Mr. Holland’s opus

If you've attended the Embedded Systems Conference ever, especially last year, as part of the DESIGN West, you may have encountered an energetic jovial Brit often parked in the press room with his silver Mac or wandering around the show floor. This man, avuncular and kind, was always quick with a funny story and loved to talk, especially about sports or to tell of some humorous encounter he had had with a colleague or industry member. Last year at the conference, it was more than usual press meetings for him. He was running the show–the conference portion of it. Now, less than a year later, he is no longer with us. Colin Holland, Embedded Systems ' Man in Europe and fan of the Charlton football team and the Raspberry Pi alike, passed away on Jan. 17, 2013 after a 9-month battle with cancer.
Colin Holland, ESC 2011
Colin cared a great deal about Embedded.com. Even if you didn't know him, you might be interested in his role in remaking this site. As the editorial director of Embedded.com, he oversaw the editorial redesign for the new site this past year, despite uncertainty about his health and being half-a-world away in London, UK. (All the developers and support staff including me are in San Francisco, CA.) From May 2012 onward he was diagnosed and treated for cancer. Because part of his treatment was to do things he enjoyed, it was my luck that he asked to continue working on Embedded.com and writing for the site. Writing about electronics was something he really loved doing. See Colin's blog on Embeddded.com.

I had worked with Colin since 2002, when he became the editor in chief of Embedded Systems Europe , the sister pub to Embedded Systems Programming and Embedded.com, and would see him at least once a year when he came to the Embedded Systems Conference here in California. So, I was delighted when in January 2012, he stepped in as the editorial director of our U.S. Embedded franchise a few months before DESIGN West (Embedded Systems Conference, or ESC). Being editorial content director of ESC also meant running Embedded Systems Design magazine and Embedded.com. After the conference in March, Colin oversaw the closing of the 24-year-old print magazine Embedded Systems Design (born in 1988 as Embedded Systems Programming ) and then relaunch of Embedded.com. It was a year of transition, to say the least.

From May through September 2012, Colin and I worked closely together on the redesign of Embedded.com, with the help a site designer. We completed all the requirements wireframes and design mocks on July 2; the site launched on September 14th , having gone through another post-requirements style redesign to make our site responsive to differently-sized device screens. (We editors weren't party to the responsive redesign, which was probably why we threw fits when we saw it. Colin said “I hate it.” Gradually, we got over it and liked the final design.) After all that work, when the site launched, I felt it was triumph of teamwork and perseverance, despite all the bugs and requirements yet to be fulfilled. Without Colin's guidance, expertise, and support, I don't know if we would have reached that moment.

Several site features are purely his idea. You can thank him for the return of a news section, for one, and some of the names: industry (news); development articles instead of design articles; insights (blogs). Since we weren't supposed to have news on the site, he concealed the news behind the name Industry . He decided what topics the 12 development centers would cover. He insisted that more of our content be revealed to make it easier for engineers to scan for content quickly without clicking on tabs and other pages. Without going into the full site redesign process (battle scars and all), suffice it to say, throughout this saga, Colin clarified our ideas, kept them simple, and defended them well.
By the time the site launched on September 14th , Colin seemed his usual self but tired. He still had that inner drive, however, to work on the site. Coincidentally the week of the site launch, he got a break in treatment so his energy returned and he was all over that site, loading in content, seeing what worked and didn't work, where the content was missing. He even created an art library for editors to use that first week. After site launch, every so often I would see him uploading batches of old ESC papers into our archive. He was doing it from the hospital because it kept his mind occupied during a doctor's visit. He wasn't one to feel sorry for himself, and once he told me that he didn't like others who felt sorry for themselves.

It seemed like he was commuting every day for some treatment or test and then coming home and chatting via Skype. I'm sure he was speaking with friends and family, but he was thoughtful to be available to me via Skype to chat so he could help out in some way or just chat about how things were going. Gradually after the site launched and we headed into November and December, he was on Skype less and less. But U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving got his ire up as it usually did, when he replied to a happy thanksgiving message from a manager thus: “I have to remind myself that you're not giving thanks for stealing our dominion from us but more that the good people from Europe came to civilize you.”

The last note I got from Colin was handwritten note in a Christmas card, that said, among other things, “It has been a real annoyance to me that I have not been able to be of more help.” I was able to get one last message to him and tell him how helpful he was.

As Colin wrote on Sept. 15th after the site launched, “The site you are now on is the start of that journey to meet your expectations.”Thanks, Colin, for leading us through this phase of the journey. You are missed.

Susan Rambo was the managing editor of Embedded Systems Design magazine and now works on Embedded.com.

2 thoughts on “Mr. Holland’s opus

  1. Wow, that's very sad to hear. In spite of speaking at quite a few conferences, I'd never met Colin and didn't know of his battle with cancer.

    I sent him an email in the fall, maybe 3 months ago, completely unaware of what he was going through. Never got

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  2. Thanks for your comment. Yes, I am still uploading the archived articles from Embedded Systems Programming magazine and the Embedded Systems Conference. I'll write a blog about it soon, because I know people care about having this content available. (I jus

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