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Engineering in Quarantine: A Look Back at 2020

John Orlando

01/21/21

Engineering in Quarantine - Epiq Solutions

 

A year ago, Epiq Solutions began 2020 with big plans for the year ahead. We were moving into our new headquarters at the end of January 2020, and had celebrated our 10 year anniversary by taking the entire company to Cancun. At that point, we were 40 employees strong and ready to take on the world. Things were looking bright, even as news of a new virus in China started trickling into the mainstream. By March, COVID-19 dominated news cycles and the first stay-at-home orders were being issued across the country. Like many companies, we were telling our team to begin working from home with no real idea of how long COVID-19 would keep us sequestered. Looking back on the last nine months, we’re reflecting on some of the changes and challenges Epiq faced throughout 2020, how they intersected our business, and how adaptations have helped strengthen our foundation for the future. 

 

Making the Decision to Go Remote

One of the first indicators that COVID-19 would have real-world consequences for us as a company was when trade shows began getting cancelled. Mobile World Congress is one of the premiere events in the wireless industry, and watching it get cancelled a few weeks before it was scheduled to begin was a harbinger for the rest of the year. As a supplier for government-focused applications, Epiq Solutions is considered an essential business and would've been allowed to stay fully-operational when shelter-in-place orders began taking effect. But our first priority was keeping our team safe, which meant minimizing exposure to risk when so little was known about COVID-19. Knowing that virtually every aspect of our lives would be disrupted, in those early days we placed a premium on flexibility and communication; as long as these two things held, we were confident we could navigate everything else. 

In January of 2020 we moved into a newly-remodeled corporate headquarters.
By March, we were telling our team to work from home. 

 

The Practical Realities of Remote Collaboration and Development 

By mid-March 2020, we instituted a policy where only 10 people could be in our headquarters at any given time, which included our amazing production team who persevered and managed to be fully operational on-site all year. We took two weeks during the onset of shelter-in-place orders to work out how we could safely staff and run our production operation, and this early planning helped pave the way for our production team to build, test, calibrate, and ship more than 3,000 SDR cards to customers around the world. Looking back at the obstacles we faced, our dedicated production team was instrumental in helping us not just keep our delivery schedules but also manage the continued growth in the demand for existing products and also four new products: Matchstiq Z3u, Flying Fox Enterprise, Skylight with 5G, and PRiSM.

 

Epiq Solutions’ production team stepped up in an amazing way in 2020, working onsite and navigating the nuances of COVID-19.

Our engineering development efforts have always relied on our team being able to communicate and collaborate efficiently. Practically speaking, having to move our software development from headquarters to individual home offices wasn’t too difficult. Hardware development, on the other hand, presented some challenges. Assembly, testing, and debugging of new hardware can be tough when geographically separated. Not everyone has the equipment (or the skills) to tackle fine-pitch soldering rework when needed, so figuring out ways to manage this without our efficiency taking a nosedive has been tricky. It often meant heading into the office for a quick and focused trip with masks on, or shipping boards back and forth between team members which obviously resulted in some delays, so we tried to minimize this.

 

Eventually, people migrated much of their office engineering equipment to their homes and replicated their workbenches there. It wasn’t uncommon for a team member’s spare bedroom or office to suddenly be tricked out with $100K+ of RF test/development gear. For the equipment that needed to remain at the office, the use of remote desktop capabilities and internet-accessible power supply strips helped make remote development viable, and minimize the number of times someone would have to drive to the office just to push the power button. 

The spare bedroom one of our hardware engineers converted into an RF lab.

As the year progressed and we learned the finer points of social distancing, people began returning to the office for certain projects that required a higher level of coordination. One of the features we planned for our new building was maximizing the number of individual offices to help ensure our team members had quiet space to focus on their work, as well as additional shared space areas for collaboration as needed. This, coupled with the cleaning, masking and distancing protocols we put in place for on-campus work, made it possible for people to return to the office if they wanted to in a way that gave them the space they needed to stay safe as well as the opportunity to collaborate efficiently with their teammates when necessary.

 

A Year of Challenges and Growth

As we get started with 2021 and look back on 2020, there is a lot of hard work to be proud of and that has kept us all safe so we could continue delivering innovative RF solutions to our customers. In a year that presented challenge after challenge, we had double digit revenue growth, shipped a record number of SDRs, and grew our team by 20 percent. Onboarding these new team members - which included two brand new graduates starting their first jobs in a brand new city - happened completely remotely. This flexibility translated to our management team, as well. We hired a VP of Sales in March, right as the pandemic was hitting; he hasn’t set foot in our new office since his interview, but hopefully we will be able to reconcile that later this year. It is anticipated that some of the new habits and skills we’ve learned in order to adapt to COVID-19 will serve us well as we continue to enjoy some of the flexibility that comes with spending more time away from the office. Personally, I’ve rediscovered the joys of being home for dinner every night with my family, and I plan to make that the norm even when the pandemic is over.

Cookout at Epiq Solutions

We found ways to safely socialize with our teammates in 2020, including parking lot cookouts at our Epiq Solutions’ new headquarters. 

Through all of these challenges, we’ve managed to hold on to our company culture by finding ways to stay connected. We’ve had our share of video calls and Slack discussions like the rest of the world, but also found socially-distanced parking lot cookouts and outdoor walking meetings to help bring some normalcy to the year. We will remember 2020 as a year full of adaptation and resilience, for emphasizing planning and communication while physically distancing, and for the appreciation of all who came together to continue to serve and support our customers dealing with their own challenges. We made it through 2020. Bring on 2021.

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