Scott Rust explains National Instruments’ ‘can-do’ approach to research and development

3 mins read

Scott Rust is an imposing figure – standing at 6’8” to be exact. He heads National Instruments’ global research and development efforts and joined the company some 25 years ago.

That length of service is not that uncommon at NI,” he suggests. “At a recent anniversary dinner to mark those who had been with the company for 25 years, there were nine employees alone from R&D celebrating. In the team I lead, the average length of service is 18 years.”

Rust’s career at NI started with him joining as an applications engineer in 1990, having graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University. Since then, he has held positions across R&D, strategic marketing and applications engineering.

“Everything at NI is about team effort; it’s a highly collaborative environment, but one in which the focus is always on delivering the best solution. Decisions can ‘turn-on-a-dime’, with the focus entirely on providing the best solution. What is so refreshing is that there are no barriers to ideas; they can come from anyone at any level.”

According to current figures, National Instruments spends around 16% of its revenues on research and development each year.

“That sets us apart from many of our competitors,” said Rust. “Our over-arching aim is to drive growth and to maximise that R&D investment. We aim to provide the best test and measurement platforms and look to marry that investment to real market opportunities.”

During his time at NI, Rust has been involved in the development of PXI test system products and been responsible for the global development and strategic direction of PXI measurement products ranging from signal generators and digital multimeters to PXI platform products, including PXI chassis and controllers.

“I have seen considerable change at NI and had the opportunity to work across a variety of departments, such as marketing and R&D, as well as having been involved with numerous standards bodies.”

Rust help to found the IVI Foundation, an alliance formed to address the gap seen by military/aerospace and large commercial electronics test developers for interchangeable virtual instrument drivers. He has also chaired the Instrument Driver Technical Working Group as part of the VXI plug&play Systems Alliance.

These initiatives helped establish NI as a leader in instrument driver development as well as in standardisation.

But, says Rust: “The creation phase is, for me, the most exciting time to work in a business like NI, especially when you are working with ‘cool’ technology and great customer insight.”

At the heart of any successful project is the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, Rust explains. “You really need to be able to share ideas and that is at the core of our platform approach. Our aim is to accelerate productivity, innovation and discovery.”

Rust believes passionately that ideas need to be mixed up and discussed.

Quoting NI cofounder Jeff Kodosky – considered the ‘Father’ of LabVIEW by engineers and scientists worldwide – Rust says: “I never had an idea that wasn’t made better by sharing it with someone else. They give it a different perspective.

“Another thing you cannot do is to operate in a silo. While people need to be stretched and challenged, the goals set need to be achievable. There is certainly an art in striking that balance.”

While Rust is named as the inventor or co-inventor on seven patents, he has also played a significant strategic role helping to establish a centre of excellence for design and development in Malaysia.

“At that time (2010), I was running NI’s modular instrument hardware and software teams in the US. NI was looking to make a bigger play in Malaysia and I was selected to head up the team looking to scale up our presence.

“A key reason behind the decision to locate a R&D capability in Malaysia was the need to be able to access engineering talent. It isn’t easy to hire the best talent in the US – competition is intense – so we need to be able to access it globally.”

Rust moved to Penang in the winter of 2011 and returned two years later.

“My world view before I went was pretty limited,” Rust concedes, “but those two years in Malaysia were ‘awesome’. I miss it.

“NI’s model is to hire out of college and for people to grow with the company. That wasn’t possible in Penang, so we had to recruit at all levels of experience if we were to scale the business up quickly. It meant blending different cultural perspectives, which I think we did very successfully – within five years, the Penang operation has become a key resource within NI.

“Our work there was helped by our platform approach. It forces us to collaborate.”

On his return from Penang Rust was appointed senior vp for R&D and has played a key role in aligning NI’s marketing, manufacturing and product portfolio to better understand the latest technology trends and has regular technology exchanges with key suppliers.

“What you have to remember is that we want our customers to be able to talk to any instrument over any bus. So, while we love LabVIEW, we don’t want to restrict our customers in any way.

“We want to be the company that says yes to its customers.”

Scott Rust

Scott Rust leads NI’s R&D vice presidents in driving product development.

Since joining NI in 1990, Rust has held positions across R&D, Strategic Marketing, and Applications Engineering including Vice President of PXI Test System Products for R&D.

He founded the IVI Foundation and also chaired the Instrument Driver Technical Working Group as part of the VXIplug&play Systems Alliance.

He is the inventor or coinventor of seven patents.