An interview with James Truchard (Dr. T) and Jeff Kodosky, co-founders of NI, on our 40th birthday as a company.
When did you know you wanted to be an engineer? And how did you meet?
Dr. T: “I was one of the Sputnik kids. Sputnik had just been launched in 1958. I graduated from high school in ‘60. And Wernher von Braun, the big hero of the US program, was a physicist, and so that meant I wanted to be physicist, too, not really knowing what physics was or what it was about. So I got a bachelors and masters in physics. Working at the University of Texas, I realized that, you know, you have to really, really be smart to be a great physicist because it’s very hard. Plus they had all these mysterious particles that they talked about and I couldn’t always see them. So I gravitated towards more pragmatic things in engineering and started designing circuits. The last year of my masters, I was working full-time. Then I continued to work full-time at the lab and in seven years, one course at a time, I got my Ph.D. in electrical engineering.”
Jeff: "I didn’t! I thought I wanted to be a physicist, a theoretical physicist.”
Dr. T: “Jeff came to Texas when Texas was really the star because we were building the Super Collider and a lot of funding was coming to Texas, and everyone was excited about what physics could do. I distracted Jeff from his career as a physicist.”
Jeff: “I grew up in New York, but I had this professor who said, ‘Apply to UT Austin, they’ve got a great graduate school in physics,’ and so that’s what brought me down here. I started as a TA at and then discovered I didn’t like teaching, which should have been the first sign that I was in the wrong career. I’d heard about Applied Research Laboratories (ARL) because I knew they hired lots of students part-time there. Dr. T interviewed me and hired me, and so, basically, Dr. T is the only person I’ve ever worked for. When I started to work at ARL, that’s when I got exposed to the PDP8 and started thinking about software. Prior to that, programming was just Fortran or assembly language…it wasn’t very interesting. But when I got to play with the computer myself, that’s when I guess the engineering side started coming out. I realized it’s a lot more fun building things than theorizing about them. I would say I was probably more a computer programmer than anything else, and Jim came up with lots of ideas, and has always comes up with lots of ideas, and we would work on experiments together.”
Dr. T: “We started meeting early '76. We made a list of ten different projects we could do…and then we voted, which I view as a very random process for deciding. We said, ‘Okay which is the best idea?’ and we picked the instrument interface. I always say that was lucky because it was right between computers and instruments…what better place to be if you want to revolutionize instrumentation with computers? It gave us access to a customer base of scientists and engineers. You know, in the rearview mirror, it all looks very simple, like success just came to us without any effort, but there were 23 companies making GPIB controllers in that timeframe when we started the…Hewitt Packard had HP2000 computers with interfaces to them and we essentially saw how we could do the same thing for the PDP11, and that’s what we did.”
When did you get your big break?
Dr. T: "In November of 1979, I started full-time and I went on a sales call that first week with our rep up in New England. We visited Brown & Sharpe, had a very cordial visit, and it looked like they were going to use our product. When we got home, we had gotten a $90,000 order for this bus extender. And so we built it, we shipped it, and with the profit, we bought Jeff a PDP11 44 computer and a $20,000 copy of Unix operating system…”
Jeff: “..and we were off and running.”
Dr. T: “We were off and running. And then, two years later we get a call from the purchasing agent saying they had made a mistake. They were supposed to get a quote, not place an order….so, that’s where I came up with my saying, 'nothing beats dumb luck,’ and of course don’t exclude it. That really kick-started us, allowed Jeff to buy his computer, us to start full-time, and also for me to buy the reference books I wanted. I splurged at the end of that year to buy reference books. “
Jeff: "To clarify, When I started working for Jim it was '73. It was '76 when we began this big measurement system project at Applied Research Laboratories (APL), and that’s also when Jim mentioned someone could start a business building an interface that would connect HP instruments to popular computers. So, we were working full time at ARL on this massive measurement project for the navy, and then moonlighting on NI to get it going— designing and building GPIB boards. We started designing one board in the spring and shipped it that fall. That was design, development, debugging, manufacturing…all while we are moonlighting. It boggles the imagination to see what we were able to accomplish in that short time!”
The National Instruments Engineering Impact Awards recognize engineers and students who excelled in developing systems that solve problems across a range of categories.
The 2016 Engineering Impact Awards received nearly 100 submissions from almost 200 authors around the globe. NI’s technical panel of experts reviewed the papers and narrowed it down to just 15.
And the winners are…
2016 Customer Application of the Year
The University of Bristol and Lund University used the NI MIMO Prototyping System to test the feasibility of massive MIMO as a viable technology for bringing greater than 10X capacity gains to future 5G networks. In doing so, they implemented the world’s first live demonstration of a 128-antenna, real-time massive MIMO testbed and set two world records in spectrum efficiency.
Their massive win at the 2016 Engineering Impact Awards must be another new world record, as they took home five separate awards in recognition of their 5G wireless achievement!
Not only did Bristol & Lund win the 2016 Customer Application Award of the year, they were also the winner of the Wireless Communications Award, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Big Analog Data Award, the Xilinx FPGA Award, and a special Engineering Grand Challenges Award sponsored by NI’s Dr. T himself for their commitment to grand engineering challenges.
Congratulations to PhD student Paul Harris and Steffen Malkowsky for their success at the 2016 Engineering Impact Awards!
Taking home the Transportation and Heavy Equipment Award for their amazing work with cross rail and having worked with Bombardier on this project, is Frazer Nash UK.
Authored by Senior Consultant, Colin Freeman, the paper explains how model-based design techniques were used to optimize everything from requirements capture and validation, through design and on to validation and verification testing, at a sub-system and system level.
The test facility Train Zero uses NI VeriStand and PXI for both integration testing of train systems and validation of the models, allowing any changes made to models to easily be revalidated in the same environment they would be running in later.
Congrats to Colin Freeman! Train Zero won Transport category in #NIWeek 2016 Engineering Impact Awards
The proud owners of the Intel Internet of Things Award are V2i from Belgium. They created a real-time measurement and diagnostic tool to determine welding quality and avoid unplanned production stops due to weld tearing developed with help of NI’s CompactRIO hardware and several sensors.
There were many more amazing projects this year that inspired us about the social impact of engineering! Every year we are blown-away by the creativity, especially that of the young engineers, so NI shines a spotlight on these bright and talented people in theStudent Design Competition Award.
But this year’s winner was University of Leeds with Project ALAN. This multidisciplinary team are helping stroke-survivors regain lost muscle control with a commercially-viable, robotic rehabilitation system.
Team ALAN with the people who helped make it happen!
Check out all the category winners and finalists and read their award-winning papers here: http://bit.ly/2bmP3nu