Vitalii Artomov — the man of science, the ex-docent of the Dnipro National University of Railway Transport, Dystlab founder and author of the text editor for engineers dubbed TechEditor that was created with the help of Delphi.
TechEditor — is a free and convenient tool for making calculations and developing technical documentation. The main peculiarity of this product is that unlike many other already existing office solutions and math tools, TechEditor is an “all-in-one” app. A user doesn’t have to switch from one program to another in order to write a report or an explanatory note. All modules of this product are connected with each other and if an engineer needs to make calculations and prepare a document, it can be done either in an electronic spreadsheet or via a script. And then all the information can be presented in a text document in the required place and form.
- Hello, nice to meet you. Vitaly, tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional journey.
In the past, I was a docent at the University of Railway Transport in Dnipro, Ukraine. For 10 years, I was working at the Department of Bridges and was doing quite typical things for a person who works at the university. I was teaching bridge construction, conducting research, writing articles, and working on my dissertation that I defended in 2011. In 2014 I decided to end my work at the university and in 2015 I founded Dystlab.
- What is Dystlab? And what goals does the project have?
It is a project for engineers. The main task of the project is to help engineers to increase their professional qualifications and enhance their professional skills. Its core activities include providing online educational courses prepared by practitioners. Since 2015, hundreds of engineers from all over the world (the CIS and European countries, Israel, Canada, the US) have studied on the platform. Now the educational platform is enriched with a module for finding jobs and in close cooperation with foreign partners, we’ve created a practically full cycle of education, retraining and employment for an engineer.
Besides education, we also focus on the development of ready-made apps and tools that help to increase the reliability and security of the solutions that are made during the engineering process. This content is compatible with TechEditor and is available in our online shop for engineers – Dystlab Store.
- How have you decided to create such a text editor?
I remember how university professors were suspicious of students’ works that were printed as the majority of students brought their works hand-written. It was the beginning of the 2000s. The same tendency was observed in relation to drawings prepared in AutoCAD and printed on a plotter. It was necessary to literally defend each drawing and prove that you really made it on your own and not just found somewhere.
When we saw Mathcad for the first time, we decided to use it for making calculations. At the level of students’ work, this format was quite enough for us, but there were a lot of issues with it.
Later, when I was working on my own thesis, I tested a lot of different products. Some of them were good at calculating but the formatting functionality left much to desire. Other solutions, vice versa, were suitable for formatting texts but didn’t have modules for calculations. But there were no universal solutions.
Since that time I started thinking about the possibility to ensure high-quality formatting of tech documentation without losing the calculating capacities of software. The solution that could meet all my requirements and the requirements of my colleagues simply didn’t exist. Text editors mainly do not focus on calculations. For making calculations, it is necessary to use something else, like a calculator or a math package, and then to add the final data in a text. As a result, the document will look good but if some figures change, you will have to insert all data manually again. That’s why quite often engineers have to sacrifice the formatting aspect with a view to having automated calculations and use packaged math solutions.
If we compare the formatting requirements for thesis and tech documentation, in the first case they will be stricter. That’s why in my work I used Microsoft Word. If at that time I had had such a solution as TechEditor, I would have used it without any doubt.
Dystlab is not a traditional educational institution. First of all, we are practitioners and we work as engineers at different companies. It means that engineering is an everyday routine for us and before sharing our developments with colleagues, we do our best to increase the efficiency of our solutions. That’s why we were the first people who started using TechEditor and only after testing it at our workplaces we took the decision to share this product with other engineers.
As for courses, students as a target group help us to better understand what direction to choose for developing our editor and to see what tasks should be solved with our tools.
As we have realized, many users today still have the same problems as we used to have (difficulties in writing tech documentation, lack of the possibility to reuse their data, etc.). That’s why I believe that we offer really useful things.
Based on our experience with such projects as Dystlab Education and Dystlab Job, we can say that:
- The absolute majority of course participants (practicing engineers) need to have ready-made solutions (samples, templates, etc.).
- A huge percentage of trainees have difficulties in preparing high-quality technical documentation.
- Many technical solutions can be re-used not only in the learning process but also in the everyday work of an engineer.
- How long did it take to build TechEditor and how many people did participate in this process?
It took nearly a year to transform an idea into a product. The release of the first beta version took place in December 2020. The development of the product is still going on, new versions are released once in a couple of months.
Actually, only one person works directly on product development. It’s me. All other team members create templates of documents, calculation samples, build apps for end-users and fulfill marketing tasks.
- What functions does your text editor have? Where and how can it be used?
TechEditor is a text editor that provides a possibility to automate calculations. It is not a packaged math solution or a computing algebra tool, though it has some features of these types of software. We do not try to position TechEditor as an app for math calculations only. That’s a text editor with the functionality for math calculations.
The latest versions of the editor have a full-scale Word-like text processor, a Mathcad-like diagram, scheme and mind map editor with the possibility of adding math blocks, Excel-like electronic spreadsheets, a tool for graph сonstruction and, of course, the key thing is a built-in script engine for creating and running an unlimited number of apps in TechEditor.
As a result, this software should be viewed as the environment for tech documentation development similar to IDEs (integrated development environments).
TechEditor can be used for creating explanatory notes, reports, scientific research works, articles, thesis, blog posts, books, monographs, manuscripts, students’ semester projects, calculation and graphic works, etc.
- What makes TechEditor stand out from the row of similar services?
The main benefit of TechEditor is the possibility to combine high-quality document formatting with calculating features. Some existing products focus on one aspect, others – on the second. Packaged math solutions and electronic spreadsheets usually make calculations and show data at the same places while TechEditor is able to divide these operations into different “channels” (here we can compare it with frontend and backend web development). Many programs allow users to use scripts but we decided to take one step further and enriched TechEditor with a feature for building small apps with a window interface. In other words, thanks to that engineers can create different calculators and tools for their individual tasks.
- What Embarcadero products were used for creating this app?
TechEditor was built in the Delphi Community Edition development environment with the help of some third-party ready-made components.
- What programming language was chosen and why?
We used Pascal and there were several reasons for that. Today there are a lot of rankings defining the popularity of this or that programming language. It is happening so as the IT sphere has managed to become a fully separate independent industry and the choice of a language for some users has become a question that greatly depends on trends and personal tastes.
I have a more pragmatic approach to such things. And if a language has a convenient syntax, fulfills its functions, it can be used. It’s worth recollecting Fortran that is considered to be an old programming language that is not appropriate for modern tasks. However, many calculating programming algorithms rely on it. And in this sphere, it still hasn’t lost its position.
In any case, on the systemic level, the entire scientific and tech space uses a single macro language – a language of mathematics. And I believe that the computer interpretation of mathematical arguments is a secondary thing. From this point of view, Pascal is an integral, reliable and time-proven tool. And if we also take into account that it was studied by the entire generation of engineers who are working today at different enterprises, the choice of this language is quite logical.
- Who were the first 100 users of the product? And what encouraged them to start using TechEditor?
The first 100 users were structural engineers (as well as the authors of TechEditor). Based on the reviews, I can say that the majority of them were looking for products to replace their existing software (electronic spreadsheets, packaged math solutions) and they found all that they wanted in our product. Also, programmers regularly show their interest in our program. But as we use not a compiler but an interpreter Pascal/Basic, it is not very feasible to use our editor only for coding. However, it is also possible.
- It would be very interesting to listen to some real cases when the product helped users to deal with challenging issues.
I can make conclusions related to the use of TechEditor by other people only based on the questions on different forums and comments in public groups. But we can be absolutely sure that the software covers all our engineering tasks. It covers the whole cycle of calculations and preparing explanatory notes for projects related to industrial and civic buildings (houses, cottages, storage facilities), transport constructions (road and rail bridges) as well as many everyday tasks. We also use TechEditor for creating educational content. The interactive notes for my online course which is called ”Сalculation of building constructions from scratch” were fully created in this environment and function there.
- Does the time spent on learning the functionality of the program pay off in the process of using the product for writing an article or any other type of documents?
As a rule, the work on the project includes two parts: calculations and formatting. Planning the future working process, an engineer tries to understand when and what will be done.
Based on the experience, we can say that the work practically never ends with the final layout. Materials will be updated more than once: corrections from the side of a client, comments from different authorities, changes from the side of related projects. All this requires a lot of re-calculations. And of course, at each of these stages, it is necessary to make re-formatting. And if the first part (calculations) can be somehow automated with the help of electronic spreadsheets and calculation tools, the time needed for the second part (formatting) can be really impressive.
And here is where you can see the efficiency of TechEditor. If you are ready to spend some time on synchronization of calculations and a final note (that is usually achieved with simple links or Latex inputs), the changes in your final documents will be done automatically. Moreover, depending on the logic of calculations, TechEditor can generate and add to the report entire phrases (for example, notify an engineer about the checking process). Having developed a template once, a user can just change data and print a note.
From this perspective, I believe that the time spent on learning the program pays off multiply. And given the fact that newly created documents can be used as templates for other projects, the efficiency can be considered to be even higher.
- And the last question. Where can we download TechEditor to get familiarized with its functionality and to start working with it?
You can download it from our official website:
Also, you can find a lot of educational materials there, including videos, that will help you to better understand how you can use this software. If you have any questions or offers, you can contact the Dystlab team directly on our forum: