophical questions.
Knowledge worker's connectedness versus striving for independence.
Corporate world's strangeness versus small business entrepreneur's microcosmos.
As a Search Term Poet and a Spam Poet I create art from the virtual scrapyard.
Related blog articles:
The Dark Side Was Strong in Me (2012, on my transition from academia / R&D to IT in 1997).
On Science Communication (2013, remembering 1995)
Keeping It Short
What is the essence of all my websites, my blogs and my CV?
- Physicist as per my first degrees. Now I may again call me a Consulting Engineer in Applied Physics. Theoretical physics is still an important hobby of mine.
- As an Engineer I am working on the simulation of heat pump systems.
- IT Security Consultant - that's what I have called myself for more than 10 years. Currently I am interested in the security of smart meters.
- Blogger - at elkement.wordpress.com. I have just celebrated my blog's first anniversary.
- 'Settler' - living in the Pannonian Plain in the utmost East of Austria for nearly 15 years now.
- Geek and Subversive Element.
If This Would Be Web 2.0 You Would Call This:
Elke Stangl's Profile
My CV - or my so-called profile in web 2.0 newspeak - can be found in: XING (German, with the remarkable exception of the following paragraphs) and LinkedIn (Englisch). Currently my web 2.0 avatar is describing itself as:
I am a physicist running a small company together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology he is Chief Engineer and I am Science Officer.
I have designed and implemented Public Key Infrastructures (PKI, applied cryptography) for enterprise customers since 2002 and I have phased-out these activities at the 10th anniversary (mid of July 2012) in order to focus on renewable energies.
I am particularly interested in the interfaces between building technology, energy engineering and IT infrastructure ...
... and basically in all of physics, all of the history of science and all of the interdependencies between science and society. Since 2012 I am finally blogging on this at elkement.wordpress.com, though I am still also updating my ancient proto-blog-like personal websites (e-stangl.at, radices.net, and subversiv.at).
Why is this in English and the profile in German? Actually, my profile was in English till mid of 2012 as many of business contacts did not speak German. I am also blogging in English - reason to be determined.
(Updated 2005, first version somewhen in 2003)
I am physicist and IT consultant, with experience in R&D (as a researcher and as IT services manager) and as an IT consultant, delivering security projects to customers in various industry sectors. Here is my detailed CV and I have given this interview (in German) when I was about to change from employed to self-employed consultant.
I think we are not completely characterized by any official name of a profession, but better by the roles we acquire in different positions throughout our career and private life. I have considered myself always acting in one or both of these roles:
between human beings, groups or organisation with conflicting goals
co-ordinator, not manager
searching for win-win situations
searching deep foundations
obliged to 'objective truth'