The Early Years: Growing Pains

November 29th, 2010

Having a template in place for the annual general meeting, Jay Reinhardt and his administration from 1991 began refining the bylaws, smoothing out the annual general meeting and finding new ways for the membership to get benefit out of the organization throughout the year. The newsletter (which would eventually expand into our current publications) took a huge leap in its effort to present new information to the membership directly from Autodesk, provide information on all the current local user groups, alert members to AutoCAD-related events held around the country, and put into place voting procedures that made it possible for the organization to stay consistent from Board to Board. NAAUG began taking a serious interest in ways it could help local user groups to succeed, and to invite speakers for the annual meeting who would really impress, inform, and entertain the membership.

Phil Krieker remembers the stickiest issue dealt with that year was discussion and treatment of other CAD programs in the organization. Many AutoCAD users had no choice but to work with two or more CAD programs determined by clients (such as AutoCAD and Microstation). Several members wanted to establish a SIG (special interest group) for those AutoCAD users who had to use other CAD software in conjunction with AutoCAD. Autodesk did not take kindly to this and the idea was scratched.

What remains most memorable though about the 1993 annual meeting was the fact that John Forbes and Autodesk introduced to the AutoCAD user community the first version of AutoCAD for Windows. For most of us, this was our first exposure to Windows, and the ramifications of a GUI were overwhelming. Discussions in the evenings were intense and heated as people began reevaluating their current operating systems and versions of AutoCAD. This was also the first year that Autodesk really pumped out the raffle prizes...people won copies of AutoCAD, 3D Studio, and other software and hardware that had the attendees drooling. Basket lunches were provided for everyone with great tin drum music to boot, a few informative speeches were made by some of the lunch sponsors, and a fun "casino night" was held outside following the first day's meeting. This created opportunities again for users to relax and meet other users who used the software in similar ways.

The year 1993 was a tough year for NAAUG. The organization had been wildly successful in the eyes of Autodesk, third-party developers, and the membership, but Phil Kreiker and his new administration were suddenly asked, "What are we all about after the annual general meeting is over? If this was to be a true user group, did it have a function outside of this successful yearly gathering?" To answer these questions, a great deal of time and energy went into creating appreciable membership benefits, such as the annual resource disk: a compilation of utilities, drivers, patches, and programs to enhance Autodesk software (primarily AutoCAD). It set the format and purpose for our current annual CDROM.

NAAUG scheduled its first major road show series, hitting Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles with regional meetings supported by the local user groups in each of these cities. The road shows included several well-delivered presentations by Autodesk employees on the latest software and technology coming from Autodesk, and NAAUG provided two sessions at each site on the purpose and benefits of joining NAAUG and their famous Wish List session. Attendance was typically over 200 people per site, and in the eyes of Autodesk's Americas Marketing VP Godfrey Sullivan the events were successful both for Autodesk (who sponsored the road shows) and for NAAUG officers who attended. A grueling five-day schedule (yes...five days, five cities...we were beat!) but it proved to AutoCAD users everywhere for the first time that NAAUG was not limited to the San Francisco Bay Area.

To further answer Phil's call to provide ongoing benefits to the membership, the NAAUG Telecourse Program was created and implemented. For the first time ever, members who could not attend the annual general meeting still had a way to learn from each other about new ways to use existing software, to network on discipline-specific issues involving the software, and to be exposed to new features in the latest releases. The telecourses were offered on CompuServe and PCGnet (a BBS-based modem network at the time) making it possible for everyone, regardless of budget or work hours, to still participate in NAAUG programs.

Additionally, Autodesk and Miller Freeman Publishing expanded the educational elements of the NAAUG annual meeting into the event we now know as Autodesk University. This event was incredible; the amount of organization that went into developing a real curriculum for which "students" could register was phenomenal. For the first time NAAUG attendees could take long tutorial hands-on lab sessions and the events were held in the same location as opposed to being spread out.

But unfortunately, the registration fee doubled to cover the costs of this event, and many members who had been with NAAUG since the beginning REALLY began to question whether the event was still worth it. Held in downtown San Francisco, hotel and other travel expenses also increased. It was not uncommon for someone to have shelled out over $2,000 to attend NAAUG's meeting that year...a drastic change from the previous year's $1,000.

Other problems included a lack of places for users to sit, relax, and network casually. Food was expensive and couldn't be brought into the location. And, unlike previous years, classes required pre-registration. If you didn't like the classes you had signed up for, there was no opportunity to sign up for others. This really upset a lot of people.

At the annual meeting and during the usual Wish List and Bylaws review session, suggestions were made to broaden the organization's scope internationally to follow Autodesk's worldwide expansion. The membership simply wasn't ready for this and turned the proposal down.

The toughest thing of all was that NAAUG had somehow lost control over the educational aspect of its annual event. One of NAAUG's main draws had been the opportunity for users to teach users, and this was suddenly out of NAAUG's hands. I spoke with literally hundreds of NAAUG members at Autodesk University that year about the event and the consensus overall was, "I thought this was OUR event. What happened?" This was also John Forbes' last year with Autodesk and NAAUG. He was voted outstanding member of the year for all his efforts at creating and growing the organization.

It was a tough year. But I suppose any organization that grows that fast and is that successful is bound to experience some bumps. I don't think NAAUG, Autodesk, or Miller Freeman intended to upset or disempower the organization by implementing the AU event...and AU did eventually get smoothed out a lot, and has evolved into a professionally-organized, well-equipped, well-publicized and well-attended educational opportunity for users to network and to teach each other about productivity.

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