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The Golden Age of Engineering


In mid-1987, after we had completed the second public offering, I came to believe that Autodesk should adopt a higher public profile. As the unquestioned market leader in CAD, with close to $100 million in cash, and a market valuation over half a billion dollars, increasing awareness of the company and what it was doing would, I felt, greatly benefit our ability to sell into large corporations and the government.

However, I was afraid that if we unleashed an advertising agency on ``corporate communications'' we'd end up with something just as bad as all of our previous experiences with ad agencies. Who knows, they might come with something out of a Japanese monster movie, ``It is invading your company as you sleep. It is extending its tendrils into your engineering department. It is coming back from the ocean floor and it is mad as Hell!''.

But I digress. I wrote this in June to attempt to define an overall communications campaign that we could organise all of our efforts around. I believe that this initial message best sums up the potential Autodesk has in the markets in which it is the leader.

The Golden Age of Engineering

by John Walker -- June 19th, 1987

In the lifetime and recent memory of currently practicing engineers a revolution has occurred; a revolution so profound, so widespread, and so rapidly advancing on so many fronts that the enormity of it and its consequences are often unappreciated. But they are real, and they are remaking the world.

The past thirty years have seen an unparalleled advance in our understanding of all of the basic sciences. New materials, such as polymers, titanium, semiconductors, and advanced composites have moved from the laboratory into manufacturing. Microelectronics has grown exponentially since its inception in the 1960's, and has not only made enormously complicated systems possible, as many predicted, it has made them extremely inexpensive, as few expected. This, in turn, has driven the growth of computing technology, placing personal computers in the hands of all who want them, while simultaneously allowing the development of the supercomputers which are becoming key research tools in their own right.

We live in the space age. Since 1962, we have dispatched robots to explore all the major planets, expanding our knowledge from one world to dozens. Men and women routinely fly into space, and space stations are being built by many countries. Our telephone calls and television broadcasts are routinely relayed by satellites a tenth of the way to the moon.

We carry calculators no larger than a credit card that contain more computing power than existed in the world in 1950. We routinely fly to the other side of the globe for a business meeting. And we are thinking about airplanes that fly from San Francisco to Tokyo in 90 minutes, superconducting power distribution systems, fusion power stations, portable telephones that work worldwide, and most of the other stuff of the science fiction of our youth.

Almost without noticing, we have entered an era where the fundamental question is not ``What can be done'' but ``What should be done''.

Truly, this is the golden age of engineering.

But even more, it is a golden age for the individual engineer. Driven by technology, design is not dominated by the all-encompassing government design bureaus many imagined in the 1930's, nor by an oligopoly of giant companies as many saw in the 1960's. Instead, the basic tools to invent, design, and manufacture have become so inexpensive and widespread that ``downsizing'' has become at least as much an imperative in management as in design.

We are entering the age where we are limited primarily by our creativity. Our ability to imagine, and the courage to make our dreams into reality will be our most precious resource. In this age, the designer has a resource that most designers of the past could hardly imagine--the computer. Engineers who, less than twenty years ago, toiled into the night with log tables, slide rule, and pencils, making parts, then breaking them on testing machines, or designing circuits and struggling to get them to work can now design on their desktops with productivity hundreds to thousands of times greater. And the products of their minds in turn accelerate the process.

Anybody who attempts to predict what we can do in our lifetimes should first reread predictions made in 1960. Anybody who draws a limit to what our children can achieve is a fool.

Autodesk designs, develops, manufactures, sells, and supports key computer-aided-design tools. We are working as hard as we can to make them worthy of the tasks to which they are put by the designers of this golden age.

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Autodesk, Inc.
Sausalito, California
Tools for the golden age of

AutoCAD The Engineer Works CAD/camera AutoSketch AutoShade
AutoCAD AEC Architectural AutoCAD AEC Mechanical

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Editor: John Walker