The economy finally seems to be recovering in these early days of spring. Now it's time to raise your periscope and take stock in your position after months of almost silent running. This past year's tough economic climate has forced many companies to trim staff, reconsider all products under development, and ask employees to do more with less. Another byproduct of the poor economy and catastrophic events of last September has been low attendance at industry conferences and symposiums.
That's not good. These very events serve as a sure barometer of the industry. If you want to stay abreast of technology on a first-hand basis and gauge the industry's pulse, you must partake in at least one conference per year.
Reading trade publications like Electronic Design will provide you with a wide range of information relating to industry developments and design techniques. However, information flow is unidirectional and there's no interaction to clarify items or expand on specific details. In general, though, trade publications will deliver a summary of the latest market activities.
But the industry doesn't stay still, and even if your product is moving forward at breakneck speed, some other company's device may just beat it to the table. Furthermore, although it might be hard to justify taking time away from a project to attend an industry conference, you can gain a lot from such events.
Attending a good conference and carefully listening to technical papers and keynote or plenary presentations provides what I call a "grounding." The presentations, and audience participation, usually yield a good perspective on the state of the technology. Additionally, a walk through the exhibition area generally offers a solid view of reality versus pie-in-the-sky.
But those activities are only the first advantages of raising that periscope every once in a while. An even greater benefit comes from the face-to-face contact made between you and your peers—design, application, and product development engineers—and even product marketing people who represent the companies exhibiting at the event. By talking to them, you can start many ongoing thought processes that eventually lead to alternate solutions and a better overall product.
I find that attending a conference is like walking through the aisles of a veritable supermarket of ideas. As a designer, your challenge is to cherry-pick the best ideas and technologies, then find ways to leverage them and improve your product or application. It could be a new architecture, a new component, or a new algorithm that makes the difference in your project. You may even encounter a new feature that wasn't previously thought of, or else rejected due to misperceived market need.
So, release the ballast and rise to at least periscope depth to look around and make sure no one is coming up from behind. I urge you to set your sights on some events and go.