At the recent AltiumLive 2017 event in San Diego, I sat down for an interview with Dan Fernsebner, Altium’s global head of technical marketing. Dan discussed the upcoming release of Altium Designer 18, as well as the company’s corporate responsibility for giving back to the industry and bringing more young people into EDA.
AltiumLive 2017 featured speakers such as Happy Holden, Dan Beeker, Charles Pfeil, and Tara Dunn, as well as a robot team competition. Hundreds of PCB designers were in attendance, soaking up information during the two-day event. The next AltiumLive event takes place October 24-25 in Munich, Germany.
BARRY MATTIES: We're here at the first AltiumLive 2017, and you just gave a presentation on Altium Designer 18. The thing that I got out of that, really, is that it's about speed, speed, speed. Everything is faster, faster, faster, and the slides said that you’ve made about 600 bug fixes.
DAN FERNSEBNER: Yes, absolutely. We got to reveal Altium Designer 18. It was really good to see everyone’s reactions and expressions. Yes, speed was definitely a key theme. If we talk about Altium Designer 18, the goal was high performance made simple, and that's one of our key themes. I think that in a lot of areas of design, it's all about going faster and maintaining the same level of quality. Hopefully, we also got across the easy-to-use aspect, which is one of the reasons we've made the changes to the new user interface itself.
MATTIES: It was really interesting the way you did your presentation. You had the older version, the last version, up on the screen next to the new version. Not only were you showing the speed, but you were showing not just that it was just easier, but intuitively easier.
FERNSEBNER: Yes. That was something that we really wanted to get across. It's easy to go in and introduce a new product and say it's faster, it's better, it's easier, all those things. But unless users have something to compare it against, it's just impossible. You can't realize it unless you see these things side by side, and so, our intention was to show the new version against the old one.
It's not that we want to make the old version look bad, because it's a great product. We have thousands of users on that, but we did want people to understand that all of the things that you've been asking for, all of the things that you've been telling us about, all of the problems that you've experienced, we've listened, and this is truly a user release.
MATTIES: When was the old version released, and how long did it take to develop the new version?
FERNSEBNER: We introduced Altium Designer 17 a year ago, but honestly, Altium Designer 18 was actually being co-developed at the exact same time as other versions. There are huge architectural changes that I alluded to as we are trying to prepare for the future. We were not only changing the platform to be 64-bit from 32-bit and taking advantage of multi-core and multi-thread, but also rewriting huge parts of the tool.
Traditionally, Altium Designer has been written in Delphi, and so, now we're starting to convert all of that code from Delphi over to C#, which is also a significant structural change. So, you talk about all of the product improvements, the bug fixes, changing the 64-bit platform and changing languages, and the magnitude of the release, the enormity, is just incredible.
MATTIES: What do you think is the greatest advantage someone is going to walk away with when they use this updated version, aside from the time benefit?
FERNSEBNER: I think traditionally, if you look at the ECAD space, the look and feel of the tools haven't changed very much and, to be honest, it's actually quite silly. Because if you look at modern technology, and we talk about being technology companies as far as the software implementations occur, this industry is actually quite behind. I think when new people come aboard and they realize how modern the product is and how easy and intuitive it is to use in comparison to all of the other tools that they're used to, it's going to be leaps and bounds beyond anything else that exists in the industry today.
MATTIES: Is the new product available now?
FERNSEBNER: It's not. It's actually still in the beta cycle. We’ve talked about how this is the longest beta period ever for any product. It's still in beta and right now, the tentative release date is the end of October, or beginning in November.
MATTIES: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like the reader should know about?
FERNSEBNER: I think one of the greatest things about Altium is that, if you look at a lot of our competitors, they really focus on the top tier of the industry, the top 500 companies and, honestly, mostly the top 50 companies that bring them revenue. I think at Altium, we're very passionate about our user base, as passionate as they are about us. So we focused on the guys that are the one-man shops that have one license. It's not just the big companies. It's also the little guys and all of their voices have equal opinions as far as we're concerned.
MATTIES: We’ve all seen how bringing young designers into this industry is proving to be a bit challenging. How are you approaching that?
FERNSEBNER: Yes, it's funny you bring that up because it has a really special place in my heart. When I was in university, I actually belonged to the Solar Car Club Team, so I know how hard it is to get design tools, and to get sponsorship for different things. That's always been a huge area of focus for us, so we invest in the academia space quite heavily; we provide free tools to all of the different academic clubs that exist out there.
We want to make sure people are using industry tools, as well as providing free tools to the maker space and the hobbyist as a whole, with free tools like CircuitMaker. The capabilities of CircuitMaker are actually quite extensive, and completely free of charge because, once again, it's our corporate social responsibility to invest in this industry, and bring new engineers up through the ranks.
MATTIES: And it really builds a loyalty, too.
FERNSEBNER: It does. Obviously, there is a brand loyalty aspect of it. But, again, it's not as important to make them customers as it is for them to understand that we care about the things that they do. We care about where it is that they come from, and we're just as passionate about making things as they are.
MATTIES: That goes back to your corporate culture.
MATTIES: I visited your facility about a month ago, and I was quite impressed with not just the layout, but just the general vibe in your office. People were just happy to be there in the break area with the food coming in. The whole community aspect is phenomenal.
FERNSEBNER: Yes, it's definitely a great corporate culture. I always joke and say we're a 30-year-old startup because we started back in 1985 along with some of these other EDA companies. But as you witnessed, the culture internally is just as important as is externally, because what you portray internally is what you portray externally. Those things have to be aligned. They have to match, and that's very important to us.
If you're just passionate about making money and succeeding in your profession, then Altium is probably not the company where you want to work. But if you're passionate about designing, engineering, making things, and innovating and bringing technology to the next level and contributing to the technology that's really changing the world now, then Altium is a great place for you to be.
MATTIES: Great. Dan, thank you so much for spending time with us.
FERNSEBNER: Thanks so much.