Teamwork, AI, and Containerization (with NASA's Michael Ritchson) Featured Image

Teamwork, AI, And Containerization (with NASA’s Michael Ritchson)

Jonathon Wright is joined by Michael Ritchson, Flight Data Enterprise Solutions Architect at NASA. He has more than 20 years of Software Application programming experience developing solutions for several NASA Centers. Listen to learn more about teamwork, AI, and containerization.

Interview Highlights:

  • Michael Ritchson is from California and he works for NASA at Armstrong Flight Research Center. He is working on three projects right now. He also worked with SOFIA – a Boeing 747 aircraft with a telescope attached to it. [1:13]
  • Michael was writing a software for the aircraft documentation while he was working for Blue Cross at the time and they asked him to come back to NASA because he worked with them before as an aircraft mechanic way back in 1987. [2:10]
  • Michael’s father got him a job at IBM and encouraged him to pursue software programming. [5:31]
  • When Michael got his degree, he started working at Johnson Space Center as an aircraft mechanic. At that time, they started doing computerized maintenance for the inspections on the aircraft. [6:18]
  • When Michael started his job at IBM, that’s where he really learned. He was thrown into the test lab and he worked with modems. Ever since then, NASA found out about the IBM thing and they brought him back to work on SOFIA where he did some interfacing for some architectures. [7:10]

“When we fail, we get back in and then we continue moving forward until we have a successful product.” — Michael Ritchson

  • Michael uses Docker when building a system for NASA. He also works with the interns and he is also a mentor for interns. [26:36]
  • Michael took a class in Miami on web services and it was for Oracle. [31:23]
  • Michael will be working on an upcoming project that is proposed by NASA. They’re going to take the raw data from another old legacy system. [38:25]

“Those haters out there, the ones that crush your ideas, don’t let them get to you.” — Michael Ritchson

Guest Bio:

Michael Ritchson is from California and he works for NASA at Armstrong Flight Research Center. He has more than 20 years of Software Application programming experience developing solutions for several NASA Centers. Also performed Aircraft Maintenance for the USAF and NASA.

Photo Of Michael Ritchson

“I think software people like you and me, we try to make it fun. But at the same time, we’re pretty productive in what we do because you have to have a passion.”

— Michael Ritchson

Resources from this episode:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.


Michael Ritchson

What I do is I write a software for the aircraft documentation and how that pretty much happened was I was working for Blue Cross at the time and they asked me to come back to NASA because I worked with them before. I was an aircraft mechanic.

And that was an awesome experience. In fact I was talking to somebody earlier today and we’re talking about, they’re from Russia and I’m talking about their icon. I forgot that guy’s name. It’s like a cosmonaut day or something. And I mentioned to them that, oh, you know what? I remember when I was on the shuttle program for NASA and I kind of run into some astronauts there, it was pretty cool.

In fact, one of them, I was telling them it was Eileen Collins and she was like the first woman commander on the shuttle. And that was cool. I mean, she was so nice and so humble and I got to launch her out in one of our T3As. I also saw John Glenn come out to one of the aircraft. Whoa, icon, dude! He was like, man, I mean you can tell when you age, but the man was amazing.

I mean, the fact was they were still allowing him to fly the T3A and I got to launch him out a few times. So, you know, you go look back at your career, right? And you see, and I’m sure you’re talking, you know, too, right? You look back at all the crazy people that you’ve run into. And so I kind of looked back at that and now I have this platform, like, you know, you’re allowing me this honor, I just want to say being on your podcast. 

Yeah, my life was pretty cool. I mean, cause you run into these crazy people and the same thing you, Jonathon, I heard you you’ve run into some pretty crazy, really important people in your life. So, I think now maybe in my life, this is a time where I get to share with everybody.

Cause I don’t want anybody to feel the excitement that I have, I guess. Anyway, that’s kind of my introduction. 

Jonathon Wright

It’s absolutely awesome. I love that. I love your energy, you know. I was blown away by your fasting all day, right? You know, your energy levels, you know, I know firsthand how hard it is and you literally knocked it out of the park.

You would engage with the audience, you would engage with the speakers, throwing the, you know, the hard questions in there and, you know, you were just keeping it all together. And I just think that’s, that’s just pure magic, right? NASA magic shall we say? And I’m just blown away by your story. I know the listeners will be as well.

Michael Ritchson

Oh, thanks, everybody. Thanks for the opportunity. But yeah, you’re right. What do you want to say? 

Jonathon Wright

Oh no, I just, you know, I know you touched on it a little bit about starting off as a mechanic, you know, all the way back in 1987, right? You know, with hardware, let’s call it hardware for a second, know, a real craft, you know. 

So what made you kind of make the decision to go from mechanic to software developer at IBM? You know, what made you do that career change? 

Michael Ritchson

And thanks for that. It’s my dad. I love my dad, you know. He was Marine Corps and I joined the air force. It was like, errr butt heads, you know, he’s like, errr, gung ho and I’m like, no, I go crank drenches.

But I mean, when he said, Hey, I get you a job at IBM. Oh my God. Yeah. You know what? And it goes back a little further. So we still diving in Florida, right? I remember being on a boat and IBM or guys there, and he goes, Mic, you are an aircraft mechanic and you kind of understand aircraft operations. If you got into software programming, you would be an amazing fit for like the airline industry.

And I thought, yeah, dude, because then I wouldn’t understand the aircraft operations side of it. And then I’d also understand the software side of it. And so that’s kind of was my springboard into it. And I was like, yeah, I can do the hello world. Right? And then from there I took a lot of C classes.

Cause that’s what he told me to do. And then I got my degree finally, and then he’s right, because as soon as I was at Johnson Space Center and I was an aircraft mechanic and the docs, and they were looking to start doing computerized maintenance, you know, for the inspections on the aircraft.

And I was like, whoa, dude, I might be able to write you something here. Cause they were looking at a Navy system. So they wanted me to write like a prototype and start with this prototype. Jonathon, it was so cool to see the transformation from, you know, paper forms to where you started to see it onto the computer, where the mechanics would actually go in and populate their information to keep track of the inspection.

And when I saw that, I was like, oh yeah, there’s definitely a niche here to where I can start trends, you know, transferring this over or moving into more of a software career. And then from there, eventually my dad got me that job at IBM and that’s where I really learned. Okay, I was thrown into the test lab and I worked with modems.

It was like X.25 cards, you know, the whole 30-70 stuff. And I actually fried a few modems, you know you learn, right? And it was just from there, it just took off. And ever since then, NASA found out about the IBM thing and they brought me back and like I said, SOFIA, I do some interfacing for some architectures.

It’s been a great ride. It really has. So I hope that kind of explains my career. 

Jonathon Wright

No, it is amazing. And I, you know, I see that synergy cause you know, my father was was an engineer by training. So he was electronic engineer and he worked for a big steel company and he was, he was one of the early, you know, one of the kind of early founders of the, kind of the, IEEE kind of movement, really passionate about that kind of, you know, driving engineer in disciplines.

And I love engineering, you know, I just say it just resonates with me because I just loved the idea of, you know, taking something and that knowledge, which you’ve got of mechanics and then applying that domain expertise into the landscape of software as a kind of you know, as a trade, right? And I just think it’s kind of where all apprenticeships should kind of be.

Do what you’re passionate about. And, you know, you mentioned earlier, you know, you’ve got two sons who had, you know, truck challenging you know, they’re building things in Minecraft and want to follow in your footsteps, you know, do you feel that, you know, you’re going to take them on that journey to show them what’s out there, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Oh, you know, and it’s okay. So, I think we just looked at on gaming didn’t we? And so my crazy 13 year old man, I mean, he goes, Hey dad, look I found a bug. Like, I’m not gonna say the game, but he’s like finding bugs. And I’m like, he says, look, I can make this car fly. And he said, that’s not normal.

And so you already see, he’s got the ability to test because I was an automation tester at IBM, right? So you can already start to see he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps. And then I’ve got the younger one. He came up with this crazy idea. I can’t say what it is. And I’m like, whoa, this is amazing.

They’re both innovative, Jonathon. And we talked about that, didn’t we were like, it seems like today they’re kind of compressing that a little bit. And then people like you and me and all you out there that are in the IT industry, we’re trying to, you know, put that in or instill that in our our children.

And one more. I know a guy for a really big database company out of the east coast, and he’s doing the same thing. He’s getting his children and these other guys are getting together and teach them marketing skills on how to market these software technologies. So I guess it’s parents like you and me, right?

We’re trying to instill that kind of the same kind of innovation in our children. So that’s a great question, Jonathon. It really is, cause I’m down for that. 

Jonathon Wright

Yeah. And I love it. It’s that kind of passion of unlocking that great. We mentioned, you know, the Ted talk from sir Ken Robinson around, you know, killing creativity, right?

It was just one of those technical kind of tens or. You know, it’s so powerful because we just don’t know where things are going to be in 10 years time, right? You kind of mentioned you know, starting off as a mechanic, you know, I’m also with anything. Plumbing, you know, any kind, of course, any kind of mechanical expertise.

But, you know, you think about technologies like augmented reality right? You think about, you know, things like HoloLens and obviously that, you know, Microsoft are using that with the Pentagon for like middle T application, but also the augmented reality allows you to literally see how you can put these bits together and overlay in a kind of, no, I’m not going to go into a Marvel kind of landscape. You’re getting in that point, right? 

And next year we have the, the Apple glass, Glasses, right? Which is going to be like what we had with Google Glasses. And you thinking those overlays are going to be on there and that augmented kind of intelligence. And you know, as it’s tracking through it, and you’re talking about, you know, your son discovering bugs and you know, feeding those back into Microsoft, if it’s in Minecraft or whatever it is. 

Michael Ritchson

It’s amazing, bro. And so it’s the energy and I think it’s a known thing, you know, it’s attitude in us. And all I’m gonna say is like, if I come home and my son sees me go, Aw, man, you know, I hate my job or whatever. I’m like what I’m doing, but as they see the passion, right? It’s like energy.

It’s like, they’re attracted to that. And obviously. You know, I try to be a good role, you know, a role for a father. And so I can see that in them now. And it’s funny you mentioned hologram. My youngest one at six years old, Ordy came up with some crazy kind of idea and I’m trying to see if I can run into the right people to pitch it because you know, you got a lot of people out there, they’re haters, right?

And all they want to do is crush your ideas and your innovation. And so I try to instill that in my sons because they are the future. And you mentioned STEM too, right? NASA has got a lot of programs for a lot of educational you know, material they hand out to the schools and universities. And so they know you can’t just sit on this old guys.

I’m sorry. I’m just saying they got to really invest in the younger generation. They’re talking Mars, right? And all this other space exploration, they’re the ones that are going to get us there. So I think us as parents, like what you do and all you out there, it’s important for us to really just instill that into our children to say, Hey, you are this generation that’s going to get us, you know, moving into, you know, the future, so yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

Yeah. I’m massively inspired by your attitude. And also what I loved about what you handled while you were there. You know, you got some of that kind of, you know, haters and you managed to swipe it down. You know, you managed to spot out and kind of say, look, we’re all here to learn.

We’re all here to be together, but there’s this kind of fear of maybe the unknown or, you know, maybe even people’s opinions. And I think it’s really hard because, you know, you want to be able to share those creative ideas. And of course, you know, there’s a risk that they’re not very good, right? But you know, part of it is you’ve got to build people’s confidence up.

And I think, especially in the IT industry and kind of, there’s this kind of, maybe not this encouragement to really, you know, put yourself out there and fail and, you know, and learn from it, right? And you think about all the great inventors like, you know, Mr. Dyson, you know, it took him a hundred iterations before he, before he actually came up with a successful prototype, right?

Same for Hewlett and Packard who, you know, did iterations, you know, mark one, mark two, if the, you know, the scientific calculators, things that they were building in their, you know, in their garage. And a part of it is you’re going to fail, right? You’ve got to have that encouragement and that support that is gonna get you back up and anything is possible.

The future is for you to come up with these ideas and your, you know, your sons to, to actually share their ideas and their different ways of looking at the world, which I think, you know, there’s generations, which have kind of been told or taught to actually not do that to not fail. Yeah. 

Michael Ritchson

Bro, you are so right cause everybody gets the award, right? Everybody, even if you fail, I’ve heard this from people. Everybody gets the award. Hey, you know, you fail, but I’m still going to, you know what I get that. But at the same time, I gotta be able to handle when somebody at work tells me, Mic, your program crashed, or Mic, your software isn’t that good? And we need to improve on it. 

You’re absolutely right. I mean, we’ve got to come to that point and our children need to know that too. It’s okay to fail. I agree with that, Jonathon. Totally. A hundred percent. I really do. Yeah, you’re right. 

Jonathon Wright

I guess this is this kind of fail fast, learn rapid kind of viewpoint of the landscape, this controlled experiments, but it’s also this kind of this passion to, to celebrate failure and to kind of learn from it and then pivot, right? 

And I think that’s what digital, as a buzzword is all about. And I suppose, you know, we were going to get onto this at some point in time, but, you know, if you think about maybe the space X model versus NASA, they’re completely different, right? And you know, you probably see a lot more around fake news, which is what you know, around that area where, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of seen as a lot of not success when it comes to space X, because they are experimenting and sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed. 

You know, you, you can’t establishment like NASA can’t be seen to fail at that kind of cashflow level. Can they? 

Michael Ritchson

Yes, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. Now, I’m not going to get in trouble, you know, I’m staying away from the politics. Huh? I’m just software developer, but you’re right. I mean, they have an image to uphold because, you know, obviously when you mentioned NASA people like NASA, what? You know, cause they are looking as kind of still NASA as the icon, because you think about, man, I didn’t tell you.

I like, when I ran into John Glenn, I’m like, I’m looking at an icon here or one of my friends we were asking when the astronauts, they said, what’s it like for you to, you know, get into the shuttle and launch into space? He said, well, what do you think? I’m like, what do you mean? When you say throttle’s up, they’re scared because you think of blow up.

And so those are heroes. And then, so it’s just different. The people who, I mean, man, think about all the people who lost their lives. I’m just going to throw that out there. The ones who made it possible for space exploration, there may be some we don’t even know. And you’re absolutely right. And so NASA upholds that image.

It was bad. I mean, guys, it was really bad when the one came in and disintegrated. I knew some of the people there and when I was in Houston, it just tore the city apart and it tore the whole world apart because that’s what NASA is to everybody. And when we lose lives, we just all sit back and go, wow.

You know, did we push too hard or something like that. And but then again, it’s just like you said, you know, we scrape our knees and we move on, right? We keep pushing because that’s the whole thing. And it’s just like IT industry, when we fail, when I failed in the production, we get back in and then we continue moving forward until we have a successful product, right? That’s my thing. So, yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

I don’t, I, so I’m not gonna ask you too much around that, which you can and cannot say, obviously you don’t pack all, please. 

You know, I, I, must admit you I felt that, you know, I, I remember going walking around some of the museums in DC and going feeling kind of, you know, how many iterations NASA has kind of gone through.

And I remember starting the first touch point I ever had at NASA was I worked for a company called Siemens. It was when I graduated university in high-performance compute night and I was out in Bocca and literally, you know, they would show me this NASA tool for looking at requirements to make it see if they were ambiguous and for free, or you could download it from the NASA website.

And, you know, it was just a really basic part of that looked through documents and got rid of things that said should or could and it was just kind of getting you thinking into this mentality of, you know, you really have to define things. And I know what you’re going after. And you know, we, I think we covered it slightly when we were doing our sessions, but, you know, there was this kind of view of CMMI there’s capability maturity index, which, you know, get NASA was the flagship poster boy for level five, right? 

Whereas it’s not level five anymore, it managed to go down because actually you get that level of kind of scrutiny around, you know, things that happen. And I think it’s fascinating, you know, the idea that, you know and especially when we look at things like slamming all the predictive maintenance models, not everything else what’s going on that, especially with IoT that kind of allows us to have all this data going through around and be able to create these models. 

And my, obviously my session was around digital twins, which became famous. 

We’ve got to recreate this. Let’s recreate a digital version of it, a model every single possible scenario to then find a solution.

And I think you’re getting into that kind of landscape where we can dictate that for not just spaceships, but actually for software. That same kind of viewing instead of maybe IoT and those sensors and failure over and resilience, which you’ve got within those kinds of platforms. You’ve got that same thing with kind of software systems, which most organizations now have been software businesses.

You know, NASA is going to be a software business, right? It asks as well. 

Michael Ritchson

No. I was gonna say I was gonna add to that and so, Jonathon, when I gave my first presentation for the Geekle thing, I was okay, I want all you to think I’m just me. You know, I’m Mic, you know, I put on pants and like everybody else, and I want you to know I’m just like you.

And then also I wanted to say, you’re all contributors to NASA. You really are, right? All the work that you have done, Jonathon, everybody that’s out there. I guarantee you there’s something in there that you have done some kind of software that you have, you know, blood, sweat, and tears, right? That you have done for us that we’re using.

And I wanted everybody to kind of feel inclusive. Like we’re a family because we are a family and this cold, crazy old world online conference thing that we’re doing, we are a family and we’re all in this together to move us all forward into whatever that, you know, future is. And I thought that was really cool when you band everybody together as a family, I thought that was just amazing to see the collaboration of all the different trades that are out there.

And it just blows my mind how this whole COVID thing has actually gotten better because it’s brought me to know you and all these other people in the world, which I don’t think it would have been possible before. So obviously this is good for all of us and it’s just moving us forward into whatever that kind of future looks like. Like you said, IoT and AI and all that kind of crazy stuff. So, yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

I love it. Honestly.

Actually, I was working on a book that I’m doing, just go to publication with at the moment, which was around cognitive engineering and it had NASA. What I will do actually, as soon as I’ve finished this, I’m going to put your name on it.

But you’re right. I think what I loved about what you’ve just said, and it’s like, we talked about bringing the community together and why we do things, right? 

But I think you’ve taken it to an entire new step, which is, you know, when I was, I live in New Zealand, there was this kind of concept of six degrees of separation, literally like you knew every single person, because it was so small, you saw the same people walking down the street every single day, you know, there’s bull sheep there, then there was people, you know, it was crazy, right? 

But what you’ve just talked about is the six degrees of separation for software that actually something you might have done, you might have collaborated to, you might have contributed to an idea impacts the rest of the world, right? I think that is just, is beautiful.

And so when I, you know, where I am at the moment, I’m literally 20 minutes away from the Rolls-Royce, offices, right?

I remember when I went into the offices there and it, to me I was thinking about software at the time and I was a bit about 10, 50 years ago. So bit younger. I was looking at these engine management systems and they were kind of everything had a backup pry. And I, you know, I get that. It’s just amazing how it’s done. And literally they were saying, yeah, okay. You know, this backs up here and, you know, for everything there’s a duplicate system that we’ll be able to kick back in and all the resilience and redundancy.

And so I was looking at it and I was literally saying, yeah, when we have to request a replacement piece, we we send an email. Now this may be luck because I was like, really the sophistication, like you said, with the, you know, 56K modem dial-up was the equivalent, right? They were literally sending this mail to Rolls-Royce.

We’re just down the road from me. And then the server would pause it and then put the order in the logistics would deliver the piece. Now I was sat there and I was going through and I was kind of, you know, talking about non-functional requirements and, you know, security and you know, all this kind of stuff.

And I kind of came in to, you know, DR. And I was like, well, where’s the DR mail server? And they were like, well, we don’t have a DR mail server and I was like, but you’ve got all this redundancy in hardware, but then the system that’s the mail server has no DR replacement. So, you know, it was one of the first things they went, okay, I’m gonna take 10 minutes to spin up another machine.

We’ll fix it, right? No problems. That’s the whole point is your little suggestion may become a blueprint to something that becomes a standard, right? For many things, right? And that might be how we interconnect at some point in time in this six degrees of separation that, you know, and I it’s the same for for all of these different aspects is, you know, there’s so much learning what we can do from these kinds of systems and, you know, when you’re designing stuff now, and I always love your back, your diagrams and you kind of your user kind of use cases and what you’re mapping out in your mind.

How do you start thinking about it from like an architecture point of view? Is everything about redundancy or is it about performance or what is it, what drives you when you’re thinking about this stuff? 

Michael Ritchson

I don’t know, man. I don’t know. Is it kind of like Edison the light bulb? I want to make a light bulb, right?

In other words they’ll come to me for example, and say, okay, we want you to connect system A to system B. And then so my mind, I don’t know, people think I’m weird. I don’t know, but I think like you outside the box, cause I’m already thinking not only the solution of connecting this system to this system because of the knowledge I’m gaining from every one of you out there, like Docker containers, I’m already thinking about the cloud.

I’m already starting to think about, you know, the network and the security going. Okay. So when I build this system, I start to, and one thing I used to work with interns, okay? Cause I’m a mentor for interns. And when they come in, they’re like, Mic, you’re showing me this crazy architecture. I can understand it.

I said, dude, or a girl would do that, whatever. I say, drop simple boxes. It doesn’t have to be a really, you know, famous UML sequence diagram or some kind of architectural diagram. Just draw a box and draw a box like this box, this box. And that’s when your mind starts to process. Cause I’m a visual person, Jonathon, right? 

And so I can think in my head, but I got to get it down on paper. I got to get it to where this box and this box, and then you start to fill it in. Some dude told me one time at IBM is like pseudo coding, right? You know, I’m going to do this and then do this. And so that’s kind of what I do in my architecture.

And then I start to, know, start to bring these ideas, to like, one of the chief engineers over at NASA or something and say, Hey, you know, what do you think? You know, that’s great. Or if, you know, go back and you know, it’s terrible. So that’s kind of how I do it. And then, it maybe it’s unorthodox.

In other words, it may not be exactly what the universities are telling us what to do, or, you know, a guy famous in a book. It’s just the way I’m comfortable, Jonathon and I, it works and it was successful at it. So I just continue, you know, like do your own thing and that’s kind of what I do. So, yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

I love it. I obviously I’m inspired. I might even have to change my back, my backdrop to include a whiteboard cause I’m getting withdrawal. That’s the only one thing I’m getting withdrawal from his whiteboard. Because, you know, they, I think you’re absolutely right. You know, having five or six different people with different viewpoints on things, being able to, you know, whiteboard it out and go, that is a box.

We don’t know what it’s in inside it at the moment, but, and then people coming up with different viewpoints. Should this be, should it be available to the user? Should it? What about privacy? What about how we use this technology? Or what do we do with the data? And I think that’s amazing because you know, it is a collaborative process and it’s kind of what COVID is kind of forced upon us is that we can’t UML ourselves, right? 

We can’t just go off and write. We have to have a feedback and, you know, talk to people and communicate and think about how this fits in with other parts of the system, the ecosystem of ecosystems, right? All these kind of, I’m going to call them stars for a second, but, you know, interactions between all these complex systems, you know, it can just be a universe, right? But you know, part of it is at some point you’re going to have to get down to the Milky way, right? And I’m not talking about the chocolate bar. 

But it’s the same for everything, isn’t it? And I, this is what I love about, you know, standards and stuff, which I was trying to push through, you know, doing a lot with the ISO at the moment around the standards for modeling because I’m, I’m passionate about that kind of get it out, drawer it, put it out on there and think about it.

And also AI and software testing, and, you know, we you SuperSoul kind of lead the, the the call with Jason from Testa AI, and we’ve had, we ran on there and we were all kind of throwing out ideas about, you know, what this future might look like. And then there was obviously that kind of question about, will it replace people?

Of course not. 

I love your idea around, you know, where potentially you can utilize it. And I guess it’s really kind of, for you it’s empowering you in what you do, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Yeah. And you know it’s funny cause you mentioned the whiteboard? So, oh, I just want to say one thing Silicon Valley, you know the culture there.

It’s so cool, Jonathon, because I worked at AIM Flight Research. I would go up there sometimes up in mountain view. But there’s some cool coffee shops across the street. They weren’t like Hacker Dojo. It’s like, okay, that’s definitely Silicon Valley, but then you see the Google people come in and the eBay people, they all come into the coffee shop.

They’re having power meetings inside the coffee shops. And in other words, they’re taking that traditional way of doing things right. Trying to make it fun for the team. I remember one time I was taking a class in Miami on web services. It was for Oracle. They come in their board shorts. I’m like, dude. And I’m like, oh yeah, man, we can play volleyball.

You know, when a couple hours after we code. That’s the change in the culture, right? In other words, I think software people like you and me, we try and make it fun. But at the same time, we’re pretty productive in what we do because you got to have a passion. And man, I’ll tell you what if I was a CEO of a big company, I’d be like, man, dudes, we got free food.

You know, we’re going to party at volleyball courts in the backyard, coffee shops all over the place. Cause that’s going to produce the software. It’s a different world. It’s not the IBM, right? The certain the tie anymore. It’s this cool look, it’s the trendy giggles, super trendy. Now, when you see that picture up there, these kids are having fun, Jonathon. 

It’s none of this you know, I’m going to work and I don’t like Monday kind of thing. They enjoy going to work. And I think you and me with all the experience we’ve got, that’s what we need to be installing and this generation. Make it fun, man. I just got one more. So when we push this, our first iteration of our SOFIA portal, the guys who are like, Aw, man, we got phase two, we got to do this.

I’m going to do this, go to beach. You’re like what? I said, I’ll take the head. I mean, hope NASA’s not listening. No, we did. We went to the beach. We had a good time. We played volleyball. I mean, I think that’s the cool thing about software industry. You can do those kinds of things. And because of it, everybody’s having fun.

Everybody becomes you know, unified as a team and then you knock it because you see some really cool products that, you know, that come out in the industry. Anyway, I just wanted to throw that in there because it’s just.

Jonathon Wright

Yeah, I love it. It’s like play hard, think hard kind of question. You know, I think that is the problem, isn’t it? It’s what is iteration to it? You know, I don’t, I’m not going to go into it too much, but you know, you know, part of it is you’ve got this capacity, right? You’ve got this capacity and say it’s a hundred people. And the feel is that those a hundred people need to be doing something or delivering something of value continuously, right? 

And part of it is something a logical product increments finish it and you know, part of it is there is this, you know, a Google talk about it with this kind of day where you’ve got to be able to, you know, recharge, rethink, rechallenge what the absolute core principles, because I think part of it is where we’re in a way we’re accepting those principles and those approaches that have happened before and expecting that, you know, we can build upon those.

You know, like, you know, when people start talking about containers and you know, you’ve got this vision of, you know, lots of containers stacked on top of each other and you think he, you know, it wouldn’t be difficult to knock these over, right? And I think that’s the view is we go from like spaghetti architectures.

We go into service-orientated architecture. The next things comes out, they come in waves of maybe 10, 15 years, another iteration. There’s no reason why not any of those shouldn’t be, you know, strong, you know, you look at the old enterprise service buses, you know, the tip codes of the world, which were just, you know, bomb-proof, you could blow it up and then suddenly, you know, there’s going to be, the messages are still there.

And then you look at Kafka and go, you know, you can’t get the message onto Kafka because your API is down, it’s dead, right? You know, part of it is we’re not rebuilding fragile systems in a way, because we’re adopting whatever is the latest technology, which may not be fit for purpose for the right solution.

And I know this is your playground, right? 

Michael Ritchson

You’re right. Absolutely. And you know what? It’s funny you mentioned Kafka because I tried to install it in a VM at first. I’ll get a little techie.

I could not get ZooKeeper working and Kafka cause they gotta work together, right? Because it’s part of that load balance. Oh, Jonathon, as soon as I put it and no, this is not advertising. As soon as I put it into there was, I pulled a Docker container down. It could take all the components, man. It just, it was awesome because I was able to now deploy it when I want to not worrying about the VM that’s on the outside.

And because I have to worry about the port configuration or the conflicts or anything like that. That’s what made this last product I released successful. It is the containers, like you said, and it’s, I guess it’s learning from, you know, the guy before the guy after, after, after, and here’s our generation and we can look back at the mistakes they made and now we have this crazy cool product that we know is more robust than everything.

And so now we move forward into the next generation, you know, our kids, right? So everything that we’ve learned, the sweat that we’ve done, now they’re going to even get a better product as we move into the future when they’ve got, I don’t know what kind of container or whatever they’ll be using, but yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

Yeah. I think I love it. And you know, I know one of the questions you asked was about, you know, what would you recommend for people to do, right? Now to get started and you know exactly what you’re kind of saying there about, you know, something like ZooKeeper and Kafka and then, you you’re dealing with consumers, producers, you’re looking at all the logistics of how it all fits together.

And then I think that is enterprise architecture and incredibly complex. But you also got these people I’ve sided withKafka now what does that mean? Well, it means we got huge amount, incredible amounts of streams of data, right? You know, let’s, you could kind of say data lake for a second, but the amounts of data capture.

And so therefore, you know what you do with it. And I know there was this kind of viewpoint of data’s the new oil, but, you know, it was, the problem was questioning, what could we do with the data? Right? And I think that these younger minds who are looking and thinking about, you know, where should I be thinking about starting my career?

You know, things like data engineering, understanding and modeling and data and understand, and maybe that’s where you started off with this kind of very structured kind of, semantics, which you understood around the aviation industry, which gave you unconditional advantage because you understood the logic, but you also knew the data, right?

You knew if this component was giving you some information, how what data was it, what you needed to consume and what does that mean you can get as far as insight and what, how that drives? And I think that’s where we’ve got to focus these minds is this new question about, what is, what can the data do for us, right?

And we know that machine learning and predictive analytics and all this great stuff coming down that may turn into the minority report, right? Where things are just, you know, you’re joining them together going, would that fit? Well actually it would and you’re seeing two completely separate systems that actually then can create a new opportunity or a new way of looking at things. I think we’re getting to that stage, right? That it’s kind of, we got to think about the data. I’m not going to say it’s the matrix and the lady with the red dress walking down the street. We’ll get it to that point, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Yeah. Don’t go there. But yeah, it’s funny you say that because I’m actually, I’m working on a project coming up.

They’ve already proposed it. We’re taking like the raw data from another old legacy system. I’m not gonna say what it is. Well, I say FileMaker Pro, right? And they want to take that data and they want to not put it into like the super hot like JIRA, which is the tracking tool. And so the idea is a lot of that data now, it’s because of, you know, it’s different back then. 

You had to buy a license, right? You had all this stuff that you had to do, you know, to be able to continue to operate this older system. But now you’ve got these super hot systems coming up. They’ve been around a while. They tested like, you know, JIRA and all of these tracking tools in the way that they can use it for workflows. 

And now they’re starting to migrate that data out. And so you as a call, a data scientist or whatever, it’s like you said, it’s how you take that data, right? And how you migrate it and get it to work inside of this newer system.

And then like 10 years from now, I don’t know what kind of system to be out there, but it’s gonna always be like that. It’s always migrating from something that’s old, archaic and moving it into something that’s you know, modern for today, which everybody uses, you know, in the industry. So, yeah, that’s a great point, Jonathon.

Jonathon Wright

I love it. I absolutely love it. And you know, what you do, which is actually probably one of the most important things around document management side of things. So all that information, all those heuristics, all those semantics, which NASA have applied, all those documents, all those learnings, all that kind of insight about how things interact with stuff.

Leveraging that and presenting that and learning from it is absolutely essential, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Yes. Yes. And if I can, I’m sorry to interrupt, but yeah. In fact I heard that some of the older experiments that they did, a lot of that data can be lost. I mean, literally Jonathon, I’m gonna get in trouble but it could be a sitting in a warehouse, it could be a paper format, right? 

And so, you know, somebody’s got to scan all that stuff. Somebody has got to get that data into an electronic format. At least now we have the data and maybe you want to throw it into some AI system like TensorFlow or maybe, you know, something like that. And then have a data source, like a data lake, like you said. You got to get into that format.

And then, so once you do, then you can start applying. I don’t know, Hey, this experiment back then and how do we compare it to today? And I think that’s important. And like you said, you don’t want to lose that data. It’s vital. It’s part of the whatever corporation you’re in from the beginning until where you are now, because those are statistics and you still need to retain that data.

It’s important. So you’re absolutely right. I agree with that. Totally. 

Jonathon Wright

I think I think we’ve got a lot to whole stack of new stuff, which is going to change the world, but I genuinely think, you know, keeping with the legacy as your legacy, that information that’s in whatever form. It could have been, you know, paper, it could have been know, sat on some tape backup that was archived off 20 years ago. 

That information is unstructured data that could become structured, right? They didn’t have a use for that data back there, but there is now. Partly one of the things Tarik when we’ve been talking about with Jason and Testa AI, when they obviously at the forefront of this stuff was around applying NLP – Natural Language Processing to information within your organization. 

So if you think about that document repository, train your NLP to understand NASA, right? You’ve seen disability that actually you can create a SOFIA SOFIA platform, which is an AIS is an assistant like you Google and. 

That knows about historical information about NASA, right?

And that’s what you should be building next week. 

The old interface, replace it with a virtual specialist system, right? You can ask it anything and maybe even, you know, get it like you get with Iron Man, right? Not only in talking to her in the headset, but augmenting the information, pulling up files.

And, you know, things that people have done around building these systems in the past. I think you’ve got the new platform to build it and I’ll come back in a week and we’ll see how far you’ve got. 

Michael Ritchson

Yeah. Right. Whatever. No, but you know, you mentioned something crazy cause they’re really getting into VR now, right? And they were, I don’t know if this is true. Maybe I just thought of this. I was like, could you, okay. You know how you have to pull like a document, right? And so you got to do a crazy, you know, like a normal search, like, like a Google type. They were thinking like, well, no, this VR, like you actually like walk into a room, like a file room.

It’s like virtual, and then you just start pointing and then you’re like pulling the document. It just opens a whole another world like, like, you know, a virtual, like they walk on the moon and you can kind of feel it, but you walk into like a document’s record warehouse and then you start kind of getting the feel around you of what you’re looking for, because that’s what VR is doing now. 

All those new virtual-type technologies, then now, then you get that historical data because then I can go find X-15 data if I wanted. You know, like in the VR thing, like your X-15 here, and I want to pull it down and then the document opens up, like right in front of you. It just opens a whole another way of like, like, what is that one movie something, one of those old space movies. 

It just really starts to show us, wow. Maybe we can start applying this type of technology because all it’s going to do is give you that visual experience of, you know, looking for information, which means it’s going to really improve the way you perform like aircraft inspections or whatever, you know, your trade is.

So I totally agree. I mean, that’s where everything seems to be going anyway. You know, virtual AI and then with the data that we’re going to bring in legacy and historical. So, yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

Absolutely. I remember doing some smart building stuff with VR and it was this all with augmented reality. And the idea was for building maintenance, you literally, you could look up a light bulb and see how many hours it would be running for. 

And then, you know, potentially predict the failure before it happens, right? You know, part of it was, everything was interactive and, you know, we I worked at Hitachi at the time and they even came with smart dust, which was like fragmented.

So you could paint it onto you, your walls. It was just weird. But, you know, part of it is I think we’re getting into that. It’s the thing that you should be able to interact with anything I know we joked about, you know, do things like nucleus power stations, but I remember doing you know, which kind of resonates with me for your stuff we’ve been doing with trains for the UK government.

So we had tattooed built these trains and they were scanning the actual infrastructure as they were going along and each train would have 10,000 IoT devices, which were constantly sensing everything, what was going up to, and then each time it pulled into a train station, it would offload large sets of data because you couldn’t throw it over a 5g network.

You’d have to then take the terabytes with the rail information about how the infrastructure’s working, you know, data about how the actual training itself was performing. And, you know, part of it is we’re applying that kind of technology to aircraft, to you know, to aviation, to defense, you know, part of it is maybe, you know, and we’ve also started to get this in our homes, you know, and we’re seeing where this kind of can go with smart homes, you know. And I think it, part of it is we’ve not unlocked what the opportunity to potentials are in this new digital reality.

And I think this is the inspiration for those people to think, let’s not focus too much on logistics at the moment. Let’s focus on the art of the possible, right? What you believe, happen. 


Michael Ritchson

Yeah. If I could add to that. So, I tried to get a patent through NASA. I’m not going to go there on that, but the whole thing was, is they told me, well, Mic, it’s not the actual implementation.

It’s the idea. It’s the concept. It’s like if I take a banana and I don’t know, banana, and I take, like, I don’t know, a banana and a coffee cup, put it together. It might be like, well, you know, you can charge an iPhone with a banana, right? I’ve seen this on YouTube. So it’s those kinds of things that people do.

And it’s the innovation and the whole process of just getting your idea down and who knows what can happen from it. It’s just exciting how I think at our age that we live in, that you can really like, for example, you and I was telling somebody earlier, you know like my kid, he’s got this really cool idea.

And it’s how you can get those eyes and ideas out there and don’t let them like I said, those haters out there, the ones that crush your ideas, don’t let them get to you. Say, Hey, you know what? I think it’s a cool idea. I’m going to go with it. And I’m going to find the right people that I connect with from my crazy idea because you never know, you could have the new thing out there that everybody’s just gonna, you know, jump on and it’s just going to make you wealthy.

But on top of that, it’s gonna, it’s gonna make you feel good because, you know, I mean, you’ve actually impacted society in such a crazy way. So yeah, I agree with that, Jonathon. Totally. 

Jonathon Wright

Okay. Yeah. I love what you’re saying with also with another direction here about, you know, looking up from where we are in the sense of just in our industry. So looking at, you know, you may have an idea and it’s a great idea for the aviation area, but you might be able to look up and say, actually the healthcare industry could also benefit from this blueprint, right? 

And then I know this is kind of where you, you support, but you know, but also going in from a developer mindset to a testing mindset, to a scrum master, to a pro program manager, to a business analyst, to somebody from the C-suite, you know. Being able to come up from your kind of protected bubble of your safe space of maybe your domain in your industry and actually, you know, get together with people from other industries and share your ideas, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Yes. And, you know, I just want to add to that because when I was up at the San Francisco, but the Oracle OpenWorld and the Java open one up there. You run to this people called MicroProfile.

You probably know about it. And you have people from like Tomitribe, IBM, all these big corporations. And they all had a really nice dinner. It’s free food, by the way. I love those. But the point is that they’re all a think tank and everybody’s going, you know, forget the old way of I’m competing with you.

Because in reality, we’re all on the same train, like you said, right? So let’s all go together and we all make all of us successful at the same time. And that seems to be the new culture, right, Jonathon? Where let’s all move together and let’s all go together and let’s go ahead and improve our society and where we live today.

And that way, like I said, we’re all successful. It’s just a whole new way of thinking things. It’s like, I heard this from NASA. Somebody say this to me, they go, Some people like to come in like com empire builders. They want to just, you know, get their name in there and try to take over everything and hoard everything.

But it’s different now. It’s like, whatever I know, I want to give it away. And when you do that and you give it away, it’s a whole mentality. You’re actually improving yourself in society because more is going to come your way, right? In other words, as you sit there and what you learned, like from learning, I’m just listening to your crazy ideas and everything you do.

And I’m like, whoa, that’s really cool. I’m going to pass it on. And when I pass that information on to somebody, it makes me a better person is trying to hold it all in and be like real intelligent here, pass it on. And then you’ll see how you become a contributor to the, I mean, think about it. We are contributors right now, out there to our society on where IT goes in the next 10 years.

It’s a crazy quantum thought for me. It really is. So, yeah. 

Jonathon Wright

Absolutely. Yeah. I think we could learn from the NASA slogan as well, but literally apply that to, you know, knowledge for mankind, right? To share and grow for the greater good, right? And I think this is day one of this kind of new era, which. 

So for those listeners who want to get in touch, or, you know, read more apart from the book that you’re going to be in, but you know how to reach out here? What’s the best way? On LinkedIn, Twitter? I know you’ve done, you’ve had loads of published material in NASA, at NASA publications, but you know, what’s the best way to reach out and engage with you?

Michael Ritchson

I think LinkedIn is the best way for me, Jonathon. And yeah. I encourage that everybody, guys. And the thing is with me, I love your ideas. I love learning about what you do, because you helped me. You helped me in my job. Like, like I think I told you this Jonathon, when I was in when I was moderating for you guys, I wish I knew you two years ago.

Cause when you battle in those design reviews, or those people, it’s everyone out there that helps me. So I, yeah, I mean, find me on LinkedIn. I think what we, if we can get on that information, you can type in Ritchson NASA and then ER, too. And connect with me. I love to hear about every one of you out there, what you’re doing, because you inspire me. 

Oh my gosh. Every one of you out there, you know, Jonathon putting the sweatshirt on. When we got into Q&A, he inspired me. I was like, wow, this famous icon out there and every one of you, so yeah. That’s all I got. Sorry, I get fired up. 

Jonathon Wright

I love it, Michael, obviously you’ve probably been my favorite guest of 2021 and I’m looking forward to, we’ll have to come back and do another one, right? 

Michael Ritchson

Yeah. Let’s do some more cause I got to tell you my stories. 

Jonathon Wright

Perfect. Speak to you later, Michael. Have a great day. 

Michael Ritchson

Thank you, Jonathon. Bye. Bye.

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