Go West, Young Man

Photo by Carsten Thomsen

Shortly after joining NI in November 1993 as Director of Engineering, Dr. T asked me to go to Las Vegas to the most important “test and measurement” convention: COMDEX, the main computer show in the U.S. Dr. T’s mandate was “to live on the exhaust fumes of the computer industry”, because they were the technology drivers for virtual instrumentation. 

Along with our head computer geek, Nigel Waites we cruised Las Vegas in IBM limos serving as rolling hospitality suites, and got all the inside dope on new PC busses and associated technologies.  All orifices of computers were viewed as possible instrument control busses, and all software platforms and communications protocols were viewed as potentially useful for instrumentation.  And roadmaps for PC chips with high-performance floating point units predicted the demise of dedicated DSP chips before the end of the century, also signaling the death of NI products with dedicated DSP. 

The strategic thinking was simple, but brilliant:  how can PC technologies make instrumentation faster, smarter, and easier to use, AND less expensive to develop and deploy.

So our minds boiled over envisioning this future.  We were technology driven, and had a marketing organization that flooded the journals of the day with this vision.  To ask to customers what kind of bus they wanted was rarely relevant…we knew they wanted our deep understanding of these technologies to help drive their own goals to succeed.

It was the same technology-driven spark from the first Mac that triggered the vision for LabVIEW. And after its first incubator years on the Mac, it exploded in full force, when Microsoft got its Windows act together. And fast forward to 2021, the story has come full circle where LabVIEW on the Mac is deprecated compared to Windows and is not yet supported on the new M1 chip which will supplant “Intel Inside” in the next 18 months for all Macs.

This transition from being technology-driven to customer-driven is a classic challenge for many companies as they mature.  And often that question should not be seen as an either other, but an AND. Or as Dr. T called it, “The Genius of the And”.    A fascinating subject.

Carsten Thomsen

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