Voices from the Past

AutoCAD version 2.5 audio cassette (July 1986)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.


Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

6 thoughts on “Voices from the Past”

  1. Autodesk is in Sausalito? My only ever visit to California was four days mostly by myself without a car in Sausalito in April 2012.  I stayed at Cavallo Point where I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the porch, and walked to or from downtown Sausalito several times. Such fun, beautiful area.

    Did anybody listen to the tapes? I can see it’s more personal but it’s more time consuming than printed material. Did you figure to catch people in commuting time?

    You sound very  professional, very pleasant, and very young.

  2. Jojo:
    Autodesk is in Sausalito?

    It was in 1986.  The company started in my house in Mill Valley in 1982.  In 1983, we rented space in a building on Shoreline Highway in Mill Valley next to the Howard Johnson’s and eventually expanded until we’d filled up the space.  We then moved to a building on Bridgeway in Sausalito where we stayed for a couple of years until that filled up.  Next we moved to another building on Marinship Way in Sausalito near the Bay Model.  That’s where we were when the tape was made.

    Eventually we also filled up all of the available space in those buildings (another tenant was EST), and moved some departments to a nearby building on Harbor Drive, also in Sausalito.  Around 1991 we had exhausted all available office space in Sausalito and the whack-job town government was complaining about our capitalist imperialist enterprise crowding out the basket weavers, crystal gazers, and artisans, so we rented a new building in San Rafael and expanded some departments there.  This was a nightmare during the transition, as for several hours a day it could take the better part of an hour to get between the offices if anything went wrong on Highway 101, which it usually did.  Eventually, the entire company was relocated to San Rafael, where it remains today.

    Here is a page I put together showing Autodesk Premises Over the Years.

  3. Jojo:
    Did anybody listen to the tapes?

    I don’t know.  I can’t recall anybody commenting about it when I met customers and dealers at trade shows.  We only ever produced and shipped the tape for Version 2.5 (Release 7, as we retroactively renamed it).


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