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To the Moon and Back

In Focus
NAME:Eric Starkloff
POSITION:President & CEO
The testing facilities of global technology leader NI are behind a dazzling array of innovations across multiple industries. For CEO Eric Starkloff, its success comes from a pioneering desire to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

NASA’s groundbreaking Artemis missions will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon as part of an elaborate strategy of deep space exploration by an alliance of nations.

It will involve establishing the Moon’s first base camp and the learnings will inform the next extraterrestrial expedition for humankind – a piloted journey to Mars.

The AI technology involved is among the most sophisticated ever developed and is the result of years of intricate, methodical laboratory trials that have reformulated theories and enabled teams of scientists to create new solutions to meet the challenges of the next few decades of space travel.

“We value our relationships with organizations that are defining the future of an industry.”

Many of these strides in space travel are enabled by a company in Austin, Texas, which provides provides test and measurement solutions not only to NASA, but also to corporations seeking insights into everything from electric vehicles and 5G wireless functionality to high-performance batteries, industrial machinery and fighter jets.

For more than 40 years, NI (formerly National Instruments) has developed automated analysis and measurement systems for some of the world’s biggest technology leaders. Its advanced software and cutting-edge test facilities are invaluable in harnessing innovation to build tangible business strategies for real-world scenarios.

And a few pertaining to other worlds.

The Power of Tech

“We get excited by using the power of technology to solve problems that will shape the coming decades,” CEO Eric Starkloff tells The CEO Magazine. “There’s all kinds of fun science going on in our labs that’ll advance our knowledge. That really inspires me.”

NI has earned a reputation for showing businesses how an idea that solves a seemingly insurmountable problem can be worked up into a testable prototype and eventually into a tangible business plan. The more thorough the approach, the more productivity can be maximized.

Making Meaningful Differences

“Early on in my career at NI, I got to launch one of our early software products, which was incredibly successful in automating test systems and was used in virtually all the world’s cell phones in the late 90s when that sector was really taking off,” Starkloff remembers.

“One of the reasons I’ve stayed here so long is that we don’t just have great products, we have such great people, too. That’s how we help customers make a meaningful difference in the world with the technology they create.”

Starkloff regards the companies that seek his services as partners rather than customers. NI also provides training for those who’ll be working with the new product as well as ongoing technical support as it becomes integrated and manufactured.

“We value our relationships with organizations that are defining the future of an industry,” he says. “We learn from each partner and make sure our own technology development is on track by investing heavily in R&D that will achieve the optimum outcomes for our customers.”

Disruptive Strategy

Starkloff joined NI as an application engineer more than two decades ago and took over as CEO in 2020. His leadership has become defined by a strategy built on harnessing disruptive technology to gain unparalleled insights that will inform development decisions and ultimately get products to market more quickly.

With machine learning being integrated into ever more industries and applications, NI’s expertise has never been more in demand, something Starkloff is using to steer the company into offering a greater range of services.

“When I took over as CEO after 20 years here, my vision was to really push our software-connected approach, which is unique in our industry, and use it to drive more business-critical outcomes for partners,” he says.

“When I took over as CEO after 20 years here, my vision was to really push our software-connected approach.”

“Right now, in our labs, we’re testing an amazing AI-driven test assistant using GPT-4. You can talk to it about your system and it’ll tell you about the hardware and software you have, and then develop a test program.”

The approach has fueled growth over the past three years and significant gains in market share.

“Historically, we had more of an internal focus on products and technology, but now we have development road maps to track what our partners want to achieve,” Starkloff explains.

“For example, how can Qualcomm use our testing facilities to reduce the duration of product cycles and get its silicon into production much more quickly? How can General Motors increase the speed at which it gets high-performance batteries into the marketplace? How can Allegro MicroSystems build semiconductors that power electric vehicles?

“The list goes on and on. Answering those sort of questions has been a big part of our transformation and success.”

Passion Projects

Another initiative that has enthused the changemakers at NI and delivered astonishing results is a program for long-term innovation that allows engineers to spend extra time developing speculative, new technologies that they feel passionate about.

Starkloff’s own passion for engineering stems from when he was still in elementary school and built a wind tunnel to test his model airplane designs. He also learned coding so he could write choose your own adventure stories on his first computer.

“We’re very fortunate to enable some of the most important technology in the world.”

Today, he mentors student engineers who share the excitement he felt all those years ago. He also helped found Urban Roots, a sustainable agriculture program transforming the lives of young people in Austin.

He still believes that nothing is more compelling than witnessing the new inventions and data science that will unlock all our futures – something NI has mastered.

“We’re very fortunate to enable some of the most important technology in the world,” he enthuses. “Working with NASA on sending humans to the Moon in the next couple of years is obviously incredibly motivating for us all.”

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