profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 30 in a continuing series
Managing Director, Stardraw.com
With a twinkle in his eye, David Snipp proudly boasts: "I am the world's best software engineer on Windows". Snipp is the founder and managing director of Stardraw.com. He got his first computer at the age of 14, and has not looked back since, although he admits to a rather inauspicious start. "I did terribly in my A' Levels," he states with a grin, "so I ended up at the Polytechnic of Wales in the Rhondda Valley to study Maths and Computing, because it was the only place that had anything even remotely to do with computers that would let me in! In my final year I had a project to design a piece of communication software for a school for the extremely physically handicapped. It was a rewarding project as the results were quite literally life-changing for the children. At the end of it all, the headmaster came to say goodbye and presented me with a cheque for twenty pounds! I failed my degree, but I had discovered how to make money doing something I really enjoyed."
David then got a job developing the first educational software in the UK for Windows on Windows 1.04, and was in fact the first and only UK developer on Windows at that time. When that contract finished he was offered the post of software engineer for sound and lighting rental company TASCO developing the Starlite control system to run the first European moving light. "It was all done on Windows 1.04 in 3D with real-time control and voice recognition," he says with pride. "It did everything they asked for perfectly."
It was while at Tasco that David received a call from an agency regarding a contract with IBM working on their new platform, OS/2. IBM then asked him to look at the bugs in the version due for imminent launch. Parts of it were so bad he offered to rewrite them from scratch, but incredibly, IBM refused because of the man hours they'd already spent on it. "I gnashed my teeth for a few days," said David, "and in the end thought, 'f *** 'em' and rewrote it anyway! It was one-tenth the size, twelve times faster and bug-free. My 'reward' was a weekend at IBM's head-quarters in Boca Raton, Florida , fixing other bugs in the system, at the building IBM shared with Microsoft. I ended up staying for three months and fixed every bug they threw at me including some that had been on their list for over six months. During that period I got friendly with the Microsoft guys who were these cool dudes in jeans and T-shirts while the IBM lot were all in suits. The Microsoft guys were impressed with what I'd achieved for IBM and said I should contact them if I ever needed a job, so that's exactly what I did."
David moved to the US in 1989 and became an architect on Windows NT, a position he held for five years. He led a team of engineers who designed, developed and shipped the version that was subsequently used on all versions of Windows. "I had a fantastic time at Microsoft, learned a huge amount and was one of the Microsoft millionaires by the time I was thirty. As the company grew, I was moving up the corporate ladder but that ladder was growing faster and faster. I never got to meet the customer, which for me is the bit of the job that makes it all worth it, so I felt a need to explore broader horizons."
By this time, Starlite, now a separate company from Tasco, had come up for sale, so in 1993 David decided to buy it and return to the UK. "Starlite was a lighting company that just happened to do a bit of software," explained David, "but given that software is my passion, that was the area of the business I concentrated on, and it started to take off. One of our first big deals was for ShuttleCAD, which was a DOS-based programme and they wanted it to run on a Windows platform. I customised Stardraw for Shuttlesound, and it became ShuttleCAD 4 for Windows."
The software side of the business became so successful that David decided to split it out completely. Stardraw.com was incorporated in March 2000 and now has an extensive range of 'shrink-wrapped' design and documentation packages for a number of vertical markets all based on the powerful Stardraw engine. Stardraw also has a significant OEM business developing customised software solutions for manufacturers dedicated to their own products.
"Software is my passion," David reiterates. "Once I start a project, I can't rest until it's finished and works perfectly. If I find a bug, I won't sleep until it's fixed. I have to get it right! And the reward is a satisfied customer. Seeing that customer walk away happy with a piece of software I've developed is one of the best feelings in the world. It completes the cycle and makes it all worthwhile."
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