This coming week brings the yearly National Instruments convention, NI Week, in Austin, TX, home of NI headquarters. As NI grew as a company in the test and measurements industry, what started as a moderate size event to promote new NI product launches, has now became one of the most important test and measurements events in the year. This year’s NI Week attendance is expected to surpass last year’s, in a constant up and to the right growth curve year over year, proving the increased importance of this company for engineers and scientists of today.
I have been fortunate enough to have attended almost all NI Week events since 2001, having missed only a couple in these thirteen years. As a regular of the event, I decided to write this week’s blog in an attempt to give the first year NI Week goers some pointers on how to take the most out of the event.
NI Week has year over year increased number of technical lectures and hands on sections. This may sound very appealing to you who never been to a NI Week, and are expecting to either brush up technical skills of a given area, or maybe get your hands on a NI technology that you have been dying to test drive. Well, though this is the case, you will have the opportunity to do either one of the two or both to your heart’s content; you should come to the event with your expectations set in order to avoid disappointment.
The technical sections are usually 30-45 minutes long; therefore, if you are expecting to walk out of the section with a lot of knowledge on the subject; well, don’t. Any new technology today will take one, regardless of how intelligent and tech savvy one may be, much more than 30 minutes to grasp. Besides, since these are open sections to the public and don’t require any pre-requisite to be attended, their contents need to be tailored to be one size fits all. Along those lines, they tend to be more marketing driven than technically driven. They are meant to give the public an introduction about the given topic and present some references at the end pointing the audience to resources they can use to learn more about it. Obviously, this carries value in itself as the information about the resources will come already digested for you, saving you potentially hours searching ni.com. However, like I said before in this post, as long as your expectations are aligned with this reality, you will be saving yourself some disappointment.
Now, onto the hands on sections. This is indeed a great opportunity for one to play with a given technology. Can you feel the “but” coming? Well, but, these are usually either 1 hour or 2 hours long and are a guided exercise. What do I mean by “guided exercise”? There will be someone proctoring the section who will most likely present one or two slides about the technology at the beginning; most likely a couple of slides produced by the Marketing department; and then he/she will hand out a little notebook with the script you should follow to implement the exercise. This is exactly what you will go through, a scripted exercise, designed to barely fit within the allocated time the section is supposed to run for; allowing you very little time to actually play with the technology. Moreover, NI tends to assign these sections to inexperienced Applications Engineer who have very little overall knowledge on the technology other than maybe taking support calls about it. What this means is that you will have very little opportunity to learn from the proctor, at the same time that won’t have much time to play with the technology and will be pushed to run through a scripted exercise the proctor will not deviate from to save his life. Does this carry value at all, you may be asking? The answer is, again, it depends on your expectations. My suggestion for you is; if you are planning to attend one of these hands on sections, try to prepare by studying as much as you can before hand and get to know what the technology is about ahead of NI Week. Once you get there, use the time you have with the hardware to try and answer the questions that you came up with during your prep time. You may also try to ask your proctor those questions and maybe get lucky that he/she happens to know the answer.
Now, I have saved the best of NI Week for last. Network, network, network. This year’s NI Week will probably bring over seven thousand attendees from all over the globe. Based on what business you are in, it may be an unique opportunity for you to be in the same spot where hundreds or more people you may have a business interest in are. To summarize, my overall suggestions for you about NI Week are:
- Do your homework and prepare ahead of time on the topics that interest you so you can bring your questions to both the technical lectures and hands on sections
- Don’t expect to walk out of NI Week as an expert in anything. NI Week is still much more about marketing NI products than necessarily teach the audience about them
- If you are ever in a position where you need to make a choice between either attending a section or go to a network meeting; take the meeting. Trust me, the return on your time investment networking on NI Week is a hundred fold higher than investing your time on the sections
Oh, one last thing. Drink lots of water throughout the day and once you are back at your hotel room at night. NI Week can be really rough on the liver.