Always keeping the user in mind
Balluff has invested heavily in its own software expertise in recent years. Today, around 100 developers work for the corporation. Dirk Fritz is one of them, and as a front-end expert, he always keeps the user in mind.
Angular, front end, UX—when non-experts stop listening, Dirk Fritz is just getting started. For a little more than one and half years, the expert for front-end development has been working at the Balluff Softwarehouse (iss innovative software services GmbH at Stuttgart-Vaihingen) Within the corporation, the softwarehouse serves as a software and expertise hub in charge of software development methodology and the actual development of software products. In this role, he mainly focuses on further developing the user interfaces of Balluff’s own software solutions in the Technology business unit. “For me, the user and thus the usability of the software is the focus of my work,” explains the 35-year-old. “The user interface is intended to provide the best possible user experience. That includes a clear and consistent structure, easy user guidance and a high performance. To achieve all this, it's important that the UX design and the technical implementation are well coordinated. That's where I come in."
Together with his UX colleagues, the software engineer develops a so-called design system, defining the basic visual elements: style, user guidance, surfaces, colors, spacing, and positions. “This results in designs that we then discuss. Not all designs can and must be fully realized, because from a programming and user perspective, sometimes there are good reasons to go with a different design", Dirk Fritz describes the process. The team works on an optimal solution of functionality and design for the various components, which is then available in a central library to the other developers. "This way, all elements in the different Balluff applications have a similar look and feel, can be found in the same places, and are easy and safe to use."
For the front-end development, Balluff uses the open-source framework Angular, which was developed by Google, among others. The framework supports software developers by providing individual software components. This means that solutions do not have to be built completely from scratch, but only adapted to the respective requirement.
A uniform interface makes it easier for users to utilize the software. Together with his UX colleagues, Dirk Fritz develops a module kit for the Balluff applications.
From LAN parties to computer science university degrees
“I discovered early that I am interested in computers. Even as a teenager, I was always the one to connect the computers at LAN parties and make sure everything was working,” says Dirk Fritz.
After completing formal training as a computer science expert, Fritz went on to earn first a Bachelor’s, then a Master’s degree in Computer Science in Media, majoring in mobile applications and data science at the Hochschule der Medien university in Stuttgart.
As a front-end developer, the usability of the software is most important to Dirk Fritz.
Programming as a craft
“Programming is basically a craft. You create something that you can use immediately and, so to speak, hold in your hand virtually. You can see, operate, and try it out immediately. You get a direct feedback if the code is working or not,“ says Fritz, who was born in Neuhausen, describing his passion for programming. „You build more and more knowledge and experience many Eureka effects. Sometimes, things can get really complicated. This is when you need to get creative. Solving the basic problem gives you a real sense of achievement.”
Before he started working at Balluff, the software engineer had not had much contact with industrial automation. „But there is great overlap in the way people work and think in automation and software development,“ says Dirk Fritz, drawing parallels. “My code is intended to map complex processes and, if possible, also automate them. At the center are the user and the added value that our software creates.”
The father-to-be is also working on further developing the software for the Portable Monitoring System by Balluff. The solution originated from a Strategic Incubation Program (SIP)—similar to an internal start-up. The SIPs are made up of very different people from various backgrounds and work according to the ‘fail early’ principle. That means that ideas are tested on the market at an early stage. The SIPs follow the lean start-up method, which focuses on speed. The teams work together flexibly, without rigid role descriptions and processes. This method thrives on regular feedback. “We want to continue to improve the software used for the Portable Monitoring System. To achieve this, we look at the architecture of the whole application, identify where there’s potential for improvement and compare that to the customer’s requirements. The improved features are then implemented step by step,” explains Dirk Fritz the approach.
His work in the SIPs benefits from his multiple years of experience as a software engineer and product owner in the app department of a tool manufacturer. “Changing the point of view between project management, design, and programming helps me to reconcile all the different requirements.”
‚Fail early‘ principle
With the Strategic Incubation Programs, Balluff prioritizes speed and a consistent customer focus in innovation management.
Exploring new horizons
“The path that Balluff has set out on in the area of innovation management is exactly the right one,” Fritz thinks. “We are leading the way together with our customers. That takes courage because it also means that our ideas are challenged again and again.” For Fritz, a flat organization, agile collaboration, and the willingness to explore new horizons are part of a good corporate culture. “Being open to new approaches, which is cultivated in the SIPs, is one reason why I enjoy my work so much. The colleagues in the teams are passionate about the subject matter, and that is contagious.”
Dirk Fritz works at iss innovative software services GmbH in the Vaihingen district of Stuttgart in southern Germany. Within the corporation, iss serves as a software and expertise hub for software development methodology and the development of software products.