AU 2010: Personal Perspective

If there is one thing in life I love to do it is pack my bags up for adventure. Whether it be a long-planned epic journey or a short jaunt down the street, if we are going someplace you can count me in! So naturally you can imagine how much I look forward to tossing my unmentionables into the suitcase and heading off into the desert to that oasis of temptation. That’s right I am talking about Las Vegas, Nevada, and the event that brings me there each year, Autodesk University (AU).

They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. While I can’t attest to that being fact or not, what I do know is that AU 2010 was held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the second year in a row. For me this means that two of the three AUs I have attended have been at the Mandalay, and maybe it is just lack of experience, but I like the place. The rooms are nice, the staff is polite and the food is pretty tasty, in my opinion. That is not to say that AU attendees, in general, despise the Mandalay, but there is a sentiment that other venues have been better in the past. Well those people will be glad to know that AU 2011 will be moving back to the Venetian. Personally I am glad to be wherever AU is being held.

My first trip to AU was in 2008 and I recall that attendance for that year was around 10,000. Obviously the American recession has taken its toll on training budgets everywhere. So it was no great surprise to see attendance down at AU 2009. However, it was a relief to see that as the economy begins to rebound from its fiscal freefall so too are the attendance numbers. AU 2010 reported an approximate 7,000 people in attendance in Las Vegas with a staggering 40,000 people attending AU Virtual around the world! It amazes me that nearly 50,000 from over 100 countries all have a common interest and desire to reach higher in their professions. Who says we can’t all get along?

Of course at the center of every great convention are the keynote speeches. Now I wish I could tell you that I was a good little reporter and went to each and every keynote. I wish I could tell you that because it certainly isn’t what happened. However, I did make a point of being present for the General Session Keynote. There is just something so candid in the natural way that Uncle Carl (Carl Bass, President and CEO, Autodesk) takes the stage and discusses industry topics with 5,000 of his closest friends. I like to think of it as being something like the radio fireside chats of decades past. It’s a chance to sit and passively absorb the information from a multi-million dollar corporation concerning its views on our multi-billion dollar industry. This is definitely not your boss’s pep-talk.

While I won’t bore you with details that you have undoubtedly read several times already I will say that I found the AU 2010 General Session Keynote to be refreshing. Instead of sitting still for hours and watching the parade of executives trot out and repeat the same buzz words time after time, we saw something different. This year’s keynote reminded me a great deal of the Pecha Kucha evening event from AU 2009. After the boiler plate introductions and Uncle Carl’s welcome, attendees were treated to a variety of speakers/end users. Each speaker representing an organization that, as Uncle Carl said, is doing work that is, or will, have an impact on our world. In fact, “Impact” was the general theme of the keynote.

At that point several amazing visionaries took the stage to let the world know not only what their companies were striving for, but why. From Emily Pilloton’s Project H, a design firm striving to design “with, not for” small communities, to Cliff Plumer ( CEO Digital Domain) and his narration of the process to create Disney’s new blockbuster TRON: Legacy. The pace was fast, the content  interesting and varied (in one case it was even Austin Powers reminiscent). However, to me at least, just as interesting as each presentation were interims between them. Instead of blank silence or a static logo someone had the brilliant idea of adding bumpers composed of old film clips. Ranging from campy to just out right corny, these bumpers were some of my favorite moments through the show. Give that person a raise, Uncle Carl!

If “Impact” was the theme of the General Session Keynote, then “Mobile” was the sentiment carried throughout the rest of the time at AU 2010. Since Autodesk’s product release cycle leans towards Q2 of the fiscal year this is probably not a surprising development. While Autodesk was not unleashing new releases of AutoCAD or Revit it was letting loose with the mobile updates.

First, and probably the farthest reaching, is the release of AutoCAD WS 1.1 for the iOS line of products. This first update for AutoCAD WS brings two features users have been asking for: upload files via email and the ability to view files offline! Unfortunately, Apple had yet to approve the application and have it present in the iOS App Store during AU 2010. Which is probably just as well because there is no telling how hard AT&T’s towers would have been hit by several thousand downloads in such a confined space. Trust me, there was no shortage of iPads at AU 2010. Similarly interesting was the release of Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile for the Android operating system. Yes! Finally some Android love. This Google fanboy hopes this marks the beginning of increased support by Autodesk for the fast growing mobile OS on the market. Yeah, I said it!

Whether people were talking about mobile apps, mobile devices, augmented reality (actually that was just me) or using bananas as an iPad stylus, AU 2010 was the mobile AU. In fact I would venture to say that I saw almost as many iPads, Galaxy Tabs, Droid X handsets and other smartphones as I did people. Compared in stark contrast to AU 2009 when it seemed as if I had one of the few smartphones at the show, it is easy to see why Autodesk is focusing on this erupting market.

Overall the “mood” at AU 2010 seemed to be elevated over years past. At first I thought that I could attribute this to a personal point of view. It seemed as if my third AU was the year when I finally knew people and felt as if I fit in with these amazingly talented, and in some cases famous, people. Now that I think back on it, it was very much like the sophomore year of high school. You may not be one of the cool kids, but you aren’t the newb trying to find his locker. Yeah, that’s it. However, the more I spoke with people the more I realized that this general sentiment of contentment was fairly widespread.

I suppose you could always argue that in leaner times the people who come to these events are the most dedicated and interested members of the community. Or maybe you could spin it the other way and say people were feeling relief from months of economic pressure. I’m not a psychiatrist and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express. All I know is that everyone I met said that they were having the best AU experience they’ve had in a while. As far as I am concerned that is good enough for me.

Naturally Autodesk University cannot last forever. Considering how much my feet hurt I don’t know that I could handle it if AU was just one day longer! Still, it is always difficult to say goodbye to the people you‘ve grown accustomed to seeing at this one time of year. It never fails to sadden me to leave my friends from New Zealand, England, Ireland, China and so many other countries. Of course I know that I will maintain contact with these friends through AUGI forums, Facebook, and Twitter and it is just one short year until we are all together again. So that helps buoy my spirits.

To return to my opening comments, AU 2010 was a great adventure just as it always is. Nowhere else can a CAD professional come to meet so many people of a like mind and similar interests. Nowhere else can you enjoy in-person training from the most talented speakers from around the world. Perhaps even more important, nowhere else can you make the contacts that prove so beneficial in your day to day work. Speaking personally my adventure didn’t end with the close of AU 2010 since I had to make the return drive to Houston, Texas.

You can fit a great deal of adventure into 1,300 miles, but that is another story …

Curt Moreno has been using AutoCAD for 21 years and is a CAD manager in Houston, Texas. Reach him at his website: or follow @wkfd on Twitter.

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