The Alpha of Beta Testers

14 Mar, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Masanobu Higashino devotes his free time to hunting down bugs and honing his SolidWorks expertise.

At SolidWorks World 2013, held January 20–23 in Orlando, Florida, Dassault Systèmes honored the users, partners, and resellers who participate in the annual SolidWorks beta-testing program. "[They are] a special group inside of our user community," said Fielder Hiss, SolidWorks vice-president of product marketing and product management. These volunteers put each release of the software through its paces before it is released to the public, identifying bugs and ultimately enabling a more stable final version. They can also participate in contests, attempting to earn the most "beta points" by reporting problems. SolidWorks awards these points based upon the severity of the issue discovered and the troubleshooting content that each problem report contains.

In the SolidWorks 2013 contest, one user's contribution to the testing effort really stood out. "I'm excited to say we have our first SolidWorks 'Triple Crown' winner," Hiss told conference attendees. Masanobu Higashino won all three Beta Awards on the user side, sweeping the SolidWorks Overall, Simulation Overall, and Enterprise PDM Overall categories. Higashino earned the most beta points in each category.

During the conference, I had the opportunity to meet with Higashino, deputy manager of the System Section at NOK Corporation in Japan, and learn his thoughts about the importance of beta testing. The interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter.

Higashino celebrates his win at SolidWorks World 2013. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks.

Cadalyst: Tell us about your position and how you got there.

Higashino: From childhood, I loved to put together plastic models. I studied mechanical engineering in university, and I chose to work at NOK Corporation because the company designs and manufactures car parts, among other things. Originally, I wanted to design parts, but now I'm the deputy manager of the System Section.

My position is similar to a CAD manager in the U.S. — I'm a CAD administrator, I make purchasing decisions, and I also train users, teaching different types of designers how to use CAD in the way that's best for their needs. In addition, the System Section manages the e-mail system, servers, etc.

When did you start using SolidWorks?

When I began administering CAD systems at NOK, I started with 2D CAD. We used CADCEUS, a Japanese CAD/CAM program, and MICRO CADAM. In 2002 NOK bought SolidWorks, and I began administering it in 2003.

We made the switch because the carmakers that are NOK's customers — such as Nissan — require 3D CAD data, so we needed to produce both 2D data and 3D drawings. If we used 2D CAD, we also had to create 3D data, which meant additional work. If we created 3D data in the first place, then the 2D was an automatic byproduct.

Why do you take part in the beta-testing program?

If I'm only using the final version of SolidWorks, it's very difficult to get bugs fixed that I find, except for the most critical ones. However, if I do the beta contest and find bugs, then the bugs will be fixed — not all of them, but many. Also, if I test the beta version, I can learn how to use the commands so that my skills increase before the final version is deployed to the users I support. This is important because SolidWorks has so many commands and functionalities.

I want to make SolidWorks better by doing the beta contest, but the beta version has to be tested by everybody, not only a few people. The attendees here at SolidWorks World love SolidWorks, I think, and it would be great if SolidWorks CAD could become better through their efforts. All of us, together, can make SolidWorks better.

How much time does it take?

During the 10-week test period, I spend more than 150 hours on it — all of which I do after work. It's my hobby. I think beta testing is like a video game: I get into the dungeon, find the treasure, and when I gain enough experience points, I get to do battle with the big boss.

Does your testing affect implementation decisions in your company?

Yes. I recommended that my design section install SolidWorks 2013, but my company has a policy to wait for the fifth service pack to be released before we complete the upgrade — that's typically the final service pack. One division of my company is starting to evaluate the 2013 release now.

Does your company use any other design software?

In my company, we have more than 200 designers. SolidWorks is the only 3D CAD system they use, but we also have additional software [so we can deliver data in the proper format to our partners, depending on what they require]. For example, Nissan uses NX from Siemens PLM Software, so we translate SolidWorks data into NX data [for those deliverables]. We also have Dassault Systèmes CATIA and PTC Creo for the same reason.

Do you participate in user groups?

I belong to the SolidWorks Japan User Group (SWJUG), which is a national organization. In my company, we have 4,000 employees but only two people with the same skill set that I have. If I go to SWJUG, I can meet people who have the same problems at other companies; I can talk to other people in my position and learn solutions.

How else do you spend your free time?

I do have a lot of hobbies other than beta testing: I play baseball and tennis, I read books, and I play the violin a little too.

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