This week, Altium Designer 19 will be officially launched to the public during AltiumLive, which takes place October 3-5 in San Diego. I asked Altium COO Ted Pawela to give us a preview of Altium Designer 19, and to explain how AD19 fits in with the company’s long-term plans. He also discusses Altium Live’s plan to provide PCB design content that is not vendor-specific to help support the entire industry, not just customers.
Andy Shaughnessy: Ted, tell me a little bit about the AltiumLive event and why somebody should consider attending.
Ted Pawela: Sure. When I joined Altium 2 years ago, I was really impressed with the pace at which people were adopting Altium Designer. Today, Altium Designer is by our count the most widely used PCB design tool in the world. That’s an amazing and powerful community of users. I also was very attracted to the mission of the company as stated by our CEO, Aram Mirkazemi, when he explains Altium to our investors and shareholders. While he of course talks about financial objectives, like how we want to be the leading PCB design software company, he is very consistent in talking about transforming the industry by connecting the domains of Design, Parts, and Manufacturing. I am drawn to that as a sort of “grand challenge” for our industry, yet I know that no company can do that alone. It takes a community, and where better to start than with the biggest ECAD user community in the world.
The challenge I saw was that we had no way to connect our users together, along with other stakeholders in PCB manufacturing and supply chain, to play a role in transforming the industry. We can't just put out great software and expect that's going to change everything. In order to do this, we've got to rally this whole community of people, whether they're on the fabrication and assembly side of things, in a supply chain, or they're people who are involved in design and creating products. We've got to get this whole community of people together to begin to talk about the issues and challenges that we face. How do we put together all the minds of the industry to try to solve these challenges?
AltiumLive was born out of that concept—to bring the electronics design community together. We felt that there is no other industry platform for that to take place, and given the number of users that we have, we had a natural opportunity to do so.
As far as why someone should attend, first and foremost, because you have an opportunity there to learn. Our keynote speakers are recognized industry experts like Lee Ritchey, Eric Bogatin, and Rick Hartley. We have a set of professional development courses covering topics including things like layer stack up, routing techniques, multi-board design, and many other practical topics for designers. There are technical presentations from other users, and this year we have added a University Day up front where people can take Altium Designer training courses. So if you come, I guarantee you will learn something valuable that you can take home and put to work.
Reason number two for attending connecting with other people in the industry to learn that you're not alone in your challenges. Other people are trying to solve them too, and you have an opportunity, even if not in a classroom setting, to have those conversations about how others might approach these kinds of problems.
The third reason is to be inspired. We're going to feature some really interesting people and companies. Jeremy Blum from Shaper is going to be there and will talk about, as an engineer in a start-up, how he went about designing, manufacturing, and launching a brand-new product that is cool and super innovative. We also will feature some of the University teams that Altium sponsors at competitions like Hyperloop that represent the next generation of electronics design engineers. These young engineers are doing amazing things that have caught the attention of Elon Musk and other industry leaders. AltiumLive is a serious opportunity to get inspired by what others are doing.
So learning, connecting, and getting inspired – this is both the tagline we use for the event and the reasons you would come to AltiumLive.
Shaughnessy: I heard that last year’s events contained a lot of design classes that were not vendor-specific, which is pretty nice.
Pawela: That's right. We have sessions on high speed design featuring Lee Ritchey and Randy Clemmons; signal integrity with Eric Bogatin; HDI technology with Susy Webb; system-level design thinking with Jeremy Blum; EMI with Rick Hartley; there are too many more to mention them all here. And hopefully you’ll notice that these are not Altium speakers—these are recognized industry experts. As you suggested, they are not talking about Altium Designer; they’re all talking about the very principles of designing electronics and printed circuit boards. This isn’t a sales event. It’s a PCB design community event.
And as a design community event we also try to put a spotlight on the “why” behind the work that we do, stepping back for a moment and saying, "Why is that important?" It's not just about putting out a product and so your company makes money. It’s about the way the work we do through electronics design can literally change the world. A great example of that will be a feature that will take place at the show. We have an organization called Project Vive from State College, Pennsylvania. They are a team dedicated to making electronic speech generation devices accessible to the huge number of amazing people who due to disabilities, are not able to express themselves through speech. Their “Voz Box” system allows those individuals to literally have a voice. I love the idea that an engineers and designers have an opportunity to really make a difference in the world.
Shaughnessy: That's nice to see electronics having such an impact. And you also have fun events like the robot challenge, as well.
Pawela: The idea of the robot challenge is that we will take people a little bit out of their comfort zone. Let's say that, for example, SpaceX sends five people to AltiumLive. The robot challenge is a team-based challenge and you work to put something together. It's kind of like a solving a mission, but those five people won't be working together. We're going to break them up and have them work with other people at the conference, so they have a chance to get to know each other and work together a little bit and form new friendships and new connections.
We saw last year that it was striking on day one how everybody looks at each other a bit cautiously, stays close to their company peers, and don't necessarily make strong connections. But by the morning of day two following the robot challenge, everybody knew each other and everybody had that experience in common and the dynamic was totally changed. It was like you now had 250 friends all around you who were interacting in a much different way. They were really connecting in meaningful ways as friends and as colleagues.
The other thing that's associated with the robot challenge is a cause that's related to our industry. Last year we donated all of the robot kits that we used to to the San Diego Fab Lab, who run workshops and summer camps for kids, particularly kids who don't have those opportunities through their schools. This year Project Vive will be our beneficiary, and depending on how well our teams do, Altium will donate money to “give voices” to some people in need.
Shaughnessy: Also, I know you all are releasing the new Altium Designer at the show.
Pawela: We are. This year we will launch AD19 (Altium Designer 19) at the event. AD18, AD19, and AD20 are three releases that are planned together with the intent being that they would give us capabilities that we didn't have, particularly those geared towards high-speed design. They're not exclusive to that, but in achieving those capabilities there will be things that will be beneficial to everyone. So for example, you'll see major enhancements to routing this year that we need for high-speed design, and in the next release as well, but everybody will benefit from that whether they do high-speed design or not.
AD18 was largely about modernizing and improving performance, putting in place the 64-bit infrastructure, which made Altium Designer faster and more responsive. It also changed out some of the underlying technology that had to be improved to make it a more reliable, stable product as well as a better performing product. So while there were some features in AD18, it was really largely about a more modernized user interface and new, more modernized technology underneath all that.
In AD19, we’ve focused on 5 key areas: performance and stability, library management, routing, high-speed design, and 3D/multi-board enhancements. All of these were areas important to both our existing and hopefully, future users.
Shaughnessy: Is there anything we haven't talked about you’d like to add, Ted?
Pawela: Yes! From a product perspective there’s something else – something big. This year we're going to be introducing - in addition to Altium Designer 19 – Altium 365, our cloud-based platform for collaboration that will be a true first step in connecting manufacturers, designers, and the supply chain together in a really simple but impactful way. We're really excited about that, and we're convinced that it's not a solution to the problem, but it's the first step towards going after that problem.
And one last thing I would say is that last year, being the first event, we approached people and said, "We want you to come to and present and talk about your work." We obviously had success in getting people to do that. But based on the success last year, this year we actually had a lot more people asking to participate. So the lineup of people that we have this year we're really proud of and pretty excited about. I feel like this year's lineup is even better than last year's lineup, and so I would just emphasize that. And it's really all the people who are coming, whether they're presenting or they're attending, those are the people who will make this event. It's really not Altium and what we say. It's all of them. So this year, I think it's a really fantastic lineup.
Shaughnessy: And then a couple months later, you're going to do it again in Munich, right?
Pawela: That's right. This is intended to be a a global event, but we know it's hard for people to travel. We were really happy with the fact that last year we had people who came from all over the U.S. out to San Diego to be a part of AltiumLive, and I know that's the case this year as well. We will do it again in Munich, because obviously that cross-continent travel is expensive and time-consuming, so we'll do it again there, and we'll have a little local flavor in terms of the presenters, but largely the same format. And then if all goes well, maybe it will be next year or the year after, we hope that we will also do the same in Asia. But for this year, San Diego and Munich, and we’re looking forward to a great turnout and sold out events in both locations. There's still an opportunity to jump in and participate in the conference, but the university day has been sold out for a month already - it's really amazing.
Shaughnessy: I heard Lee Ritchey’s talk is sold out.
Pawela: Yes. We had to expand the space a couple of times and go back to the facility and say, "Can you help us out in getting a bigger space because the demand has outpaced our expectations?" And Rick Hartley is going to be teaching 175 people in his courses. Rick’s a pretty amazing guy and this is a great opportunity for attendees to learn from one of the true experts in the industry.
Shaughnessy: Is there anything else you’d like to mention, Ted?
Pawela: I always like to highlight what Altium represents, what our brand means. What I really love about Altium is that we think about the engineer first and foremost. We’re not trying to “sell higher” into companies and drive top down decisions; we are engineers – myself included - and we focus on connecting with engineers. AltiumLive is a really good expression of that. This is really about helping these guys and gals that not everybody is paying attention to. I believe in that. Empower the engineer and good things will happen.
Shaughnessy: Thanks for your time, Ted.
Pawela: Thank you, Andy.
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