The Early Years: New Name, New Mission

November 29th, 2010

In 1994 things turned what some thought of as "weird." Part of NAAUG's appeal at the annual meeting had always been "under-the-hood" sessions where Autodesk revealed ahead of schedule some of the new surprises users could expect to see in the next release of the software. Because of the changing company's attitudes and increased competition by other CAD vendors, NAAUG found it more and more difficult to sponsor and maintain these types of grass-roots benefits at its events such as A/E/C SYSTEMS and the annual meeting.

Also weird was the timing of the release dates for the next version of AutoCAD... (13?) traditionally the annual meeting offered attendees a chance to see the newest release of AutoCAD in action, but that year the new version of AutoCAD (though it hadn't formally shipped yet) had been over-demoed by dealerships ahead for months before the annual meeting. This meant that when the main presentation on the latest release was shown at the annual meeting, everyone was already intimately familiar with it and consequently the presentation was received very unenthusiastically. This also compromised the traditionally popular Wish List session because people were basically put in a position of asking for things they wanted when a new release was literally only days away. Without knowing what the new release technically included, any request seemed moot and nothing could officially be shared by Autodesk as to what was already "in there."

On the brighter side, LeAnne Thurmond and her administration had the newsletter take a serious leap in content; the annual resource disk (one of NAAUG's top benefits) became a CD-ROM (do any of you still have this?) so that it could include far more information; and, most remarkable of all, the latest AutoCAD release did in fact include more NAAUG Wish List items than any previous version. The product was a true monument to NAAUG's invaluable member's feedback. There were so many NAAUG wish list items implemented that Autodesk used that list for its primary marketing literature.

NAAUG coordinated its first-ever Autodesk University track of events that year, and though some of its sessions conflicted with Autodesk sessions, it gave NAAUG the opportunity to influence and mold Autodesk University back into a major NAAUG event. Also notable was that NAAUG held its first annual meeting on the east side of the country, much to the relief of east-coast NAAUG members who had always had to pay cross-country airfares to attend in the past.

1995 was the year that Autodesk completely reorganized into vertical market groups, and NAAUG aligned itself with them in its Special Interest Group structure. This gave the organization discipline-specific divisions of Autodesk dedicated to working directly with the SIGs, which resulted in our most successful SIG track ever the following year. Bill Barnes and Paul Jackson were especially key to this alignment and both worked hard to make sure that all the new VPs at Autodesk knew what NAAUG was about and included them in their activities.

Autodesk University ran smoothly that year as well. Areas for unscheduled open discussions were set aside, food courts and chat rooms were established so attendees could benefit by each other's company and expertise, and the curriculum was expanded to meet the prior year's requests. This was also a year of tremendous SIG growth, and NAAUG's tracks were carefully scheduled so that nothing conflicted with Autodesk's scheduled presentations.

The only real problem NAAUG had during this year was with its road shows. Although the events went well, the cost of the event was far more than the NAAUG Board had anticipated. At the close of the year, the new Board of Directors not only found themselves in debt, but also with only one-third of the usual amount of financial support from Autodesk.

In 1996, NAAUG was faced with some serious organizational challenges. First, all elections had always occurred at the site of the annual meeting, which excluded those who didn't attend the meeting from running for office or voting. Somehow, NAAUG had to implement a non-geographically-based voting process. Secondly, the Board of Directors had had its hands tied in its ability to act on new ventures since all voting had been limited to the annual meeting. Somehow, the membership had to implement a voting procedure that would allow votes to be taken throughout the year as needed. Third, Autodesk was growing so fast overseas that once again NAAUG was presented with the need to expand to an international venue. If it didn't, Autodesk would have to create a worldwide group with NAAUG underneath it. Instead, Autodesk invited NAAUG to take the reins and build its existing infrastructure into a worldwide user group format. And lastly, there was no money--NAAUG was in debt from the previous year's road show.

That year, the annual meeting was held in Chicago. NAAUG members not only voted a resounding "yes" to all three Bylaws changes, but the meeting also had the highest attendance ever. The NAAUG booth introduced the Playpen, an area where users could go to "play" with powerful systems loaded up with the latest software and without any supervision or demos or sales pitches. The playpen was packed until the day the booth closed. The location for Autodesk University was excellent, and NAAUG's events were seamlessly integrated into all of Autodesk University courses so that everyone who attended could participate in everything NAAUG offered. The NAAUG SIG sessions were well attended again.

It was at this event that the organization renamed itself Autodesk User Group International (AUGI) as it embraced its new global mission.

This was also the first year that AUGI really addressed its image problem. Many AutoCAD users over the years have not known that Autodesk was the company that produced AutoCAD. The organization also needed a motto of some kind for its marketing and the Board of Directors voted on the now familiar AUGI battle cry -- Educate! Enlighten! Enhance! Empower! AUGI generated promotional literature outlining its mission statement, membership benefits, resources, and programs. And best of all, there was money in the till again by the year's end.

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