Schwerpunkte

R. Restle, Strategic Advisor to Digi-Key

Everything always easier?

16. Dezember 2020, 14:25 Uhr   |  Joachim Kroll

Everything always easier?
© Gorodenkoff /Adobe Stock

Randall Restle's keynote at embedded world conference 2021 will focus on modern embedded engineering.

Randall Restle has spent several decades leading technical teams and developing strategies to make developers' jobs easier. At embedded world Conference 2021, he will deliver a keynote on »Modern Embedded Engineering«. His message: Innovations for Makers also pay off for professionals.

DESIGN&ELEKTRONIK: Mr. Restle, what developer or customer groups do you differentiate between in terms of beginners and professionals?

Randall Restle: Nearly anyone can program an Arduino today - both beginner and professional.  Fewer can code a programmable logic device. A beginner is someone interested in electronics but who has not had formal training in electronics. A professional is someone who has had that training and is generally able to develop electronic systems from a lower level starting point. So, whereas a professional can develop with an Arduino, as many do, the professional is able to make something custom to what an Arduino can do and she can do this for a product to be made in mass production since she is more aware of the gotchas that a beginner could miss.

D&E: How big do you estimate the share of Digikey sales that makers make up?

Restle: Digi-Key has hundreds of thousands of active customers. Makers are those people who are not typically buying the same devices repeatedly. Makers are also those customers who are not buying production quantities of parts. Another generalization about the classification of customers is the type of online content they consume.  Digi-Key’s maker.io website is specifically provided for makers. Maker.io’s content is more tutorial and instruction-oriented. Finally, the size of an order can be used to distinguish the type of customer. There are, of course, gray areas here. Many customers do for themselves at home what they do for their employers at work so we don’t really try to determine who is what kind of customer. We try to serve everyone with as much technical content we think they value. We simply do not know what percentage of customers are makers but, considering that professionals are also a type of maker, I’d say makers are 100% share.

Digi-Key Randall Restle
© Digi-Key

Until June 2020, Randall Restle was vice president of applications engineering at Digi-Key Electronics. He currently runs his own business providing product consulting, development strategy and technical marketing to technology company executives.

D&E: Can non-engineers really develop electronics?

Restle: Now, answering this requires a definition of »non-technical« people. I recently listened to a podcast on »Amp Hour« featuring guest Clifford (now Claire) Wolf. C. Wolf created the first (as far as I know) open source toolset that is used to perform logic synthesis that works on commercial programmable logic devices. This tool is called Yosys and, having looked into it, it is very impressive. C. Wolf also deduced the format of the bitstream of Lattice FPGAs - an incredibly tedious thing to do. It turns out that C. Wolf does not have a degree from any university which might be considered non-technical but he/she is certainly technical.  I think perhaps interest and focus alone make someone technical or not. There are many autodidacts in the world like C. Wolf. Sure enough, people’s interest in technology might persuade them to get a technical degree from a university but, of course, someone can get a technical degree from a university who is not technical. I think being technical is in the heart.  In this case, yes, people can develop electronics with unconventional backgrounds but they are technical in my mind.

D&E: Are these developments real commercial products?

Restle: I certainly want to be operated on by someone who I know has passed his surgeon’s exam. When a commercial product is in an industry requiring safety or high cost, someone professional will have to be responsible for the technical integrity of the product. However, I think there are a lot of commercial products that will be made by non-professionals and I can provide a recent example but first let me point out that some commercial products will be those that other »amateurs« buy in order to learn electronics (e.g.: Adafruit’s feather boards). Here’s my example. My son is a surgeon veterinarian but, with me as his father, he likes embedded systems. He also owns a bulldog. A bulldog is notorious for respiratory problems so my son cobbled together a pressure sensor to measure the pressure waveform in his bulldog’s trachea. My son is not credentialed in electronics but the hospital employing him wants more of his trachea sensors to further their research. So, I think this is an example of an amateur developing a commercial product. If this product is popular enough, it could be mass produced and marketed perhaps as a kit.

D&E: Can you define a boundary between maker and professional?

Restle: A maker is someone who is able to use whatever complexity someone has provided them in the form of an integrated circuit, module, or system to construct something electronic without fully understanding how everything inside those circuits or modules work. Now, you could say neither does the professional know all those details and I would agree with you. The difference then between the maker and the professional can be characterized by the fact that a professional is hired by his employer to make design decisions for his company that may result in very large purchases of electronics for its products whereas the maker is not.

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1. Everything always easier?
2. Making electronics development easier

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