Second to None: An Interview With the World's Fastest LabVIEW Programmer

Publish Date: Oct 02, 2012 | 13 Ratings | 4.92 out of 5 | Print | 1 Customer Review | Submit your review

What’s keeping you from coding fast? Your routine.

At least, that’s what Darren Nattinger proposes. The NI LabVIEW researcher and developer and five-time undefeated LabVIEW Coding Challenge champion lives and breathes the program. But that’s not what makes him fast. Nattinger understands which tools maximize the efficacy of LabVIEW system design software—they’re tips, he says, that anyone could adopt. “People fall into old habits, and it’s tough to change them,” he said. It’s foresight and flexibility that make a good programmer great.

Darren talked with NI News about his best practices and goals for the future of LabVIEW.

Darren Nattinger poses with his trophy outside of the National Instruments' main offices. 

In your opinion, what makes you so fast?
It’s not really a secret. Quick Drop. I’d say that’s the singular idea that makes me the fastest. People who are experienced and have an open mind love it. I think users who have fallen into the habit of using palettes need to force themselves to use Quick Drop, and most of them will discover it speeds up their programming considerably.

Navigating palettes is slow, even with muscle memory. That always really bugged me. Between sessions one day at NIWeek 2007, I thought “how could I make this faster?” I knew what I wanted to do. Why did I have to look in the palettes? I was able to prototype Quick Drop in about an hour. I posted the prototype on Idea Market (an older version of the Idea Exchange that was internal to NI) and people went nuts! They begged to have it in LabVIEW 8.6, and I convinced management to let me put it in.

Because Quick Drop has additional <Ctrl-Key> shortcuts for common editor operations, it can be used to facilitate faster programming for more than just dropping objects.

Are there any other improvements you’re working on now?
Navigating file dialogs drives me crazy. In LabVIEW, there’s a whole lot of ways to look for files. That whole process bugs me. Within the course of a day, I see about 80 file dialogs. That’s one bottleneck that I’d like to start fixing once I allot some time.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen a user bring up in the NI Community? 
One of our LabVIEW champions posted the idea of a free version of LabVIEW for students or hobbyists. You know those people who want to hook up everything in their house to a computer? LabVIEW would be totally great for them!

I was bummed when they shot down the idea that we could release a free version. How cool would it be if people could program in their spare time? If people used LabVIEW as a hobby, when they’re on the job they may be more likely to consider NI as a vendor. I think having people use LabVIEW on their own time would go a long way toward furthering us in the field. But, that may not happen for a while. It’s just that it’s a general enough language that people should be able to write programs to make it do whatever they want. My daughter is a perfect example. It doesn’t have to be just a thing for test and measurement.

So your daughter is into LabVIEW?
Of course. My 10- and eight-year-old understand LabVIEW. My daughter actually wrote a VI that describes Girl Scout cookies to users.

Nattinger's daughter, Echo, illustrated this shortly after learning to use MS Paint. 

Do you think graphical programming environments like LabVIEW will help kids in the future?
Yes! We’ve got lots of products that are targeted at kids and meant to help them program: LEGO® Education WeDo™ robotics, MINDSTORMS®, and FIRST for high schoolers (plus more in the pipe). The environment for MINDSTORMS looks unique, but essentially it’s a skin over the LabVIEW program. I think those types of programs facilitate the learning curve, so there’s not much of a burden when kids want to transition to programming in LabVIEW as, say, a high schooler.


Pretend you’re new to LabVIEW. What resources do you like?
The NI Forums are best. As long as you post a well-worded, well-thought-out question, you’ll get a good response quickly. For a more advanced user, lavag.org, an external blog that’s frequented by a lot of LabVIEW developers, is where complicated questions go and have the best chance of being answered. Those two run the gamut of most questions. If you have a hard time navigating the community forums, those would really help.

At my blog, I discuss pretty random topics at random times. And then there’s Darren’s Nuggets…People actually find those pretty handy. One of my colleagues, Christina, has a blog called Eyes on VIs. It’s got a little higher production value. She discusses a broad range of subjects, too. The NI field architects also have a great blog called Field Journal.

Norm Kirchner tries to use LabVIEW Speak also, where you can literally talk to the program to tell it what to do. One year, organizers thought he would beat me at the LabVIEW Coding Challenge using this feature for sure. He didn’t.

 

Interviewed By: Joelle Pearson 

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Author’s Note:

NI provides several ways for users and companies to access LabVIEW for a reduced or free cost.

Students can purchase at a reduced cost through Sparkfun (US / Canada Only). All students are also offered a discount when purchasing on our website.

Emerging regions can get assistance via PlanetNI

 

LEGO, the LEGO logo, and MINDSTORMS are trademarks of the LEGO Group. ©2012 the LEGO Group.

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Fun read!  - Oct 2, 2012

Man, is that picture on the bench the World's Fastest LabVIEW Programmer or a promo for the next Bachelor series? :D Seriously, +1 for Quick Drop and using the forums as a resource for ramping your LV skills to the next level.

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