Daniel Weck: Long live the Geeks!
Daniel Weck discovered the amazing potential of DAISY accessible multimedia through the eyes of a software programmer. He joined the DAISY Consortium in order to contribute to existing software projects and to lead the development of next-generation open-source authoring tools.
Daniel Weck is a French national who lives in England with his British wife. He has been a professional multimedia software programmer for nearly eight years, five of which have been dedicated to designing and developing accessibility-related tools. Daniel is involved in several open-source projects, acting as the lead architect for the Urakawa (DAISY) SDK, and as the project coordinator and lead programmer for Tobi, a DAISY multimedia authoring application currently under development. He is also an active contributor in the AMIS project, a DAISY software player.
Sometimes I struggle to describe my job to people using just a few words. The title "software developer" is only half the story, and being labelled as a "geek" does not help much either (although admittedly, it is a fair point!). The truth is, software has become so pervasive in modern life that in the layman's eyes, it is a commodity that is taken for granted. Think MP3 player, mobile phone, satnav/GPS unit, TV set-top box, desktop computer, etc., and that is just the visible part of the iceberg. There are as many kinds of software programmers as there are types of projects. For me, it was all about finding the right professional purpose.
As a child, programming was an exciting hobby that tickled my neurons outside of the school's curriculum. During my teenage years, the web had just started to revolutionize the way we communicate, how we consume but also produce information. After my university degree in computer science and software project management, my programming skills had matured into a full-time profession that could finally deliver real-world benefits. The passion hasn't vanished, quite the contrary. Each year seems to be more exciting than the last. Because the industry and the technology are constantly evolving, there is always a learning curve. That, I think, is a trademark that makes our job so special.
I was fortunate to work at INRIA the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, which is one of the founding pillars of the W3C (the main consortium for web open standards). For two and a half years, I was exposed to great technology and met extremely talented people. During this time, I was not yet aware of the DAISY Consortium. Of course, the DC had already started to embrace the advent of the new digital age, thanks to its visionary founders who seized the opportunity to improve the lives of people who have a print disability.
I was introduced to the DAISY Consortium by Hiroshi Kawamura (the current President of the DC), through the DAISY For All project. Working with Kawamura-san was a life-changing experience: until then, I had rarely met a person with such vision, drive and determination. His capacity to transform ambitious ideas into concrete, funded projects is awe-inspiring. More remarkably though, Hiroshi is the kind of selfless person who is dedicated to improving the lives of others.
Work ethics being at the top of my priority list when it comes to career choices, I was thrilled to be given a chance to take part. The bottom line in any business venture may be profit, but my personal satisfaction comes from a fair, sustainable, long-term approach. A few years ago, I turned down full-time job offers in the finance/banking sector in favor of the more risky path that lead me where I am today. I have never regretted this decision.
When I first joined DAISY, I knew little about disabilities. However, my background in multimedia and human-computer interaction was a natural fit for my jump into the field of accessible information. I am privileged to work with people such as George Kerscher who is the Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium, and Dipendra Manocha, the DC Developing Countries Coordinator. Their amazing achievements make it too easy to forget that they are blind. Personally, I feel that professional development depends heavily on meeting great people. As much as I love technology in itself, it should only be a means to a more fulfilling end. With time and hard work, virtually anyone can develop technical skills and aim at excellence. What really makes a difference, in my opinion, is the rich shared human experiences, because they infuse creativity and passion into one's job.
The leap forward into the DAISY world gave me the opportunity to meet people who value ICT as more than just a commodity: for those who are disabled, access technology is a necessity, not a luxury. On my journey, I realized that it is more about ability than impairment. It is about unlocking the potential of technology in order to empower people. I also learnt that working in the field of accessible information technology ultimately helps us all: standards and tools that make information more open and accessible benefit the mainstream too.
The sustainable development of complex multimedia software is notoriously challenging, and therefore expensive. The DC's Open Source strategy is yet another example that Free software (as in "freedom", not beer) can deliver quality and value, whilst energizing the market place. Of course, there is room for improvement, and there are more avenues to explore. The revision of the DAISY Standard will lead to exciting new developments, and the Consortium's ongoing collaborative software projects have been gathering steady momentum (the Pipeline, Obi, AMIS, "Save as DAISY", Tobi, etc.)
Working with the DAISY Consortium is a joy. Not only are work colleagues inspiring professionals, they are also kind, down-to-earth people who have become personal friends. Although we are spread around the world, we are a close-knit team, and we strive to deliver the best service possible to the community we serve.
This is, in a nutshell, my story. I am 30 years old, so there is still plenty to experience and lots more to give. Much to my wife's despair though, I will probably remain a geek for the rest of my time...but you know what, as long as it is for a good cause: long live the Geeks! [smile]