In July, 1986, Autodesk, Inc. launched version 2.5 of AutoCAD, our principal (and, in terms of revenue, effectively only product). This was a major new feature release, and the first such release after the company’s initial public stock offering (IPO) in May, 1985 (memo to younger self: don’t do an IPO at the same time you’re trying to ship a major product update—it hurts).
I had always believed an essential component of success in the software business was a close and ongoing connection and collaboration between the software developer and our customers. It was the customers who continually amazed us with the new ways in which they applied our product, their insight in recommending changes and new features which would benefit themselves and other users, and their ability to discover and document flaws in our products which had escaped our own testing.
In AutoCAD 2.5, I decided to reinforce this relationship by including an audio cassette with every product we shipped in which Autodesk department heads would personally welcome the customer to the AutoCAD user community, walk them through the process of getting started with the product, explain how to report problems and obtain help, and participate in improving the product for themselves and all other customers.
I narrated the the introduction to the tape and wrote every word I spoke. As I recall, what I wrote and said was not edited in any way. This may have been the first time a major software company told its customers “there are bugs in your copy” of its product; I insisted we say that.
Shaan Hurley, operator of the Autodesk “Between the Lines” blog and curator of Autodesk historical memorabilia, discovered a copy of this cassette and transferred it to an MP3 file, which you can play with the embedded player below.
A couple of years before this recording I had taken an extension course at the local community college in radio production which included brief on-air experience at a local low-power FM station. I used the skills I’d learned, such as remembering to smile when speaking (your audience will notice—try it!) and, of course, I rehearsed the whole thing around ten times before the taping, which was done in one take for my segments.
The music was added in post-production, and is rather tacky but, hey, it was the 1980s! Royalty-free music back then sounded a lot like it does today.