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Last year, Altium launched its AltiumLive event with shows in San Diego and Munich, Germany. Far from typical user group meetings, these conferences offered instruction for users of any PCB design tool, Altium or otherwise. Hundreds of designers attended the events in 2017.
This year, the event has expanded to include an extra day of classes. Altium is gearing up for the San Diego event in early October and the German show in January 2019. I recent spoke with Judy Warner, director of community engagement for Altium, about what designers should expect at both shows, and how the company can build on the success of the 2017 events going into the future.
Andy Shaughnessy: Judy, you have a couple of AltiumLive events coming up, so why don’t you give us a few details? I understand there's one coming up in San Diego in October.
Judy Warner: That’s right, October 3−5 in San Diego, and one in Munich, Germany in January.
Shaughnessy: I know that last year’s inaugural event did better than you all imagined. What are some of the things that we can expect at the San Diego event? Who are some of the speakers and what are some of the things you have planned?
Warner: You're right. We're only a few weeks away from the San Diego event, and we're working hard to make this a great show. Our basic goal is to provide an event that is for PCB designers. Of course we'll roll out a couple of products, but we stand for offering resources to all of the designers who are hard-pressed for time and bandwidth, whether Altium users or not.
The keynotes we've lined up are fabulous: Eric Bogatin of Teledyne LeCroy, and the famous (or infamous) Rick Hartley, the signal integrity guru. Then, we’ve book-ended Eric and Rick with a really up-and-coming young gun, Jeremy Blum, who was part of the team that helped develop Google Glass. He has a huge YouTube channel and web presence. He branded himself when he was very young and did lots of Arduino stuff, and all kinds of cool things. Now Jeremy is with a startup called Shaper Tools, and they make a handheld CNC tool. There are 11 circuit boards integrated into this handheld tool, and it’s super cool. He is such a sharp, young designer. He's going to make everybody feel good that we will actually have some designers to fill the older designers’ shoes.
Then on the other end of the spectrum, we have Bil Herd, who was one of the original architects of the Commodore 128. He was on a first-name basis with Steve Wozniak. They were going to war with Apple back in the day, during the dawn of the first home computers. Bill will have some fun history, and crazy Wild West stories. I feel like we all sort of stand on the shoulders of people like Bil Herd.
Shaughnessy: So, this year you've added one more day to the show.
Warner: We did. Last year, I have to say that we did a good job of not promoting ourselves and allowing users to present professional development courses. Really, if you weren't an Altium Designer user, you could come to AltiumLive and still benefit. But, we did such a good job that the exit surveys told us, "We want a little more training on Altium Designer." So we’ve added a third day on the front end called University Day, and I think we have 12 tracks that just dig into the tool. In parallel on that day, Lee Ritchey is also teaching a high-speed design course. University Day ends with a book signing by Happy Holden, who is back for his second year.
So, on the first day, you have some deep meaty content, and then over the next two days, you've got routing practices, stackup, material selection, HDI, flex, and all kind of things, with user tracks or supply chain tracks. So, it's just packed with great information. And the most fun thing that we do is a robot build and battle, which everybody loved last year. Open the bar and let them build robots. It was a blast.
Shaughnessy: I understand that you had a few hundred PCB designers last year.
Warner: Yes, we did, with 250-plus designers in each location last year, which tells you there's a hunger for it, and we're hoping to hit 500 or so in San Diego this year. It'll probably be around the same size in Munich. But, time will tell.
Shaughnessy: We don't ever see 250 designers at a trade show, even at conferences that cater to PCB designers.
Warner: You don't because, again, it's not really just for them. It's always mingled with fab and assembly because, from a trade show perspective, you can get more money out of capital equipment people for a big trade show than one PCB designer. He's kind of been disenfranchised.
Shaughnessy: It sounds like you're trying to help IPC and these other organizations serve the designer. What are your plans?
Warner: Our goal is to build a design community. I did a podcast with our COO, Ted Pawela, in which he revealed Altium's long-term plans to actually build some things into our tools that will create continuity between design fab and assembly, which are notoriously disconnected, and there's a lot of time wasted and misunderstanding and frustration in that process. So, we're going to talk about that, but our ultimate goal is to build a community that can open up the dialogue. I'm glad the message is getting out that this really is for all designers. The high-speed course with Lee Ritchey is sold out. University Day is packing up, so early registration looks really good. I think we're going to see a vertical spike in registration.
So, we're going to bang our drum and roll out Altium Designer 19. But we're also going to give the first sneak peek into our vision, and some of the acquisitions we've made to help facilitate that, but we're not going to do this in some egotistical way. We need to serve our community so that we can continue to build a sustainable business and do these great things.
Shaughnessy: Right. And it helps that you’re doing the event in San Diego, for one thing.
Warner: It's on Coronado Bay. The hotel has water on three sides. It's glorious, and because of the size of our event, I think we'll pretty much dominate the hotel, so it'll be like camp for PCB designers on Coronado Island. It's a geek-a-thon!
Shaughnessy: What can the European attendees expect at the AltiumLive event in Germany?
Warner: Munich is basically the same event as San Diego, just being held in Munich. We had a wonderful event there last year. It was so well-received. We've got our sights set on making San Diego our flagship event and then in Germany, if all goes well, perhaps we can expand that into other areas, to make it more easily accessible for people. This is just our second year, so right now we're just trying to get the message out and explain what it is, and what's available. I've sold to designers and engineers my whole career, and I have a lot of compassion for them. So, this job is just a dream job for me. I love it.
Shaughnessy: The good thing is, designers are getting recognition as being important in the company. When I first started, they were the red-headed stepchild, and in some companies they still are.
Warner: Totally. I love that this company loves being the champion of the underdog designer, because we think that person is the glue that holds it all together.
Shaughnessy: Designers are the hub of the wagon wheel, as Mary Sudgen said.
Warner: We're really glad to have you guys covering both events this year, because you all did a phenomenal job last year in San Diego and Munich.
Shaughnessy: I look forward to seeing you in San Diego. Thanks for your time, Judy.
Warner: Thank you, Andy!