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The Onsite Programmer

Jun 7, 2011 11:34 AM, By Patrick Barron

Defining the role of the newest AV team member.

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A programmer may not be able to crimp a Cat-5 cable as quickly as a seasoned installer, and they might not be able to terminate BNC connectors with the same speed and efficiency, but they should still have a basic knowledge about installing a system. When a programmer is onsite, one of the most important tasks he or she has to accomplish is checking the functionality of a system after the software has been loaded. If there are problems and something doesn’t work right, typically the cause is one of two issues: It could be a software problem or it might be hardware or wiring issues. Of course the installer is always going to want to point the finger at software issues, but the programmer has to be able to look at the hardware and identify if the problem really is software or if there is a hardware issue. Without a solid understanding of all aspects of installation, the programmer and installer would end up at the jobsite just looking at each other and waiting for the other one to fix their problem. Having this knowledge will enable the programmer to work with the installer to identify all potential problems and complete the system.

A programmer needs to understand the role of a salesperson and should be able to act as a salesperson. The programmer should work with the salesperson in determining the cost involved for the system programming. Understanding the process the salesperson goes through will make interacting with this team member easier. When working with sales for the first time, it would be prudent to take the extra time to talk with the salesperson in depth to understand the process their company uses. Knowing the processes and policies of a company is necessary to quote a system accurately. Some jobs will require the lowest bid possible up front, but change orders can be created as necessary. Other jobs, particularly government projects, will require a fixed contract so all potential costs have to be allocated up front because in some cases no change orders are allowed. However a particular job is handled, the programmer should know the expectations of the sales side of the job in order to bid properly.

Emerging Trends

One of the biggest areas where a programmer is more involved now than in the past is dealing with audio systems. With the advances in digital audio processing, the line that divides control programming and audio system design has grown thin. Many integrators think of programming as anything that has to be configured or set up with a computer. There are programmers that know almost nothing about how an audio system works, yet they are given the task of designing and setting up the configuration of an open-architecture digital audio processor. To be a well-rounded and versatile programmer, knowledge of audio systems, and digital audio in particular, is more important now than ever before. Emerging trends in digital audio and video will take this convergence of control, audio, and video even further in the future. A programmer now can be found wearing the hat of an audio system engineer and designer almost as often as they can be found acting as a control system programmer.

As much as audio systems and control systems are converging, this type of convergence is never more evident than the conflux of technology between control systems and computer networks. The IT specialist used to be the only one that knew how to set up and configure equipment that would reside on a network. Control methods today use the network to communicate just as often as RS-232, infrared, or any other traditional communication method. Knowledge of network configuration and setup is vital to any successful programmer. Not only is basic IP and network knowledge used in the normal course of writing a program, the network infrastructure and how pieces of equipment interact with each other on the network is a key component of a successful system. The programmer is relied on to provide this information to the rest of the project team. The programmer is also the key member in communicating with the client’s IT specialist to coordinate all issues relating to the network. It is important that the programmer have the necessary knowledge to communicate effectively with the client in order to avoid any problems that might arise with sharing the same network.


There are many ways to get training in the areas outside of traditional programming. InfoComm International offers a vast number of training courses in all aspects of the project integration process. The InfoComm CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) program awards a certification for well-rounded knowledge of all aspects of the audio video and project process. Many manufacturers offer courses that not only explain how their particular products work, but they also teach about general principles in the field associated with the product. A programmer should get as much training as possible in these fields to have the best chance to be successful. By understanding the role of other team members, a programmer will be able to perform their own task to a higher degree of success.

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