The bags are packed and the driver is on the way. I’m leaving Austin and my 16th NI Week–the user conference of National Instruments. Attendance probably was greater than 4,000. Only a few years ago, the number floated around 2,000. This is tremendous growth.
Let’s look at some important factors in NI’s growth.
Stable leadership with vision
James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky founded the company and continue to lead it. They are geniuses (in my humble opinion) in science and engineering. Yet, quite humble gentlemen. They have had a vision of creating a platform and products to help engineers solve ever larger engineering problems that continues to this day.
Not only are they technical gurus, but they also have tremendous organizational skills. They have loved to hire young engineers and turn them loose on problems that stretch their talents. On the other hand, they add a healthy mix of experience and wisdom on the teams to balance the inexperience. Oh, and another important ingredient that has made NI one of the top companies to work for as Truchard told me this week in a conversation is to have fun. Every NI person I’ve met over the past 15 years (with only a few exceptions who self-selected themselves out of the company) has embodied intelligence, creativity and the joy of work.
These concepts extend to the senior leadership team that is also a mix of older / younger members.
There are a few other companies I cover that have had stable leadership. They also are doing well. Maybe not the same audacious vision, but focus all the same. Then I think of the companies I cover with constant turmoil in the executive suite, no real vision, good employees who struggle for meaning. Success for these companies despite having tremendous talent within remains elusive. There is definitely a leadership lesson to be gained.
Putting it all together
Keynotes on Day 2 traditionally feature Kodosky, the father of LabView, expressing some thoughts on computer science and things LabView could be doing. This is followed by featuring people who have accomplished big, hairy, audacious goals using the LabView platform and NI hardware.
Deviating somewhat this year, Kodosky discussed some of the major big science projects (such as CERN) using LabView. He did pitch one thought–the challenges NI (and everyone) face with communication and synchronization. Imagine synchronizing mobile devices on a project. Difficult, but necessary for many problems.
NI Fellow Mike Santori followed with many demos of projects that should spark the creativity of the rest of the audience into accepting new, big engineering challenges.
Day 3 keynotes focus on education. VP Ray Almgren, the Day 3 fixture, brought out a 10-year-old master LabView programmer, a robotic team that developed a robot that could fling frisbees with incredible accuracy, a NASA astronaut who now leads the agency’s education outreach program and the leader of a team that intends to land a robot on the moon in 2015 and explore a deep hole. All featuring LabView and NI hardware based upon its “reconfigurable I/O” or RIO platform. NI has done more to exploit the power of FPGA technology than anyone else I’ve seen.