From Prototypes to Pillars


A Transformative Journey in Software Engineering at VSPARTICLE

In the four years I have worked at VSPARTICLE, software engineering at the company has grown from creating prototypes to turning the ones that stuck into the cornerstones of what makes the company. My journey at this start-up has been a lot like the journey I am on as I write this blog post, travelling by train from the Netherlands to Austria to visit a friend I met during my PhD. The landscape has changed completely as the train travels at breakneck speeds, which makes the journey that much more enjoyable.

When I started my bachelors in chemical engineering in 2005, the two things that I enjoyed most were doing research on novel energy technologies and using a computer to better understand processes that don’t fit in my head. Fast-forwarding 15 years, I completed my masters and PhD on numerical modelling and got my hands dirty developing scientific numerical models used in industry. Then, at VSPARTICLE, I discovered an opportunity to combine software with my love for brand new energy technologies.

When I joined VSPARTICLE in 2019, software and data in the company was like the Wild West: we had little more than a few basic structures, but everything was possible. I set up dozens of small projects and tools together with colleagues that have a stronger background in nanotechnology. From a tool to better quantify the VSP-S1 particle size selector output to an image processing tool used to automatically do quality assurance checks on in-house produced SERS chips for COVID-19 testing, if it needed a prototype and was related to software, I was involved.

As the company grew, the Wild West changed as well. Turning the prototypes that stuck into reliable software products became important. To continue growing our software tools into dependable products, I started the software engineering team at VSPARTICLE in 2021. I took up the Product Owner role in a brand new team of freshly hired colleagues.

Our primary goal was to turn a state-of-the-art prototype of the controller software into a software tool that is robust enough to be used at our customers, yet flexible enough to work with the latest and greatest products being developed in the VSPARTICLE labs.

That brings me to where we are now, in 2023. We have made the controller software compatible with the VSP-P1 nanoprinter that is being finalised as I am writing this. We still regularly make prototypes – we recently created a computational model of the VSP-P1 printer nozzle. When the VSP-P1 software is made available to our new customers, we will work on making the controller compatible with fully automated scripted prints (or as it is called in software: exposing an API). Besides still being deeply involved with the technical aspects of software development, I am being challenged to find improved ways to collaborate with other teams who are following our example and are switching to an Agile/Scrum style of working. There is so much still to explore.

Working at VSPARTICLE has been a journey. From seeing that dot on a far away horizon at the start, to being on top of that mountain, looking at all the places we can still go to.