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Software Engineer at Jabra: DevOps and Cloud-native are the new normal

Contemporary headsets and earbuds are packed with so much software that software developers are as highly valued as audio engineers at Jabra.

Af TECH RELATIONS for GN Audio
Left to right: Jarik Poplavski, Senior Software Developer, Nermeen Ghoniem from the GN graduate programme, Morten Nielsen, Senior Software Development Manager and Søren Arne Jørgensen, Manager for embedded software and Bluetooth. All from the Jabra team. Illustration: Jeppe Carlsen

Everything is software and there is software in everything. Including the headset you use when you participate in team meetings from your home office, as well as the earbuds you listen to music on when you’re out running. Software is embedded in individual devices, in apps on your mobile phone or computer and the integration of cloud-based solutions such as call centre software, CRM platforms and music streaming services. With the explosion of working from home and streaming services, the demand for Jabra headsets and the engineers to develop them is rising. As a result, GN Audio, a part of GN Group, and the company behind the Jabra brand has employed 70 new developers – this year alone.

New developers will be involved in, amongst other things, implementing Jabra’s new digital products, which are based on five overall trends:

(1) Users experience as standard
As user friendliness and comfort have become crucial to everything from office software to refrigerators, users have become accustomed to products that are simple to use. This standard is now expected from all their products.

(2) Partnerships are strategically essential
API-integration with different partners’ digital ecosystems is essential to success. In addition, partnerships present the opportunities to be where the customers are. These days, it is very important to be strong in Teams and Zoom to cover the needs of the user.

(3) Cloud-native approach sets new standards
Teams that use DevOps approaches to Cloud solutions set new standards for how quickly new functionality can reach users. It also provides full control over the solutions, which creates valuable feedback and the opportunity to correct mistakes before they are noticed by users.

(4) IoT systems have the edge in emerging ecosystems
Internet of Things (IoT) has received a boost with the arrival of 5G and Wi-Fi 6. IoT ready devices like headsets will be able to drive this development further.

(5) Data is fuel for innovation
Companies have collected ”big data” for years, but now the time is right to utilise it for smarter automation and contextual concerns that can give the customer more value.

Less friction and irritation

With these overall trends as a starting point, it is one of the major aims for Jabra to remove friction and irritation for the user. In “the old world” it was the users’ job to fix connection problems with their Bluetooth headset or update firmware. The technical solutions are often good enough in themselves, but the user interface can discourage many non tech-savvy people from even getting started on the settings. Ideally, in future products, the user shouldn’t have to worry about knowing that their devices have firmware at all and not have to spend time installing any new updates. Just as we know today from, for example, Microsoft Teams, which receives new functionalities and features from one day to the next without the user needing to do anything themselves.

Software updates keep the products young

The user experience can constantly be improved – even long after the purchase. For example, there could be a software update with ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) for a set of earbuds or integration with new functions like Teams or Zoom.

Janus Sejr Jensen, Head of Software Engineering, gave a practical example of improved user experience, during a Teams interview that was in part a base for this article, when he removed the microphone’s boom arm from his mouth and placed it high on his cheek. The silence was deafening even though you could see his mouth moving. Then he dragged the boom arm back again:

»Here it is obvious to the user that the boom arm is in the wrong place and that sound quality is reduced,« explains Janus Sejr Jensen over a now much better connection, and he then gave another example:

»We have launched our Elite 75t, which had an ANC update this autumn. The product hit the market without ANC, but after a software update, the users could get ANC for free in a product they had already bought,« describes Janus Sejr Jensen.

The above examples illustrate the brilliant vision at Jabra. Updatable and smart solutions in the embedded software and API give, in this event, a superior user experience at both ends of the Teams or Zoom conversation.

Jabra – now with video

Another area where you can see the development happening at Jabra is in production. At the end of April, Jabra announced their first audio/video product, Jabra PanaCast 50 – an intelligent video meeting system with an inbuilt 180⁰ camera. The video product is equipped with artificial intelligence that, amongst other things, can detect how many people are in the room and how much space each of them has. For example, the video bar could tell you if there are too many people in the room in relation to the relevant Corona restrictions – or fire regulations when Corona is hopefully soon behind us:

»PanaCast 50 is our first combined audio/video product, now we have thrown ourselves into the video part of what we call the collaboration market. It is also our first IP-connected device that can be managed in the cloud, which fits in well with the overall digital vision of Jabra,« explains Janus Sejr Jensen.

Below, you can meet four of the engineers involved in getting this vision out into the world:

Focus on the best features at the right price

Søren Arne Jørgensen is Manager of embedded software and Bluetooth at Jabra and is one of Jabra’s most experienced software developers: Illustration: Jeppe Carlsen

»I’ve been here from the start. At the time, we were a small setup divided into two departments: the consumers and the professionals. I started as the third software developer in the professional department. So I’ve been on the whole journey from a small software department to today where we are far more than 100 people.

Our world has become incredibly complex over the years. In the beginning, it was about communication between two devices. Now, it is a lot more advanced with a wealth of ecosystems that our products need to be compatible with. We have to be able to work together with Microsoft, Zoom and Cisco’s solutions, just to name a few.

My strength is in embedding, which is the department I am responsible for. The particular areas of focus for us are battery life, sound quality, wireless reach and interoperability with other devices. These are the main elements of embedded software. But complex opportunities are constantly arising. It has become a feature race. You need to get as much out of the hardware as possible, but with an eye on the product’s production price. It is a problem if we make the world’s most advanced features, but the product is too expensive to produce. There has to be a balance between features, quality and price with the condition that it can be mass produced for the right price.«

DevOps, hypotheses and cloud-native is everyday

Morten Nielsen, who has been at Jabra for one year, is a Senior Software Development Manager responsible for new cloud-based platforms. Illustration: Jeppe Carlsen

»The mantra for my field of work has always been ‘new ways of working’. We need to talk to the customer, understand their challenges and find solutions for them. By gathering data on how these solutions are used makes us more knowledgeable before we spend a lot of money developing something that may not be the right idea. This is what we know as hypotheses driven development.

There are many different ways of implementing DevOps. While building the software, you need to keep the operations in mind. If you take it to the extreme you say “you built it – now you operate it.” This is the whole point, to automate the operation, monitoring and testing. Developers need to concern themselves with writing software. This means they can continually make sure that things run as they should, be proactive and fix problems before these problems affect the customers. The aim is to automate as much as possible to make life as simple as possible for all involved.

What is really interesting here is cloud-native. From the beginning, solutions are built to live in the cloud so that someone can use all the services accessible here. This means you can concentrate on the actual solution and not worry about all the possible platforms it needs to run on. You only need to do things once then make sure that they are supported by the different browsers. This is a very simple landscape. You also have access to the system regardless of where you are, and you can have AI and machine-learning there where you have access to lots of computing power.«

With IoT, the headset goes online without computer or mobile phone

Jarik Poplavski is a Senior Software Developer. He has worked with the Jabra brand for six months. Illustration: Jeppe Carlsen

»I think it’s exciting to develop software, where there’s a synergy between the hardware and software. It is interesting not making software for software’s sake, but that it is also for physical devices.

I don't work with embedded software in headsets and audio devices on a daily basis. But the software I make integrates with the physical device and exchanges data with the computer via proprietary protocols developed at GN. What is especially exciting now is that we are moving into a world of IoT devices, for example, a headset that doesn’t need a computer to access cloud services directly. This means that it is possible to have influence that would previously have required you to have experience as an electronic- or audio engineer.

When you build these devices, it isn’t enough to just build a headset, for example. You also need to build the whole ecosystem and infrastructure so the devices have a type of communication platform in order to exchange data. It isn’t revolutionary – we’ve seen it in smartwatches and the like. But it is now becoming relevant for headsets, which haven’t necessarily been ‘smart’. They support cloud services without the need for a mobile phone or computer. In our department, we build these ecosystems and the infrastructure.

It is a completely new IoT platform that I work with, so it’s really research and development. We develop the platform as we develop the products that will use it.«

Graduates are given responsibility and are held to account

Nermeen Ghoniem is a part of GN’s graduate program. She has studied digital media technology at DTU and has had a study job at Microsoft. Illustration: Jeppe Carlsen

»I am a hybrid of UX-design and software. So Jabra is amazing because there is so much focus on user experience. I am on my first rotation out of three, each of them eight months long. I have already been allowed to work with the mobile apps team, the integration team as well as the Jabra Direct team, which makes the software that goes into our headsets. I am currently working with the new cloud platform that I began in May.

I can really feel that GN wants me to say what I think. They really want to hear what the younger generation thinks. I feel that I am learning a lot, but I am also being listened to. In the beginning, I felt that I was given a lot of responsibility, but that responsibility and being held accountable for what you do and say is a great way to learn. Maybe something that is lacking in the real world is coming forward with fresh ideas.

You come out of your comfort zone and learn as much as possible in the field you are working in. You need talent and have some potential in the graduate program. There are also great opportunities to work abroad, but you can stay at home if you’d prefer. But I think part of what attracts us graduates is that you can travel to another place for eight months.«

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