Meet the Sergey Brin of Construction Document Search
In this post, DADO's Emily Heppard interviews Ryan Grimm, DADO’s Head of Architecture and “Search Wizard.” Read the conversation below to get insight into the vision and experience that Ryan and the Engineering team use to build the industry’s best search tool.
1. Tell us about how you got your start in software engineering.
That was a long time ago. I was actually a Liberal Studies major, but I was passionate about writing software. I taught myself to code and my first real project was a search engine called LANDEX that could search and retrieve files that were being shared across the university. After I created my search engine, classes were really boring by comparison. It seemed silly to spend time in computer science, when I really wanted to keep developing the tool. It grew to include 10,000 users on the campus, and eventually, the university administration started using it as a directory since it contained so much student data. Even the Campus Police started using LANDEX because it was the fastest way they could locate students.
2. From there, how did you get your start working with DADO?
I worked for a large educational publisher called O’Reilly Media, and they put me on a project that would customize document publishing. It was there that I got a lot of experience dealing with PDFs. It’s not a coincidence that I’m now at DADO; a lot of things in my life have prepared me for this role. For instance, I worked a Construction job between high school and college, and even as a kid, I was really interested in building. I remember visiting a bookstore with my parents when I was 13 and asking for a Better Homes and Gardens book called, “Basic Home Wiring.”
3. Other kids your age were picking out comic books, and you were asking your parents for “Basic Home Wiring.”
Yeah, and we were renovating our house at the time and I ended up doing all the electrical work in the basement. I love to make things. I’m a woodworker now, and I’ve also done a lot of work on my own home, like the plumbing, heating, and cooling systems. I’m a self-taught person and I like to figure things out.
4. You’re known as DADO’s “Search Wizard.” How did you get that nickname?
I think it came from Greg [Santoro, DADO’s Head of Product]. After I was at O’Reilly, I joined a search database company and I worked on a project searching open source email lists. It was a huge project, the list topped out at 1 million unique users per day. From there, I became an independent contractor, helping startups that were in a tough spot. I was drawn to helping startups in crisis. It actually got hard to predict which ones would succeed and which ones would fail. The ones that ended up being successful, despite their challenges, were ones with a great idea, a clever way to market, and great insights on what the market needed. The ones who made it also acknowledged that it takes the entire organization to be successful, every part of the organization has to contribute. You may have problems, but it doesn’t mean you can’t provide something of value.
5. What are some unique aspects of Construction software? How is building software for Construction different than building for other sectors or industries?
The thing that makes it challenging is what makes it interesting. There is no consistency in the data we’re dealing with. There is no standardization. This is in contrast to an email search engine that has concrete specifications. With construction software, that does not exist. There are no semantics, no meaning; just characters on a page. But I like that search in this context is a squishy problem- it will never be fully solved! The right result is not always obvious. You have to deliver what the user is expecting, but there is also so much variability. With one search, there’s a definitive right answer, i.e. the sheet number. But for the second, third, or fourth result- these are the most interesting parts of the search. Search is really a process of collecting and categorizing information and figuring out to rank the results. How do you rank the information, which techniques do you use? As you get more users, you use more techniques, you get more data, and you use that to keep improving results and ideas.
6. How did you get up to speed on Construction workflows and terminology, especially as it relates to documentation?
There were things that came very naturally. There were other things that blew my mind away. Like how can they [contractors] function? It was this torn feeling, like “Why would they do this to themselves?” This is a real problem for people. The constant is there is no standard set of rules. Software functions off of rules, and Construction doesn’t have a lot of universal standards. My assumptions are blown out all the time.
7. This might be a cheesy one, but you’re an avid rock climber. Where can you draw parallels between software engineering and climbing?
There are definitely parallels between startups and climbing. It is a roller coaster, there are days that are awesome and days that are brutal, highs and lows. If you're creating something big, you have a long period of focus and it can be a dangerous operation. You can be a long way above but also have a long deadly fall. You have to be able to reset yourself. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday. The only thing that matters is what is right in front of you. You cannot sweat the things that are not immediately in front of you. You may have had a bad day today, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad day tomorrow.
8.What’s next for DADO from an Engineering perspective? Are you growing the team? What are you most excited about?
The team is definitely growing. This quarter the engineering is growing by 25%. DADO is building the foundation phase right now. It’s not a whole lot of glamour, but the foundation is responsible for everything built on top of it.
What did you think of our interview with Ryan Grimm? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.