SAN JOSE Calif. – Shortly after Dr. James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky, two cofounders of National Instruments Corp. (Austin, Texas), were honored with the lifetime achievement award at the UBM Electronics ACE awards on Tuesday (March 27) that sat down with EE Times to discuss 35 years since the formation of their company.
The company has grown from humble beginnings to one with a billion-dollar in revenues in 2011 and 6,200 staff. But for the first three years of its existence Truchard and Kodosky were working at the University of Texas on a sonar test system while also working on their degrees and running their own company. Their fellow cofounder was Bill Nowlin.
Truchard recalled that the University of Texas Applied Research Laboratories had a contract with the U.S. Navy which they worked on during the day. They were using mini-computers to process data from numerous instruments and they decided to create a product that would make that more efficient, a GPIB interface for a PDP11 computer. GPIB for general purpose instrument bus had been invented by Hewlett-Packard Co. as a means of controlling lab instruments and was also known as HPIB and was selected because it offered the highest performance and the lowest latency available at the time.
At lunch times and they would cross the road to the newly acquired office to answer National Instruments' customer service requests.
As a result of this moonlighting activity Truchard didn't join National Instruments as a full-time employee until 1979 and Kodosky joined in 1980.
"It was 1983, when we ported GPIB to the PC, that volume took off," said Truchard. "It was also when I asked Jeff to come up with a way of automating the measurements. We wanted a programming language that would do for instrumentation what the spreadsheet had done for finance."
LabView was launched in 1986 as a programming language based on structured dataflow methods but with the unusual feature of having a graphical interface.
"We took the Macintosh computer, with its graphical interface as an inspiration," said Truchard. "We didn't launch LabView on the PC until 1992. So when we were doing I/O and data acquisition boards for the Mac we had no competition. When we released it on PC we took the world by storm. That was September 1992," said Truchard.