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Golden Hammer

The shipment of AutoCAD Release 10 in October 1988 marked a major milestone for Autodesk. After years of smarting from the claim “Autodesk can't do 3D”, we finally shipped an AutoCAD which not only contained genuine 3D, but surfaces, multiple on-screen views, perspective viewing, and dynamic viewpoint selection.

This was the culmination of Scott Heath's 3D project, launched twenty months before at the programmers' meeting at my house (see page [Ref]). I thought some special recognition for Scott was in order at the next monthly company meeting/beer-bust. Dusting off a tradition I'd let lapse since the 1970's, I went out and bought a wood plaque, a sledgehammer, and a can of gold paint, and set to work. The following was a total surprise to Scott. This is, to date, the only Golden Hammer awarded at Autodesk, although Heaven knows there are dozens of people deserving of one.

Statement for the Autodesk Monthly Meeting

by John Walker — November 4th, 1988

By the end of 1986, most of the developers of AutoCAD, including many of the founders of the company, despaired of extending AutoCAD into a full three-dimensional CAD system.

“We'll need to redesign it.”
“A total rewrite is the price of admission.”
“We're getting nowhere—maybe this is the miracle we won't be able to pull off.”
“We may be able to make a 3D CAD system, but it won't be AutoCAD any more.”
“It'll never fit in 640K.”

And all the time we reached for the strength within ourselves to build a 3D AutoCAD, our competitors made the most of the claim that “Autodesk can't do 3D”.

One voice argued otherwise.

One person said, calmly but insistently, “Adding 3D to AutoCAD is a programming project just like all the others we've done. It's a big job, so let's get started on it right now.”

In March of 1987, the development of AutoCAD “Abbey Road”[Footnote] got underway in earnest.[Footnote] The outcome of that effort, without question the largest and most difficult job of software development ever undertaken at Autodesk, is now shipping as Release 10, and Autodesk is in the 3D business to stay.

Now I don't like to put people on the spot, and in a project as sprawling and protracted as the development of Release 10, not to mention everything else we had to do before we shipped it, it's hard to thank everybody without rolling something like movie credits.

But…if we fail to honour the heroes among us, we deny that which is the noblest part of ourselves.

Release 10 is the product it is today, and is shipping to our customers, and is upwardly compatible with Release 9, and has multiple windows on screen, because of the vision of Scott Heath.

That vision and the willingness to see it through month after month of coding, debugging, overlaying, squeezing, debugging again, performance tuning, debugging yet again: carrying that weight a long time, has brought the vision to reality. That reality is Release 10, and it is the best AutoCAD this company has ever shipped.

In one of my former lives, I used to publish an underground newspaper called the Shifting Bit. One of the highlights of the paper was a contest I ran every year to identify the programming project that best exemplified the rule, “If it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer”.

The winner received the Golden Hammer. I last awarded the Golden Hammer in 1976.

If ever any project deserved the Golden Hammer, AutoCAD Release 10 does. Not only does it manage to squeeze a full 3D CAD system with surfaces into the same 640K that held Release 9, it even has perspective and multiple windows on screen.

Scott, you win. I'm honoured to present you with the Shifting Bit Golden Hammer award for 1988 for seeing how to get from AutoCAD Release 9 to Release 10, for leading us there, and for hammering on that sucker 'till it fit in a PC.

AutoCAD Release 10 marked more than AutoCAD's maturation from an extruded 2 1/2D adolescent into a sinewy compound curved 3D adult; it also heralded the passing of the cattle prod of AutoCAD development from the founders, the central figures in the development of AutoCAD from its inception through Release 9, to a new generation of developers. Not only do these folks possess knowledge of CAD, graphics, and geometry that dwarfed that of the founders of Autodesk, they have the energy to tackle daunting tasks of programming and the courage to try again where we had failed and given up. Release 10 stands as evidence that AutoCAD is in the best of hands.

Indeed, AutoCAD Release 10 was the first mission of “Autodesk, the Next Generation”: and what a success it has been. Now, as we look forward to AutoCAD Release 11, and then Releases Twelve through Twenty, we can look to the people who gave us Release 10 with calm confidence in the future and eager anticipation of the wonders to come.

Co-ordinates: The Golden Age of Engineering—Warp Factor: 11—Engage….

AutoCAD Expo Moscow     One Hundred Million Dollars