PyCon and NI Connect

I recently attended both PyCon and NI Connect. Here are some thoughts and a comparison.

PyCon and NI Connect
Casey, Arash and I at NI Connect. Casey and Ashish are part of our Mastermind group.

Over the course of 2 weeks, I went to both PyCon and NI Connect. I thought I would share my experiences here.


Why go to conferences anymore, particularly in-person ones? What do they offer? Honestly, on a personal level, part of it is just getting out of the house. I've got 2 little kids. They are very demanding. A small vacation, even a work vacation, is a nice break. Also, I like people and the energy that comes from meeting people in person. With all the remote work going on lately I miss that face-to-face interaction. I have a lot of old friends that I want to see and new people I want to meet.

A side motivation is that PyCon was in Pittsburgh this year, where I used to live. So I have a lot of friends there to visit and reminisce with. It's also close to my family so I have a chance to spend time with my parents and grandparents. My grandparents are in their mid-90s, so who knows how many more times I'll get to do that?

Why PyCon?

I have a variety of reasons for learning Python and going to PyCon. Part of it is hedging my bets. Like most LabVIEW Programmers, I have reservations about LabVIEW's longevity and am hesitant to tie my boat to the NI ship. I feel much better about NI and the future of LabVIEW than I have in the recent past, however, diversifying my skill set is still a high priority for me. It's also not an "either ... or ..." proposition for me. Before, I've written about integrating LabVIEW and Teststand with Python, so I view it more as expanding my toolbox than replacing individual tools. LabVIEW isn't going anywhere in the immediate future and Python is a nice addition. LabVIEW programmers leave a lot of value on the table by collecting a bunch of data and then turning it over to the Python programmers for analysis. Why not do it all ourselves or at least do a better job of integrating those features?

Another reason to attend Pycon is marketing/networking related. Attending PyCon allows me to expand my network outside the LabVIEW ecosphere. A larger personal network outside of NI will offer me a lifeboat if the NI ship eventually sinks. It also exposes me to a lot of new ideas that I can then try and bring into the LabVIEW ecosphere. Even more importantly, for many of the people I met at PyCon I am the only LabVIEW Consultant they know. So if they run into a situation where they need to integrate Python with LabVIEW and TestStand or they encounter a company that is dead set on using NI software and needs help, hopefully, they'll think of me. Contrast that with NI Connect where everyone I talk to probably already knows dozens of LabVIEW Consultants and NI partners. It is much easier to stand out at PyCon.

Along those lines, I got to meet several important people in person. My long-time LinkedIn friend Jason McDonald, author of Dead Simple Python, is now head of OWASP community relations. I attended a short workshop Jason gave on threat modelling which was quite interesting. If you are into security, Python, or just software engineering in general Jason is a good person to know. I also got to meet and have some conversations around training with Reuven Lerner, a Python trainer who wrote Python Workout and Pandas Workout. Naomi Cedar and Al Sweigart were also there and somehow I missed talking to them. I also met plenty of interesting interesting new people who I hadn't heard about before.

Why NI Connect?

When it comes to deciding whether to go to NI Connect or not, I really have several hats on.

As a LV Enthusiast and LV Champion of course I want to go to NI Connect. I want to hang out with other LV enthusiasts, many of whom are close friends, and I want to hear all the latest and greatest LabVIEW news and features and attend what was the Champion's Track - I think it is now the Software Essentials track or something. Of course, NI Connect is not NI Week and that hasn't really changed. As a LabVIEW developer wanting to go to NI Connect for developer content, I need more of a justification.

As a Consultant, it's a little easier to make the case to go to NI Connect. It is supposed to be more targeted towards business development, which is good. If I get one lead out of it, then it is worth it. Last year as a consultant I felt left out, so I was hesitant. However, based on feedback from myself and Allen, this year looked promising. NI was looking into setting up a consultant booth similar to the NI R&D booth, where customers could come and ask questions and be matched up with a Consultant. They were also looking at some sort of speed dating to let consultants get to know the NI sellers. Both of these tipped the scales in favor of attending.

Another factor that I considered is that this is the last year for the Austin Convention Center. They are tearing it down. Next year NI Connect will be in Fort Worth. They announced that at the conference. Going into the conference I wasn't sure what the future of NI Connect would be. I was afraid it might be the last one so that added some motivation to attend.

Overall Impressions


I really enjoyed PyCon. I did not attend the entire conference (just the main portion - more on that later). I met a lot of really great people and had some great discussions around general software engineering and security. There was quite a focus on web technologies and data analytics and machine learning. There was not much about building desktop apps or talking to hardware.

I did see one interesting presentation about hardware. The presenter worked for Grand Coulee Dam and they ordered a new turbine that did not have the ability to jog it and they needed that ability for maintenance. His solution involved 2 Raspberry Pis controlling a couple power supplies and a local wifi network with a web app he could run on his phone. The Pis used MCCDAQ hats (made by Digilent, which is owned by NI) to control the power supplies. I thought it was an interesting solution.

I also enjoyed the charlas - talks in Spanish. They gave me a chance to practice my Spanish and most of the topics seemed interesting. I split most of my time between the charlas and the open space with a few visits to the Expo Hall.

I spent most of my time not in the scheduled presentations but in the open space. Many of the scheduled talks felt more like marketing, whereas the open spaces felt like more genuine conversations. I went to a variety of open space sessions. Some even had nothing to do with Python. I went to one on mob programming, one on maker projects with Raspberry Pis and Arduinos, one for outdoor enthusiasts - climbing, hiking, biking, etc, one for aerospace enthusiasts, one for security threat modeling, and another for security vulnerability reporting. They were all interesting in their own ways.

I did hold an open space to talk about using Python to talk to hardware. A few people showed up. There were a couple of engineers from SRAM collecting data from various tests. They were more on the data analytics side. The data capture was more of an afterthought for them. There was one guy who was rabidly anti-LabVIEW. Others in the room shared his sentiments. I had to duck everytime I mentioned LabVIEW.

Like NI Connect, there was also an Expo Hall. They had a variety of sponsor and community booths there. I got to talk to the people from JetBrains, who make PyCharm. I also got to talk to Ruven Lerner about his Python training. Lots of other big, well-known companies had booths there as well. They also had a poster section, where people who had something to say and didn't want to present could create posters. There were some neat ones there, particularly one about programming an embroidery machine to do fractals.

NI Connect

Overall I felt NI Connect was underwhelming. It had lots of potential and it didn't really live up to it. I oscillated between being excited about some of the
announcements around LabVIEW and disappointed with the Partner Program.

With my Consultant hat on, I'd refer to it as NI DisConnect. The Ask a Consultant booth didn't go because there wasn't enough interest on the consultant side. That surprises me. I'd have thought there'd be lots of interest. The speed dating apparently went well, if you could get in. There was some confusion over the process for getting into that. Despite following the directions on the slides I was sent by NI, they did not receive my application. So both of those were complete duds for me. I am glad that the speed dating did happen and that some people had very positive results. Hopefully, it happens next year and I manage to get in (if I go).

With my LV Enthusiast/LV Champion hat on, I liked what I heard coming from NI. They seemed to be saying the right things, which is not new for them. Saying the right things has never been the problem. This time there were some actions. Some of them seemed to be NI taking credit for getting out of its own way, solving problems that it created, like the perpetual and student licenses. Open Sourcing the Icon Editor is a good solid step. Hopefully, that will lead the way to open-sourcing other parts of LabVIEW. The backwards compatible editor is also a good step in the right direction. Putting Eli in charge of the community is another good decision. He's got a good plan and lots of energy. I know all about his plan because I saw it 3 times. Part of what lead to that was that it was hard to determine what session to go to because the presenters weren't named in the app. Overall I'm skeptically optimistic about the future of LabVIEW, whatever that means. I certainly feel more optimistic than I did in January.


Looking back on the 2 conferences, the biggest difference was the level of enthusiasm. I didn't pick up on it at the time, but looking back it was obvious. At PyCon everyone was very enthusiastic and wanted to be there. There was a sense of optimism. At NI Connect, there was a lot of complaining and skepticism. The NI employees were pretty upbeat and everyone else just seemed like they were going through the motions. I did notice one or two customers who were there for the first time and seemed rather excited, so not everyone was subdued.

Another big difference for me was not knowing much of anyone at PyCon. I felt much more anonymous. It was easy to move around. At NI Connect, I was constantly running into people I know and getting stopped in the hallway for various conversations. I found it very hard to make it to any sessions. I was constantly getting distracted.

For some commonalities: The format for each was similar. Keynotes in the mornings. A variety of sessions throughout the day. An expo hall with sponsors and various community groups open throughout the conference. They were both about the same size. PyCon posted that there 2500 or so attendees. It felt similar in size to NI Connect.

What can the LabVIEW Community Learn from PyCon?

There are a couple things that the LabVIEW Community can learn from Python. The first one is Open Space. I really like the idea of doing more open-space events. I feel like it puts the attendees in charge of the content as opposed to the organizers. I saw the GDevCon Euro people are doing a huddle and I know the NA people are planning some open discussion time. We also did some virtual open space for the LabVIEW Consultant Summit this past year. I'm super excited about seeing more open space events in the future.

After the main session at PyCon - I only did the main session, so I missed this - there were several days of sprints. The conference reserved a bunch of rooms and paid for lunch. Any open-source project could reserve a room. Anyone who showed up to contribute to the project would get a free lunch and have the maintainers of the project there to help them contribute. I think that would be a really cool thing for the LabVIEW Community to do.

Before the main session there were some additional paid workshops. I also skipped these at PyCon. There have been a few of these types of things at various GDevCons. I think that is a great thing that we should keep doing and I'd like to see even more of it. It would be nice to have several workshops to choose from.

I did like the Poster idea. It's a great way to present smaller ideas. There are 7x7s at the GDevCons (which PyCon also had - they called them lightning talks), however, some people aren't comfortable presenting. Making a poster gives them an opportunity to share some ideas without presenting. It also potentially gives the opportunity for someone who can't travel to mail in a poster and still get their ideas out there. I'd like to posters at some LabVIEW events.

What would you like to see?

What can we in the LabVIEW Community do to make events better? What type of activities, presentations, or events would you like to see?