The Early Years: One-on-One with Autodesk

November 29th, 2010

The North American Autodesk User Group (NAAUG) was the original brainchild of John Forbes, then a senior Autodesk representative. Before John became an Autodesk employee, he had been a user of Autodesk software and an Autodesk dealer; he knew that AutoCAD software users could benefit greatly from sharing their knowledge and experience of the software with one another. So in 1989 he began planning the first national meeting of AutoCAD users in San Jose, California, near Autodesk's headquarters in Sausalito.

"Autodesk approached me and asked if I would chair a committee to help form an AutoCAD users group," stated John McQuary, the first president of the group. "I can't say specifically why they asked me. We had been very involved with Autodesk for several years, attended developer conferences, presented in their conference booths, etc., but most likely it was because we had recently purchased 200 copies of AutoCAD, which I believe was the largest single purchase at the time. While I may have been designated as the chairman, John Forbes was a driving force behind forming the group. I remember drafting the bylaws and other behind-the-scenes activities while John Forbes was out championing the organization. As the chair, I was then designated as the first president, and then formally elected at the first meeting in San Jose. Joel Orr spoke on the 'Fertile Verges of Plexity,' which must have resounded with me since I still remember it."

dave espinosa-aguilar (aka: dave ea) also remembers the early days (in his distinctive lowercase style). "1990 is what i remember as the first NAAUG meeting as well. it was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. Joel's wonderful presentation touched on a lot of interesting ideas including future interfaces (ergonomically shaped keyboards, etc) and probably my favorite story surrounding that conference (other than the 'mystery meat' and the 'body brillo' muffins we were served during meals that day... i think i am still digesting one of those muffins) was the "open microphone" question-and-answer session in which one guy (Gale Gorman) asked if anyone else in the room was using AutoCAD - the SCO Xenix version. i'll never forget it: five seconds of cricket chirps followed by a hilarious 'sothat's the guy who bought it!' from someone in the crowd. amazing days, great friendships forged. still keep in touch with most of the folks i met there that year."

The first days of NAAUG were exceptional in that the founders and programmers of Autodesk attended the meetings. One could actually talk, one-on-one, with people who had complete control over the code's future. This was a remarkable opportunity at the time and people who attended this gathering saw the immediate results of their requests in the next version of AutoCAD. Users discovered that their opinions, expertise, war stories, and wish lists mattered to Autodesk, and that NAAUG was the vehicle which made this possible. Autodesk also took this meeting seriously, making sure that users were given every opportunity to express their concerns and to let them know that their input was valuable to the future of AutoCAD.

The first AUGI Board of Directors was voted into office and the first Bylaws were voted into place. Most people don’t realize how much effort the first Board of Directors poured into the first draft of the Bylaws. It was a tremendous amount of work and we remain grateful to that first administration for getting NAAUG on its feet.

Autodesk gave a presentation on the latest version of AutoCAD and then everyone was split into discipline-specific groups so that educators could meet educators, architects could meet architects, and so on. Thus began the first Special Interest Groups (SIGs). The whole event was a great success and users from around the US also found time to relax in the evenings and make new friends. Some of these after-hours sessions were just as productive as anything planned during the day. People went home completely enthused about this new idea of networking with other AutoCAD users, and having direct contact with Autodesk.

Having had a completely successful first meeting, word spread that NAAUG was the place to be for anything to do with AutoCAD. Job opportunities, networking with fellow users, and direct contact with Autodesk programmers made the NAAUG 1991 general meeting impossible to miss. The meeting was held in conjunction with CAD Camp, which was Autodesk's premier AutoCAD dealer event of the year (not to be confused with the current AUGI CAD Camp learning events).

Bill Fane, an early NAAUG member who is now a presenter at AUGI CAD Camps, drove his 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III limousine from Vancouver to the NAAUG meeting and then on to the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club National Meet, which was held in Monterey the following week. dave espinosa-aguilar recalls, "That was an awesome ride, one of the great highlights of my NAAUG conference history."

John McQuary and his administration had a great deal of planning to do with Autodesk in preparing for twice the number of people who had attended the 1990 meeting. The 1991 general meeting went beautifully, and in addition to all the benefits attendees received the previous year, they also had direct access to third-party developers and dealers for the first time.

Because the 1991 CAD Camp was held close to Autodesk headquarters, a large number of Autodesk employees could attend the event. McQuary remembers managerial support sessions taught by Autodesk's own product support manager, Lou Goldklang; technical wish list sessions moderated by Product Managers and Programmers Brad Zehring and Duff Kirland; printing and plotting configuration sessions taught by Product Support Technicians David Loving and Crystal Moreno; and programming in ADS taught by Tools and Technologies wizard Cliff Gauntlet. If this wasn't thrill enough, NAAUG members from the previous year were able to teach their own courses on networking, systems, and AutoCAD configuration, discipline-specific customization, programming, and techniques. The AutoCAD networking session was standing-room-only.

McQuary goes on to share, "At the second meeting at the Marin Center, I was still considered president and we elected a new president for the following year. I'm not sure about more recent years, but for a while, I think I was the only president who presided over two conferences. More notable is that Scott McNeely was the keynote speaker. Prior to him coming on stage, the remote control for the slides quit working. Scott was handed the remote anyway and John Forbes was offstage with a walkie-talkie telling the projectionist when to advance the slides based on when he saw Scott push the remote."

"John got so skilled at the process that he was notifying the projectionist prior to Scott pushing the button. Knowing what was going on, I could sense some geeky confusion from Scott. Finally, somewhere about half-way into the keynote, Scott stopped his speech and started talking about how advanced and incredible the remote control was in that it was anticipating his slide advances without him even having to push the button. John Forbes had to then come out from behind the curtains and explain what was going on."

"It was an incredible meeting," continues McQuary, "and attendees were also thrilled by presentations created by the new Autodesk Multimedia product 3D Studio. This meeting offered the first fully organized and attended Wish List session (although not very structured, the 1991 meeting had a Wish List session with invaluable feedback that Autodesk used) with three microphones set up in the main hall and a session that lasted for an amazing two hours! What followed were discussions of future AutoCAD features and presentations by several large companies on their implementation of CAD standards and third-party software evaluations. Everyone was entranced again and the whole event was greatly enhanced by the participation of third-party developers and dealers nationwide.

This is how AUGI got its start. Future issues of AUGI HotNews will feature more stories about AUGI's beginnings as we celebrate its 20th anniversary year.

Do you have an AUGI story to share or a recollection of an exceptional annual meeting? Send your recollections to: happybirthday@augi.com. Remember to include your name, city/state, and how many years you've been an AUGI member.

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