Celebrate real engineering shows and conferences

I've just returned from the DesignCon event in Santa Clara, and it was a joy and pleasure for the engineering soul.

Why do I say this? Because DesignCon, as well as similar shows like the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) (April in San Jose) are about (can I say it out loud?) REAL ENGINEERING. The mostly modest-sized booths had exhibits on tools and techniques which engineers who are doing the work actually need. Among the exhibits were signal integrity tools, EMI modeling tools, connectors and interconnects for 10 Gbps links, IP verification and integration tools, high-end test equipment, specialty materials for PC boards, and ICs. In short, it was about the bits, pieces, tools, and infrastructure that are vital to planning, executing, and completing a project.

There are other conferences and events that are the complete opposite of DesignCon and ESC. Luckily, I did not have to go to January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. I certainly didn't need to, since coverage in the trade press (print and online) and the mainstream media was extensive. The show has morphed into a Las Vegas super-hyped event, with a noise level so high that breaking through the clutter becomes an all-encompassing goal for exhibitors.

Worse, for any vendor to break through the clutter requires luck, outrageous claims, publicity stunts, flashing lights, multimedia overload, buzzwords galore, luck, and maybe some leggy models thrown in the mix. Of course, there also has to be a lot of vaporware, some meaningless predictions about the industry in the next one, two, or five years, and even hollow press releases about new business partnerships that are little more than excuses to issue press releases and be semi-associated with big names.

Call me jaded, call me cynical, but I find the CES hoopla to be a detriment to the engineering spirit and the engineers who actually design and deliver. Since CES is all about faade and created appearances (like Las Vegas), it's at odds with the reality of the engineering world. That world consists of patiently working through the design problems and producing a reality that users can count on.

At the end of the engineering day in the real world, the product has to align with the promise and plans. Blowing smoke and flashing lights aren't enough. That's why events such as DesignCon and ESC are much more useful; they are the engineering version of a reality show.

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