This post was originally published at Walking the Wires
It is hard to believe that Delacor got its start almost 10 years ago. We did not set out to ‘build a great team’, or ‘build a company’, or any of the usual slogans that seem to come out from corporate behemoths. Rather, Fabiola and Luis realized (more like ‘were hit in the face with the fact that..’) there was a need for competent, self-driven, resourceful engineers. It also helped immensely if said engineers were proficient LabVIEW developers.
As the years went by, Fabiola realized she had a knack for LabVIEW, and little by little she became first a CPI, then a CLD, a CLA, a LabVIEW Champion, and then a rockstar. A couple of years ago, Chris and Fabiola started talking, and realized they had several common interests. Not only was Chris also a CLA, CPI and LabVIEW Champion, he also had lots of complementary experience, such as his previous work in aerospace and TestStand development (Chris is a CTA as well). Luis was too dumb to do more than acquire-analyze-present, and decided to stick with analog circuit design, which is way easier than large LabVIEW applications.
In the early days, as we tried to get leads from the NI sales team, they would always ask ‘what is your specialty?’ We never had a good answer beyond ‘LabVIEW’. They always expected an ‘NI-centric’ answer like “compactRIO”, “Real-Time Systems”, ‘PXI’, or even “medical devices”. Today, after having worked with a few of Delacor’s customers, and having interacted with hundreds more through my previous corporate job, I have come to realize our specialty really is “Engineering Consulting”. As generic as that sounds, what makes us different is that we have the experience to help customers be successful in whatever project they are working on. Of course, we happen to focus on LabVIEW, not because of LabVIEW itself, but because LabVIEW makes engineer’s jobs easier.
A common theme in the LabVIEW community is “there are no such thing as LabVIEW consultants; they’re all contractors.” This is mostly true. The vast majority of folks working with LabVIEW are either large alliance members that focus on turn-key projects, or individual ‘consultants’ that work as programmers-for-hire. However, we really are different!
Rather than focus on writing world-class code, our main focus with our customers is to teach them to write world-class code. Of course, this often also involves writing code ourselves. In fact, customers may sometimes insist on it, since they trust Chris and Fabiola to come up with the right architecture, and if needed, implement everything from scratch. We are happy to oblige, but customers that get the most out of our relationship are those that realize we can also teach their own team how to be self-sufficient.
Teaching someone LabVIEW is easy. There is a certain list of things they have to know – loops, objects, globals, locals, etc. (can you tell this is being written by a hardware guy??). However, teaching someone good engineering practices is hard! Not because the concepts are hard, but because it requires getting the person to believe in their heart that the ‘extra work’ they must now do, such as implementing source code control, managing reusable code, writing good documentation, etc., will actually pay off in the long term.
We have experienced the pain of not following our own recommendations, either in our own early projects, or through other customers, so we can make strong case as to why our recommendations are the best way forward.
Luis takes a similar approach on the hardware consulting side, but it sometimes requires more hands-on work. Some of our customers have a great hardware product idea, and either have early prototypes or need someone to help them implement their idea in hardware. For those that don’t have hardware engineers on staff, we can help them build prototypes from scratch (including circuit design, schematic capture, printed circuit board (PCB) design, testing and validation, etc.)
Figure 1. …Yeah, we do hardware, too…from scratch if needed!
We also work with customers who already have prototypes but would like to make sure their designs will scale to production quantities. We conduct schematic, layout and bill of materials reviews, not only to make sure their hardware will work beyond the prototype stage, but also to help them understand any weak areas in the design and any areas where they can save money by optimizing their bill of materials.
Finally, some of our customers hire us as ‘trusted advisors’. We may not necessarily do any circuit design or testing, but rather work with their engineering team to review critical design decisions. Our customers know we are not emotionally invested in the project, so we can be the voice of reason when their own engineers are so focused on meeting a deadline that they are tempted to take shortcuts or implement solutions that will have long-term consequences.
At Delacor, some of our friends complain about not keeping our personal and business lives separate. We are proud of the fact they are one and the same. This is who we are. Our goal is not to win million-dollar contracts or to “meet quota” with our hardware sales (in fact, we try to stay away from those, since we provide relatively little value there). Our goal is to make our customers successful by taking their most challenging problems and teaching them how to solve them. This is why we typically don’t work on ‘racks’ or other turn-key projects. There is no better high than telling a customer “Yes, not only can I help you figure this out, I can teach you how I did it so you can figure it out on your own next time.”
So, next time you hear “There aren’t any LabVIEW consulting companies out there” you can say you know at least one!
As my favorite Englishman and my favorite Mexican like to say, Happy Wiring! (both the virtual and copper kinds)
 “Experience” is a nice euphemism for “I have done what you are trying to do, screwed up along the way, and learned from it, so I can tell you how to do it without the pain.”