Autodesk University 2005 from Sea Level

6 Dec, 2005 By: Cadalyst Staff

A visit to Orlando confirms my instincts about how the CAD manager's role is changing

Normally I write my Autodesk University status report during my plane ride back to Atlanta. This year I'm driving back from the Orlando, Florida, venue, so I'm writing my recap after a seven-hour trip on interstate highways.

Each year I've attended AU (since 1994), the conference has grown larger, more managerially focused and much more multidisciplinary. This year's AU was no different, as reported attendance grew to 5,700 from 4,400 last year. All manner of architects, engineers, designers, visualization specialists and CAD managers represented every slice of business conceivable, from all over North America, Europe, South America, Japan, Australia/New Zealand and India. Although it seems to be conducted in English, CAD business is definitely much more global now than in years past.

So, in no particular order, I'll share the trends and interesting tidbits I took away from Autodesk University last week. Here goes.

New Software?

This year Autodesk didn't show nearly as much of its new technology as it did last year. The company continued to talk a lot about how much attention you need to pay to managing your CAD files and sharing them with everyone, as it has done for the past few years. The buzz phrase "create, manage, share" was again part of every Autodesk presentation I saw during AU.

And although Autodesk clearly wants to sell its advanced design products, it's still cognizant of the role AutoCAD plays in the market. Company representatives leading the Main Stage presentation even went so far as to show off some new AutoCAD features that looked very much like a freeform 3D modeling and lightweight visualization tool. Could it be that AutoCAD will become more 3D even as Autodesk bills it as a 2D tool? We'll see in the coming year, when the full feature list of the new AutoCAD product is revealed.

For details about technology to come, as presented at AU, see Cadalyst's show report.

Demographic Changes

In addition to the elevated and more international attendance, I noticed a big increase in attendees from infrastructure and civil engineering disciplines, which pushed Autodesk Land Development Desktop and Civil 3D classes to standing-room-only occupancy. If I had to give AU 2005 a descriptor, I'd call it the Year of the Civil Engineer.

Architectural users were represented as always, and interest was evident in advanced architectural tools such as Autodesk Building Systems and Revit, as introductory-level classes were often full. I didn't detect an architectural stampede toward these new tools, but sensed that people are no longer hesitating to investigate these new technologies.

Mechanical users were well represented, with interests ranging from AutoCAD Mechanical 2D up through Inventor Professional. Mechanical users have traditionally been the most receptive to new technology, but they're getting a run for their money from the civil engineering community this year.

My general conclusion is that those who attend AU represent the leading edge of Autodesk's customer base and as such are a barometer of where the general CAD market is headed. The good news for Autodesk seems to be that its customer base is moving toward larger-scale adoption of more advanced design tools, even if AutoCAD remains the workhorse for the foreseeable future.

Is AU Worth It?

I ask this question every year, and I come to the same conclusion that AU is in fact worth it, for the following reasons:

  • There's no other place where you can meet and speak with so many other CAD managers. Even if you never attend a class, the opportunity for networking alone is worth the cost of admission!

  • So many short classes are available that it's easy to learn a lot of new information you never would pursue otherwise. Simply expanding your technical horizons can spark innovative new ideas.

  • Where else can you talk to so many other people who are trying to figure out the same problems you are, and then visit the very software vendors who can help you solve the problem?

We know our management will always want a cost justification for any conference we attend, right? Well, what would it be worth if you could solve a few nasty problems pestering your office while getting smarter at the same time? AU helps you map out solutions, thus justifying the cost of the trip, while invigorating your brain.

P.S. I should point out that other software vendors, including SolidWorks, Solid Edge and others, also hold user events that offer benefits similar to those found at AU. The trend away from general industry shows and toward user conferences that present practical, technical information with an emphasis on solutions is a trend all CAD managers should celebrate and pursue ruthlessly.

CAD Manager or Business Manager? You Decide

I spent a lot of time speaking with CAD managers regarding what I see as relentless pressure to drive more productivity on more CAD applications with ever-shorter deadlines. I was able to verify that it isn't just me who sees these trends: Nearly everyone who talked with me validated my read on the market:

  • Companies view productivity and profitability as the key drivers in today's market. It seems that the shape of global economies is good enough that everybody is busy, and companies want to get more done with the same number of people.

  • American and European firms are worried about global outsourcing, which only heightens the need to become more productive. There's a palpable fear that jobs in higher-cost countries will simply be lost to lower-cost markets unless efficiency methods are used to keep a competitive edge.

  • CAD managers are responsible for implementing the changes required to bring engineering, architecture and design fields up to speed. In fact, CAD managers who recognize and embrace this trend should do well this year!

  • Taken together, I believe these trends indicate that today's ideal CAD manager will be technically aware yet focused enough on business to make sure technology is applied to achieve productivity gains.

In Vogue: Technical Prowess

As CAD managers continue to handle more software in less time, they're increasingly taking productivity matters into their own hands. The percentage of CAD managers I talked to who use AutoLISP and/or Visual Basic remained at last year's high of about 70%. Technical classes at AU that emphasized programming and power-user configuration were again packed. In fact, many hands-on classes that emphasized programming were repeated due to elevated demand.

In today's work environment where you have to do more with less and drive productivity to new levels, what better approach than to roll up your sleeves and home-cook a solution using your own programming? I continue to believe that the more technical you are, the brighter your future. My experiences at this year's AU simply made me believe this even more than I did last year.

Economic Forecast from the AU Barometer: Very Good

As I conducted classes and fielded questions from stressed CAD managers, I made a point to ask attendees how the economy looked for their companies. Participants in three different classes generally indicated that things look bright for their companies.

Fast-paced economic growth certainly jives with pressure to get more done with less, which also explains why we're all going crazy trying to get the work done. Growth also explains the observed trends of exploring new software and new methodologies for getting work done. It seems clear that companies are looking for the next plateau of technology functionality, and economic growth is the driving factor. As CAD managers, we're simply the technology facilitators -- along for the ride as we navigate the changes.

I come away from AU feeling much more bullish about economic trends in North American markets and much less worried about outsourcing trends than I was last year.

Wrapping Up

This year's trip to Autodesk University has me convinced that 2006 will be a year of shifting priorities and hard work for CAD managers. We might be harried and pressured, but I believe we'll all have the opportunity to influence our companies.

I'd like to thank everyone who introduced themselves and attended my classes this year. It's great knowing that the CAD Manager's Newsletter is being read by so many people from all over the world. I'm always proud to hear from readers who've applied my concepts to enhance their careers or get a raise. I hope to provide more resources for working CAD managers in all fields throughout the next year of the CAD Manager's Newsletter.

I appreciate your readership, and I really value your input. Feel free to e-mail me about the industry trends you observe in your local markets. Until next time.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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