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25th Anniversary Interview with Leon Grossman

25th Anniversary Interview with Leon Grossman

DMC will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer. To mark our silver anniversary, we thought it would be fun to interview those who have been at DMC the longest to reflect on the past 25 years and the future of DMC. 

Next up is Leon Grossman who joined DMC in 1998. He works in the Chicago office as a Project Manager on the Automation team. 

What were you up to in 1996? 

I was working at the National Institute for Petroleum Energy Research in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The town is known for having the only skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I had never yet left Oklahoma.

Favorite band/movie in 1996 vs. now

My favorite movie is the same now as it was in 1996 – a Christian Slater movie called Pump Up the Volume. It was released in 1990, and it beautifully captured the moment and Gen-X attitude. I identified strongly with the main character, but as a young, socially awkward geek I strongly expect I wasn’t actually cool like Christian Slater.   

Leon Grossman in the early 2000s

How did you join DMC?

Accidentally. I was working for NIPER in Bartlesville. They sent me to LabVIEW training in Austin. Frank was sitting in the seat behind me. The training was slower than I needed, so I was working ahead. Apparently, Frank saw that and gave me his card. A few months later, the government decided to farm out its research lab contracts so I gave Frank a call. He brought me out to Chicago and interviewed me. He checked my references when I was in the car with him! I was employee number six.

How has DMC changed over the years? What hasn't changed?

There are approximately one-hundred-something more employees now then there were then. We have had to grow up as a company. The six of us getting in a room and making a decision doesn’t work with 180 people. It’s no longer a small company where everyone is intimately aware of everything going on.

I’m going to be cheesy and bring up the core values. The core things, the important things, have been the same since day one. The specific technology of how I work with my colleagues has changed, but the actual interaction of everyone working together to make things happen is the same. I can call somebody and they will help.

Overall, the people are still awesome. I used to say we could form a 50-person Mensa chapter. Now we could form a 180-person Mensa chapter. Everyone is brilliant and amazing. That’s a huge consistent quality from the beginning.

Leon with Ken, Dan, Danny, and David

Best and worst updates in technology since 1996?

The best update is cell phones, now having smart phones. Imagine going to the movies in 1996. You probably didn’t have a cell phone. If you did you were fancy. You had to buy a ticket at the box office. My partner at the time didn’t want a cell phone. It was raining, so I dropped her off at the box office, parked the car, and trudged through the rain. The movie was sold out. Now, with a smart phone I can get a ticket and any information I want to know is there in my hand at all times. Most people are probably not aware of how transformational smart phones are in our daily lives.

The worst thing is ads everywhere. It was bad enough on your tv. The way that everything is monetized through ad revenue and tracking is a big social problem that we haven’t begun to tackle and is to our detriment overall.

Leon Grossman

How has your field changed since you started at DMC?

Technology was rudimentary in a lot of ways. In automation, if you were programming a PLC then you were worrying about bit masking, working with bytes, things you had to do to get performance, and logical tricks to make things happen. Now, the programming languages have caught up to the standards of computer development. Our technology and tools are way better. We have more power and more capabilities.

DMC started on the cusp of this revolution. In those days, people would say we couldn’t use ethernet as a control system because, “It’s not deterministic and things will explode.” They were using bus protocols based on RS-232 or RS-435 that were slow, but you had control over how the packets were done. It was better to say, “It’s reliable every 100 milliseconds,” not, “You’ll get it every five minutes but sometimes it won’t be there.” DMC came on the scene when ethernet came on the scene, and we evangelized that every system should be built on it not the old school field buses. Those are rare legacy systems now. We were always pushing those boundaries from the beginning.

Doing machine OEE is common today. It’s relatively recent, but we were doing that diagnostic by writing programs in Visual Basic 6. Visual Basic was game changing and terrible at the same time, making programming accessible to a lot more people. Ken wrote statistical processes and data analytics programs that connected to an early customer’s machines and now that kind of data analytics is what everybody wants. It’s kind of awesome that 25 years later people are still figuring this stuff out and we were doing it then.

Leon collaborating at DMC

What are you looking forward to at DMC in the years to come?

Mostly taking over the world. When we divide it up, I'll take France. I’ve never been there and I’ve always wanted to go.

I think that we have built up a unique group of really smart people. We always push boundaries on what we do.

What we haven’t done as well? The big company things of defining standards and stuff. I think that as our capabilities increase and we grow we will be able to do things that will help change the industry. We can’t drive ISA standards or build a product that changes the way people program now, but maybe we can at 500 employees. It will be interesting to see what we can do.

Leon at the Chicago History Museum

What's the most surprising thing about working at DMC?

Well, I’ve only had one other real job. It’s a little cliché that startup culture is all about company culture and everybody playing ping pong. What we do well is avoiding superfluous ridiculous perks and boiling them down to make a sustainable culture as we grow.

Long ago, I remember interviewing for a company and being depressed when I walked in. It was a silent room of carpet and cubicles. Even the guy interviewing me was depressed. When you walk into a DMC office, it is very vibrant. I hope that as we grow, we maintain that vibrant culture and really amazing people.

Leon at Hawaiian Shirt Friday

Favorite DMC event?

I always loved going out for lunch when we were a small enough company to hop in three cars and race to the lunch place. Whoever got there or back first won. That was very much a community. We were a team that got lunch together. We can’t do that today, but we do a lot of other things like it including happy hours and activity fund events.

Las CrucesLas Cruces, New Mexico

Best place traveled for work?

The White Sands Missile Range. We got to work on a massive system and see (and work on) equipment that was instrumental in helping create the first stealth aircraft. Also, the desert landscape was beautiful.

Learn more about DMC's company culture and contact us for your next project.

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