Wabtec’s Winnipeg plant is actually in Oakbank, about 30 km (18 mi) outside of Winnipeg. Oakbank is a small community of a few thousand people, surrounded by farmland, and, to the northwest, hills with rock quarries.
This was originally a small Winnipeg company called iders (pronounced by most people as I-D-ers), who had been pioneers in the development of PIN pads for Canadian banks and retailers, and later successfully landed the contract to develop the Conviron CMP4000 environmental growth chamber system, among many projects of varying sizes and complexity. In the 2001 to 2008 time frame, they also manufactured the NxtPhase TESLA DC Isolation Module, which Horst Koelzow and I had developed.
One of the industries that iders broke into in the early 2000s was electronics for the railroad industry. Their experience in communications in general, and computer networking in particular, led them over several years, to create what’s now known as the GoLINC ACC (Auxiliary Communications Cage), which has the AAR standard for communications on railroad locomotives.
iders was acquired by GE Transportation in 2016. In 2018, GE Transportation itself was divested from GE, merging with Wabtec. The Oakbank plant was still referred to as “GETW” (GE Transportation Winnipeg) until early 2020, when the migration from GE’s IT systems to Wabtec’s IT systems was mostly complete.
I was hired as the Embedded Software Engineering Manager for GETW in August 2018, with 11 direct reports. A few days after starting, I was advised that I had 3 hires to make – which, for historical reasons, were each assigned to separate hiring managers, and were each managed by separate recruiters. The hiring took some time to implement, as we worked out the projected seniority of the hires and reviewed dozens of applicants… but the big thing is that I was busy in the interim. We made the hires in January 2020.
There was a lot of development going on at GETW. Some was new, some was remedial work, but it was all very intense.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were quite fortunate to be able to work effectively from our homes, because Wabtec has quite a good internal communications infrastructure. There were issues, mind you – we had trouble accessing the Checkmarx static analysis scanner – but we worked around that using a Raspberry Pi that I put on my desk at the office, until the proper routing could be arranged through the VPN.
The pandemic was not as serious in Manitoba as in many other parts of the world. When things settled down in mid May, we carefully moved back to the office, taking appropriate precautions.
Unfortunately, as with many industries around the world, the locomotive industry was hurt by the economic downturn that accompanied COVID-19. As a result, my employment with Wabtec came to an end in June. Many others were let go at the same time, and apparently there will be a long term strategy to consolidate Wabtec’s electronics manufacturing into other locations, and downsizing the office footprint, saving considerable money in the process.