Growing global presence underscores Autodesk University 2007.

Event:Autodesk University 2007


Location:The Venetian, Las Vegas

Dates:Nov. 27-30, 2007

Number of Attendees:9,600+

Future Dates and Location:December 2-5, 2008, Las Vegas

From November 27-30, the 2007 and Fifteenth Edition of Autodesk University (AU) took place once again in Las Vegas at the very posh Venetian Resort Hotel. The Venetian, as its name might suggest, has a decidedly European flavor. Light classical music flows through the elegantly lighted halls that connect the meeting rooms and exhibits.

The principal theme for AU 2007 was “The Greening of Autodesk University, Sustainable by Design.” The atmosphere at the Venetian is well matched to this global theme because Autodesk University is a truly international event. The Help Desk I visited was staffed by a gentleman named Vlad. Much of the English I heard spoken was of the British and Australian variety. Of the 9,600-plus participants, only 40 percent were from North America; the remaining 60 percent were divided between Europe and Asia. And that group represented the fastest growing segment of the Autodesk family of products market.

There was a time when one might characterize the difference between a CAD user conference and a GIS gathering by the makeup of the attendees. Many GIS guys wear beards and Birkenstocks while many CAD users never leave home without their pocket protectors. Today, that would be wrong.

AU is not just a place where you can learn about linework, pen palettes and font styles. All of that is there to be sure. But AU is designed to include a much broader audience. The classes and sessions cover the entire gamut from third-party product development to instruction on how to set up a printer. There is something for everyone.

A screen dump from Capturex System’s Digital Pen (shown in red) on a scanned document.

Bang for the Buck

The ROI (Return on Investment) for attending AU looks good to many, as attendance has doubled in three years. Several participants said they believed this is the best CAD training available for the money. “What I really like about this [conference],” remarked one user, “is [that] you can get most of your training needs covered all in one place. It’s by far the most cost-effective training solution for my group.”

The latest AU offered 575 classes, quite a few about technology. Performance issues with Windows Vista was a popular subject. Historically, the architectural, mechanical and electrical segments have represented the larger market; civil engineering and survey-related sessions represent only a segment of the classes. But there were several useful sessions on functions that are more or less generic to all AutoCAD users.

The “Power Tracks” seemed to be the most popular approach to this new model of consolidated learning curricula. In a Power Track, common themes are linked together in a series of sessions. For example, the AutoCAD Civil 3D Power Track contained 13 1.5-hour sessions over four days. CEUs are available for many Power Track sessions as well as some others at the event.

The classes are typically each offered once. So time management is important. But if you miss something, many of the classes are offered as podcasts. There is also a support Web page through the Autodesk University link

Autodesk does an excellent job seeing to the needs of its faithful. The event is always well catered with meals included in the package price. There were also free event shuttles provided for attendees to and from the Venetian to locations at or near the other major hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.

The marketing angle this year included Autodesk subscription owners displaying special red ribbons attached to their badges proclaiming “I’m A Subscriber.” The Autodesk Subscription is basically a software maintenance contract whereby the user gets the latest releases, updates, support and training at a fixed contract price.

New Products

The “star” of the show was, of course, AutoCAD 2008. There were some interesting demonstrations with AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 using Google Earth. In Civil 3D 2008, for example, it was demonstrated that a user can “marry” Google Earth and import segments of Google Earth terrain surface into Civil 3D as a civil surface object. Aerial imagery is easily imported as well. Autodesk Impression is a new tool that creates renderings using raster data or image files as a base.

The exhibit hall is always a showcase for the latest industry wonders and breakthroughs. More than a hundred companies put their newest solutions on display. It offers an opportunity to see and in some cases “testdrive” new products. The latest offerings in printers and plotters were even there.

There are often a few surprises, too. Some of the veteran field people are probably familiar with the “Rite in the Rain” All-Weather Notebook. Not only is it still around, but it has an added twist. ADAPX, makers of the “Rite in the Rain” product line, have a new system consistent with the march toward the paperless office, in a manner of speaking. The Capturex System featuring the PenX Digital Pen is an interesting hybrid. This digital pen allows the user to record comments on a paper document, but it stores the annotations in its own memory. The user can transfer those remarks onto a digital document via a USB docking station. And yes, the digital pen really does write in the rain.

The Greening of Autodesk University

At AU’s recent event, Autodesk adopted the global sustainability challenge as its principal theme with this statement:

This year’s Autodesk University is greener than ever. We’re making efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle throughout the event--from eliminating paper-based promotional items, to using scrap metal in our displays, to making it easier for you to recycle by providing designated bins.

This trendy theme is consistent with the modern global emphasis on business matters. There were several industry presentations dealing with future design concepts and challenges. But do not mistake it for environmentalism. The “evangelism” Autodesk uses as its sales strategy is always centered around a single word: productivity. Autodesk is about economics. And Autodesk University is about making its students more productive.

It also seems clear that the global theme is sweeping our industry along with many others. That is certainly Autodesk’s vision of the future.

A Personal Tip

My personal tip is this. If you attend a future Autodesk University, it is a good strategy to do a bit of mission planning. The facilities that host these events are massive. Five levels of the Venetian were used for various classes and events, many of them simultaneous. To get the maximum benefit from the experience, it is best to get the agenda in advance and preplan the sessions you wish to attend. Many of them fill up, so it is best to do this early.

Special reporting by Michael L. Binge, LS, GISP.