Posted 8/09/16 (Tue)
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
His career is cutting edge, but his favorite car is vintage. At work, he masterminds human machine interface life cycles, modeling and software development for industrial turbo machinery systems. At play, he races other vintage roadster enthusiasts in his English, two-seater convertible around a track at the Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing club.
An unlikely pairing of passions perhaps, but for Chris Sundberg it works.
“Vintage racing is 180 degrees from computer programming,” says Sundberg, a 1992 Divide County High School graduate. “But it helps me think about other things. I’m still troubleshooting when I race.”
As for his day job, Sundberg enjoys solving problems and is grateful to do a job that brings him joy and purpose: he is an architect of systems that keep the power up for everyone.
And while his career path may seem unlikely for a farm kid growing up on the northern edge of the U.S., for Sundberg the path was obvious.
Sundberg recalls being introduced to Texas Instruments computers in second grade, and from then on, he was hooked. He nostalgically rattles off different computers he learned on – similar to some adults’ fond memories of the first cars they drove: the Apple II, the TRS Color Computer III, and the NeXT Computer.
Sundberg is appreciative that his Divide County teachers and the school administration were dedicated to providing young students with technology, such as the Apple and NeXT computers.
While other kids were enjoying the programs computers offered, the language of programming and its creation intrigued Sundberg. He asked for a Color Computer for Christmas and soon after wrote his first program – he was a freshman – on the computer’s tape drive while watching the 1988 presidential election. He drew a map of the U.S. and colored in black or white whether Republican candidate George H. W. Bush or Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis was winning. He created an electoral map for himself (Bush won).
He recalls spending his senior study hall playing on the NeXT computers; each computer had a modem and dial-up capabilities so that students in the Northwest Educational Consortium could send each other emails from Crosby, Ray, Tioga and Lignite. But he wasn’t as interested in sending emails as much as discovering how the process was made possible.
“It was really cool because it was my first time in a bigger programming language,” Sundberg says. “It helped me define that computers were going to be a lot of fun to go into.”
He graduated and pursued a bachelor of science in computer information systems at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo.
Sundberg says growing up on a farm and driving tractors, combines and equipment attachments prepared him well to succeed in his college endeavors and future career path.
“For a young person, I was in charge of a large system,” he says. “It teaches you quite a bit of responsibility and set me up today for working with big systems.”
He gives the example of getting the tractor stuck with no one else around and using problem-solving skills to figure out how to get unstuck. He built cattle guards in shop class, which taught him how to build something from scratch and the discipline to do a job well. Sundberg says this mindset and practice in self-resilience is what engineering is all about.
Failure is also an important learning tool.
“It’s not good or realistic to have success all the time,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s the ability to learn from failure that makes you more successful.”
He continued to build his experience in college and earned an internship with Hewlett-Packard where he did software translation. He took English software and translated it into different languages (with the help of a translator) to make sure everything fit for user interfaces. Another term for it: software localization.
He graduated and went to work for Sykes (now SDL International) as a localization engineer for several years in Boulder, Colo.
But Sundberg wanted to do “hardcore” programming so he took a job as a software engineer at VisionTek, which created law enforcement software. Sundberg was in charge of creating software that talked between the cars and the station and could interface with the company’s hardware. His job: “to make sure the computer had a link between the radio and the server so both could talk back and forth.”
By 2005, Sundberg knew the market was changing.
“The cellular data market was exploding,” he says.
He knew it was time to make the next career move and found it with MotoTron, which was eventually acquired by Woodward. His job was to embed controls for outboard motors for Mercury Marine. He moved to the military marine turbine group in 2011 for Woodward.
Woodward, which has been in business 140 years and is in 14 countries, “integrates leading-edge technologies into fuel, combustion, fluid, actuation, and electronic control systems for the aerospace and industrial markets. Our growth is driven by the increasing demand for fuel-efficient, low-emission, and high-performance energy management,“ according to the company’s website.
Sundberg, who currently works as an application engineer at Woodward in Fort Collins, Colo., writes the software for the control panel of natural gas land turbines, which are basically jet turbines that have been converted to land to produce power.
“We write software on the controls, and it controls the logic of the engine,” Sundberg says.
The size of the control panel for which he writes software is roughly the size of a freezer. That control panel may not be touched or manipulated for nearly 20 years at a time. That software is built for longevity. Woodward software installed in the 1990s still successfully runs control panels.
Another aspect to Sundberg’s work is ensuring cyber security.
“It’s like putting a cab on a cabless tractor,” says Sundberg of that software. “It’s out in the wide open, and we have got to put protection on it.”
Sundberg says while none of the land turbines for which Woodward provides technology have been successfully attacked, there was an incident in the Ukraine almost a year ago where hackers were able to shut down the power grid.
Woodward works with customers to ensure they have a security strategy in place. “We defend against hackers,” he says, “And because people do stupid things.”
Sundberg hardens systems to turn off the Internet and USB ports so that a virus or hacker can’t get into the system. He also keeps on top of federal regulations while providing infrastructure protection for documentation of software updates protecting the power grid.
“We prevent malicious things from happening,” he says. “It’s a lot of research and being up to date about what changing vulnerabilities are out there.”
He speaks of an instance where hackers remotely attacked a Jeep’s computer system and applied the brakes.
“These guys can now do it to big rig vehicles,” he says. “Engine systems groups – hackers can do this to your network.”
Sundberg enjoys being one of the good guys while trying to make the system as robust and resilient and safe from bad intentions as possible.
Sundberg likes his work and living in northern Colorado with his wife, Michelle and two children, taking advantage of waterskiing and downhill skiing opportunities in the area.
His favorite hobby, which also allows him to help raise money for children’s cancer research, is to race his 1963 Triumph Spitfire.
He chuckles and says he has been teased about driving a “go cart.”
Kidding aside, he says, “We race for the sport of it and have a good time.”