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Story of my Life

The company that puts the bread on my table asked me to write an article about how my programming hobby led to an idea that eventually got submitted for patenting to the US patent office. People liked it very much so even further departments asked me if they can use the article.

Now that it has gone public inside the company I sought and got permission to put it here for you to enjoy. Note from editor: Minor changes where made to protect proprietary company information.

 

How My Hobby Led to an Invention that Amdocs Patented

Oliver DrobnikWhen I was just a young boy I loved to play with LEGO pieces and was fascinated with how you can put different things together to form something completely new. The concept of “the whole being more than the sum of its parts” fascinated me and my passion for constructing things carried over to writing computer programs on the MSX home computer that my father bought in 1983, when I was 9 years old.

Previously our family had moved to the suburbs of Vienna, the Austrian capital, and being away from the many distractions of the big city left me lots of time to sit in our basement and experiment with simple computer programs which I would create first in Microsoft BASIC and later in Turbo Pascal.

A neighbor of ours was the kind of person you nowadays would consider a “nerd,” but he was the first person with whom I was able to share my passion for computers. So, I followed his example after graduating from high school and attended college for two years to learn how to become an IT engineer. Three years later the Austrian Chamber of Commerce awarded me with my Engineers degree.

At first I tried to go to university and even passed a couple of IT and English exams quite successfully, but after two years I got bored. An academic IT career, in my opinion, was miles away from the hands on work of creating real programs that solve real problems.

So right after compulsory military service, I applied for a job at TelCo and got on board with them as an IT operations guy. I would perform billing and rating runs, while constantly creating scripts to make such mundane tasks more automatic and self-correcting. Unix shell scripts were my “weapon of choice” for saving myself a lot of time.

My next ‘idol’ was a guy who showed me how to write C++ programs that I could debug on Windows and later compile for HP Unix or Tru64 without changing the code.

A couple of companies later, I became one of the first owners of the iPhone in Austria. Even long before it was officially available, I knew I just had to have one. Since the inception of GSM I had been a true follower of Nokia, but the promise of a touch-based full-screen interface together with ‘always-on’ internet connectivity seemed to me to be the holy grail of mobile computing. Right after the official release of the iPhone 3G, I upgraded and as soon the Software Development Kit was available I signed up for a developer’s account. At first learning this strange new flavor of Objective C was daunting, but endless hours of experimenting and puzzle solving got me to a skill level that now allows me to create applications within a couple of weeks in my spare time.

I found that the more code I wrote while travelling on the train, the more ideas I got for new iPhone programs that would be incredibly useful to me. One of those ideas was clearly on too large a scale for me to implement by myself, but when I heard about the Amdocs innovation intranet site I decided to submit my suggestion to Amdocs.

[Proprietary details of patent omitted here]

Several months passed before I received a reply from Amdocs’ innovation team, but when the reply came things moved quickly. I was informed that my idea was worthy of patenting because of its proximity to Amdocs’ core business – mobile commerce. Based on what I had previously written, a patent lawyer created a 20-page document which detailed my invention in minute detail. When I approved the draft it was submitted to the US patent office.

Many people have since asked me why I would give my idea to Amdocs in exchange for a one-time premium. My response to them is that I would rather see a good idea be owned by a great company that has the potential of implementing it than keep it to myself in the hopes that a profit may be gained from it someday.

Today, at age 34, writing my own programs feels like ‘LEGO for Adults,’ a sort of creative self-expression. My full time job at Amdocs is to take care of IT at the Amdocs Interactive Vienna site; sitting down in my spare time and creating solutions for my own computer problems makes me feel like I can create something lasting that also has value to others and, at the same time, balances and energizes my creative juices.

From my experiences, I can only recommend to all readers to take on a hobby where they create something with their hands – be it carpentry, knitting, programming or anything else. I have found that such a constructive hobby increases your general satisfaction level and makes it much easier to deal with the stress you might face at work.


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