“One of the things we’re seeing is that software is becoming such a bigger part [of the equation],” says Tim Barber, senior vice president of design chain business development with Avnet Electronics Marketing. “With the mix between hardware and software designers—there’s more of the latter now—we see a lot of requests [to help]customers get training so they can develop these products in a software environment.
Training and education are becoming increasingly important elements of the services that distributors provide, especially as design engineers demand more software and systems-based training. Today’s trend toward system-on-chip (SoC) design is a pointed example, and distributors are partnering with their suppliers to meet the growing demand for new information on the various programs available to engineers.
Avnet Electronics Marketing launched a series of three-day workshops based on the Xilinx Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoC Architecture this year, for instance, and has had to increase its number of locations for the in-person workshops from an initially planned 22 to more than 100. Avnet EM’s Tim Barber, senior vice president, design chain business development, says it is increasingly important to help customers integrate these new technologies in a hands-on environment.
Barber says the Xilinx SpeedWay Design Workshop series grew out of the distributor’s 2012 XFest training program, which trained more than 6000 customers worldwide. Also run in conjunction with Xilinx, XFest is a one-day training event for FPGA, DSP, and embedded system developers that takes place every other year. Avnet’s SpeedWay Workshops run from one to three days depending on the subject and are held in cities around the world.
“By the time they’re all done, we’ll train over 2500 customers in a hands-on environment, with boards, PCs, and Avnet instructors,” says Barber. “When we wrote out these Zynq SpeedWays, we only planned 22 locations. As of [February 25], we’re at well over 100 due to customer demand.”
He doesn’t see the demand for such programs and services slowing down, either.
“I honestly think that one of the most important value-adds for us will be in the area of education,” Barber says.
Electronic Design asked Barber to weigh in on these and other trends in customer training in late February. The following are excerpts from our conversation.
Electronic Design: What trends are you seeing in customer training needs today? What kinds of programs are customers looking for?
Barber: It’s interesting how things have changed over time. We see customers looking more for systems-level training. When we do [training] programs, we can train them on the FPGA, but also on how to interface the data converter [and] how you bring that up on the Xilinx solution, for example. What we really focus on is how those products work in a system-level solution. [We focus on] all the key technologies the customer needs to enable their design.
Electronic Design: Do you find that customers are driving the new trends in training or that you, as a distributor, are doing so?
Barber: It’s really a combination. Any time we talk to a supplier today about a new product introduction they will always want to talk to us about what [we can] do to train customers. We have over 1000 FAEs [field application engineers] worldwide to tell us where customers are struggling. We can then create the training to suit the market needs.
Electronic Design: Do you find that customers are looking for training and education in a particular technology or discipline? Or perhaps in a particular product group?
Barber: One of the things we’re seeing is that software is becoming such a bigger part [of the equation]. With the mix between hardware and software designers—there’s more of the latter now—we see a lot of requests [to help] customers get training so they can develop these products in a software environment.
Electronic Design: What other trends and issues are you dealing with when it comes to training and education?
Barber: System-on-chip and all the software enablement around that will be interesting trends to watch…. We’re also looking at how we operate globally. How do we deal with some of the language issues around training, for example? The speed of the Internet in some areas is an issue for us, too. For example, China’s Internet is so slow. Some of this on-demand training [we offer] is quite large, so the training experience for that customer in China will be different from what it will be in Munich. Those are technology issues we’ll have to think about as we roll out these training programs.