Cross-pollination: What Software and Search and Rescue Have in Common

Stacy Violett, BMS Software Engineer and Search and Rescue Volunteer

What is the corporate case for supporting employee volunteerism?  That question is being asked by more and more businesses.  But if you ask Black Mountain Software, we already know the answer.

We are proud of the depth and breadth of volunteerism our employees display, and we know just what this volunteer work means to our business: better innovation, engaged employees, connection with the community, and valuable skill sets which help make better business decisions.

When skill sets are put to use outside of office, it offers employees intellectual and emotional insight into solving problems and seeking opportunities.  Volunteerism allows volunteers to gain experience and try out new skill sets which they then apply to their everyday jobs; overall reducing risk, developing their skills, building alliances, and hence, growing their business.

This is exactly the case with BMS’s Utility Billing Software Engineer, Stacy Violett.  Though he’s been with the BMS Polson office for over 20 years and was the third employee ever to work at BMS, that’s not what he’s famous for around here.  Stacy’s “star power” comes from what he does when he’s not at work: Stacy is a volunteer member of Lake County Search and Rescue, a member of Lake County Trackers, and is a Certified Basic Tracker and Trainer within the Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Services program.

It’s Stacy’s desire to be a lifelong learner that makes him both a successful BMS employee and a great volunteer.  His ability to learn and teach explains why he loves working in the ever-changing technology field where he is able to learn new things daily as technologies and situations change.

When employees like Stacy get involved in seemingly unrelated disciplines such as search and rescue (SAR) tracking, the result all of a sudden becomes very relevant.  It’s their outside-the-office experiences that give employees like Stacy the ability to bring different perspectives and troubleshooting techniques to the office, and that means better software for everyone!

In Stacy’s case, one thing SAR tracking has taught him is how to step back and look at a problem differently.  “All the information is right there in front of your eyes.  Tracking makes you physically tired to process all of this information.”  An example of how this works in the day-to-day software business is when Stacy was trying to troubleshoot a piece of binary code. By incorporating SAR tracking techniques, Stacy was able to decode an error message to help troubleshoot an authentication error that was previously unresolved.

“Since I first started with the company, Jack has always encouraged me to let complex problems simmer. This used to turn into shooting a few hoops and stepping away from the keyboard for a few minutes. That still rings true, though we’ve substituted hoops with CrossFit in recent years. Moments after leaving the office, problems become clear, even though they were not easy to ‘see’ before. I see a comparison between tracking and developing software. Tracks appear off into the distance again.”

Over the years, Stacy has appreciated opportunities to learn the ropes of developing BMS software alongside its founders, attend leading-edge conferences as a member of the Black Mountain Software development team, and to participate in a large community of software developers across the world. But this SAR mentality of using the sub-conscience mind has always been present for Stacy at BMS.

Stacy and other professional trackers were recently highlighted in this news feature for NBC Montana.

“Tracking truly is a matter of learning to see that which other people look at and don’t recognize or have understanding of,” said Joel Hardin [Chief Instructor and Program Administrator of Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Services, which is affiliated with the Lake County Trackers group.].

Tracking is more than just looking down at footprints and following a trail. These crews are looking at certain characteristics and coloration of the grass to help them find a subject.

…”Every foot fall has been placed to avoid objects. So what that does is meander to some degree and it does not follow such a straight line,” continued Stacy Violett [BMS employee and certified tracker].

Hardin said tracking takes patience and constant practice. But tracking is a tool, much like a compass or a flashlight, that can make all the difference.

via “Search and Rescue Teams Brush Up on Tracking Skills,” NBC Montana.

Added Stacy in regards to the story, “It is not magic to be able to see a sign.  It is only an ability gained by experience that makes sense of things others have not yet learned to see. All the information is right there in front of your eyes…

…Your conscious mind can keep you stuck when looking for the next track. It works very slowly in comparison with your sub-conscious (like 40 bits per second vs. 11 million bits per second, according to Joel Hardin).”

Writing software and looking for “signs” while tracking can each present complex language problems, and it’s what Stacy is good at. But, ever modest, it’s the little things Stacy likes to be recognized for.  Among them, showing his support for the Montana State University Bobcats by wearing an MSU cap in this video (though University of Montana Grizzlies fans here at Black Mountain were not so thrilled).

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