The Element 14 road test program is awesome. Where else would you get the opportunity to be sent some amazing bit of tech to play with? And all that is asked in return is that you write up what you found. Simple. Fair. In fact it's better than fair. As a road tester I think we definitely get the better end of the deal. But it is a deal.
I've done a few road tests. Some big. Some small. No matter how excited I am about the product, there's always a slight sinking feeling when it arrives. An "oh - this is going to be a fair bit of work" sort of feeling. I've got loads of other stuff I really want to do too. Work's busy. The kids always need taking somewhere. Sure, I've said I'll do it. It's just that now I'm faced with it, it seems bigger. A bit like the diving board that doesn't seem high when you're looking up at it from the ground but sure does when you're looking down. If you're feeling overwhelmed then I'm going to convince you there are a few good reasons to take the leap.
Why it's in your interest to complete your road tests
1. More "free" stuff
OK. I'm going to appeal to your more basic instincts first. You've got lucky. You've been selected to road test something cool. You know what happens if you get that road test done? Potentially more stuff to road test in the future. There's some story about a goose and a golden egg. I forget how it goes, but you know the one.
I've taken a look back at the road tests that I applied for over the years, and the ones I was selected for. I applied to road test an oscilloscope not too long after joining and wasn't selected. Looking at the application I can see why. I did however road test a few development board after that - mostly TI stuff where I was in my comfort zone. I put some effort in to those road tests. I made sure I got them done on time. Later I was amazed to be selected to road test an RTM3004 'scope. Rohde & Schwarz Oscilloscope Kit RTM3K-COM4 - Review
Even if you only really care about getting "free" stuff, it's worth putting a bit of time into writing up your road tests. It can lead to more stuff. Maybe bigger better stuff.
2. Don't be that guy
You made a deal. You agreed to put some effort into a road test. Element14 fulfilled their side of it. Now it's your turn. It does take a little more effort than you might think to do a road test, but you've agreed to do it. Taking advantage of people's trust may give you a short term gain, but long term it catches up with you. Don't be that guy.
3. You don't really know something until you can explain it
When you play with a piece of equipment. When you read a datasheet. When you run someone else's sample code.When you do these things and go "oh yeah, I know how that works". You have some idea, but you often realise that you don't really get it when you try to write it down. Einstein is often quoted as having said:
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
It turns out Einstein never actually said either of these. Nether did Richard Feynman. It doesn't matter. It's true anyway. The act of preparing and writing your road test will teach you loads about the product your looking at. You're more likely to have a genuine grasp of it and using it will be part of your mental toolbox.
4. Presenting your ideas is a valuable skill that can help at work
Most of us could probably be classed as very skilled and technical. Maybe a bit geeky. However a lot of us geeks can be a bit lacking in presentation skills. It's no good being a genius if nobody gets it. Developing the ability to write clearly and concisely and to get your ideas across to others is really valuable. Maybe you'll be asked to present a solution to your colleagues or your boss. Maybe you know what needs to be done but you're not great an convincing others of the merits of your ideas. Writing up a road test helps you hone those presentation skills.
I'm a software developer, so electronics and embedded development isn't directly related to my job. However, I've done presentations to my colleagues on these sort of subjects - often at lunchtime with pizza provided. I've done other presentations that are a little closer to work topics too. It definitely helps you when you want to get ideas across to management or prove you're the guy to promote. They fit well on your CV as the extra stuff that proves you have a bit more to you that just the skills they listed in the job spec.
5. Evidence of your abilities can help you get a job
I know that when I'm interviewing candidates there can be a lot of people who would be OK at the job. You need to be the one that stands out. And a lot of interviewers will check up on you before you even get in the door, so it's good if you can point a potential employer to the things you have put out there. Better that than them just looking and finding whatever they find.
I'll give you an example. As I write this there's an Azure Sphere road test open for enrollment. I'm wondering whether my C# web developer colleagues who are familiar with Azure would be interested in finding out more about Azure Sphere. They are unlikely to have even heard of it. If I road test one, then that might form the basis of a presentation. Should I decide to change jobs, I'm very likely to be discussing Azure in a job interview. Having published an article (i.e. a road test here) on an aspect of Azure that the other candidates have never heard of - that's bound to go down well.
Things I have found make it easier to do road tests
I you were wavering then I hope I've convinced you that putting the effort into road tests is a good idea. However, there are ways to help with that effort.
Plan it in advance
If I'm interested in a product then I'll almost do the skeleton of a road test when writing the application. I'll find out about the product. I'll find out what features the manufacturer thinks helps their product stand out. I'll work out what aspects I will be looking at. If there's an IDE, tools or documentation then I'll probably download them. I'll make notes that I can follow later if I'm doing the real thing. It's surprising how much you can actually get started on without the hardware in your hands.
By this stage you'll hopefully know what you want to do and what you'll be capable of doing. Maybe you'll decide this road test is not for you after all.
Be clear what you are capable of
Don't over-promise. I've applied for road tests for some complicated devices. I've been clear in my application what I can do and also what I can't. For instance, this was part of my application for the Digilent Zybo Z7 + Pcam 5C - Review
My road test will be written from the perspective of a relative newcomer to the Zynq which I hope will appeal to E14 members with a similar level of experience with programmable logic. However, if you're after someone with extensive knowledge of video processing to show the strengths of the product then I'd say I'm not the right choice for this road test.
I was clear on what I could do and what I didn't feel I could. I'd rather I wasn't selected if my road test would never be up to the standard that was expected. On the other hand, I knew that if I did what I said I would then I'd have fulfilled my obligations. There's a bit less pressure when you know where the goal is.
Ask for help if you need it
There are so many helpful people here on the Element14 community. If you need help with your road test then people will be more than happy to help. Your fellow road testers may well be coming up against similar problems. In a recent road test that I did for the NXP PN1750 there was a fair bit of discussion between the road testers on some problems we all had. Integrating NFC with the NXP PN7150 It really helped getting all of us moving towards completing our road tests.
Well, I hope this convinces some of the road testers who might be tempted to let their contribution slide that it really is worth trying just a bit harder to get things over the line. It really is worth the effort!