Meet A Minnesota CTO: Nicholas Singh, Seeonic



Nicholas SinghThank you Andcor Companies or underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

Nicholas Singh is the CTO at Seeonic — IoT developers of an autonomous RFID network for field inventory management.

How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?

I’ve been working in the technology space since 1999 within several engineering disciplines. My formal education is in Electrical Engineering with focus on microelectronics, semiconductor device physics and microprocessors.

Embedded firmware design and software development were concurrent focusses. My graduate studies were at the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology followed by engineering positions in several R&D labs within major aerospace and medical device companies in Minnesota.

Along the way I’ve co-authored several patents and executed intellectual property strategies. I find it satisfying to get my hands dirty in all levels of technology conception, development and deployment.

What are you focused on right now?

Seeonic is off the heels of a successful, award-winning, nation-wide deployment of our technology. We spent a great deal of time and energy over the last 2 years engineering our RF, hardware, firmware and software systems for a large-scale production environment.

Our core systems are demonstrably reliable, so we are now in a phase of focussing on sales execution. This has afforded me the opportunity to be more involved with prospective customers at a business-oriented level. I’ve also been helping the team develop more refined messaging, define key paradigms where our solutions create the most ROI and forge new strategic visions and partnerships. Intersecting technology and business strategy is a fascinating challenge.

What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?

Seeonic is a unique company in that we are deeply rooted within many technical disciplines. Since we are an M2M/IoT company, this compels us to deal with bits and objects as well as volts and coulombs. We are also an RFID company, which forces us to be firmly rooted in the science and art of RF/propagating wave engineering.

However, what has been most interesting is the juxtaposition of the virtual nature of M2M/IoT and the more tangible nature of RFID. This requires careful attention to the physical surroundings, materials and mechanics of RFID-tagged objects. To overcome these technical challenges we have engineered specialized RFID antennas (EYE), low-cost RF switches (WideVision), an ultra-low energy, cell-enabled RFID transceiver (SightWare) and a cloud platform (Seeniq) to ingest and analyze the resultant inventory data. Our solutions span the spectrum of RF engineering, electrical engineering, firmware engineering, software development and mechanical engineering — it’s great fun.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

Businessmen and technologists often live on different planets. As such, technology plans can easily get misaligned with business plans. I’ve found this can often happen with software, especially in a context where buzzwords like “IoT,” “big data” and “analytics” are often thrown about. While these can be tangible terms for your marketing department, it is very easy to get lost in the hype that swirls around them. You can find yourself building cool technology rather than money-making technology.

It is beneficial to make a list of your medium/large prospects and engage your business development team to figure out what is most valuable to those customers from a purely financial perspective. If a technology won’t create a clear, unambiguous ROI for a class of customers, don’t build it (yet).

It is wise to build core technologies that are the “lowest common denominator” to facilitate the success of your target customers. You can then build atop that foundation organically based on customer requirements. A customer SOW can be a great pathway for R&D.

What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?

Seeonic has a systems architect that oversees development and maintenance our RF, hardware, firmware, software and manufacturing subsystems. From there, we have teams of engineers and developers that work on products in our office. Employees will work on the core technology platform while contract engineers will sometimes work on customer-specific projects.

We also have an RFID lab where we test customer implementations of our technology. Our operations staff also gets involved with tasks related to manufacturing and to support implementation of our products in the field. We are primarily a hardware/software design house and leverage external electronics manufacturing partners and IT infrastructure.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?

It is often difficult to find the talent we need. Depending on the task, I will seek a wide variety of talent sources. We’ve acquired engineering employees through networking and personal relationships. If there is a need for work of a limited scope, I will reach out to contractors via firms. While this is the easiest, hands-off approach, it is also the most costly. I’ve had some good luck on Craigslist as well, of all places!

Lastly, never underestimate a good intern from the University of Minnesota. For me, hiring interns has been a productive and rewarding experience. It may require more involved guidance, but many are hungry, self-motivated and willing to work hard.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

RSS feeds are an easy way to keep up with the latest bits of news from around the Internet. Likewise, keeping in touch with colleagues is useful to learn more about which technologies are engaging your peers in conversations.

Another great way to get caught up on the latest technologies is to engage with product companies’ webinars and go to free product training sessions. Finally, one of the more interesting ways to keep yourself immersed is going to local tech meetups. This lets you gain valuable insider insight, build a deep technical network and, well, have a chance to geek out.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I’m less excited about specific technologies and more excited about how our society’s cerebral center of mass is moving back toward science & engineering. The “Space Race” of the 60s was fueled by our collective aspirations to go to the moon. It spawned an entire generation of scientists and engineers — heroes of the day. Unfortunately that trend changed during the 70s through early-90s. Technical people still existed, of course, but we were generally thought of differently — as nerds.

In the Internet age, scientists and engineers are taking on a new persona in popular culture — that of the intellectual, entrepreneur, creator, visionary, philosopher, and even political leader. We are occupying more mindshare and attaining more cultural power. At risk of tempting our fates with some hubris, I’ll admit to a little excitement about this.

What are you into outside of technology?

I enjoy hard rock (Alter Bridge, Mayfield Four), blues (Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan) as well as classical. I’m also a follower of Christ that finds the term “Christian” corrupted by foolish political pursuits. Christ transcended mere politics and the pursuit of power over others. His teachings on non-violence and the true power of self-sacrificial love — even toward enemies — expresses a beauty to me that no technology can satisfy.

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Love your enemies, do good to them, and forgive them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will be children of God..”

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

Many forget that Minnesota was the first Silicon Valley. Control Data, Univac-Sperry, Honeywell, Cray, etc all were based in our great state. I’m proud that Minnesota is now making a major tech comeback. We are a historically innovative people and I have little doubt our tech-based future will be as strong as our past.


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