Autodesk has a large array of products and services. Some were developed internally such as Fusion 360 and Inventor whereas others were acquired such as Revit. AutoCAD is the product the founders started with although their original intent was to automate the business man's desktop with electronic Rolodex, word processing, and spreadsheet software — hence the name Autodesk. There is debate as to whether or not AutoCAD was internal or by acquisition as the founders were asked to bring software prototypes to the table, and that's where AutoCAD got its start (outside of the company but by a founder). Regardless of its origin, AutoCAD has evolved over the years by being developed internally as well as by integrating technology through acquisition. Back in the day when I was a DWF Technical Evangelist, I joking referred to AutoCAD as DWF Content Creator.
Earlier this year, a visitor arrived in the lobby of our San Rafael office, looking to buy a copy of AutoCAD. Our visitor was Howard Johnson who was the CEO of Vertex — a company acquired by Softdesk back in 1987, and ultimately acquired by Autodesk when Autodesk acquired Softdesk in 1996. Howard wanted to play around with AutoCAD to experience for himself how Vertex technology had gotten integrated into Autodesk products. Howard was greeted by Amanda Kinley on our Community team who hooked Howard up with a free AutoCAD subscription and pointed him to various training materials. Thanks, Amanda.
While visiting with Amanda, Howard shared some materials.
How Vertex Got Its Start in 1987 by Howard Johnson
I had been developing my idea for creating standard details on CAD and tying this in with manufacturers’ product details. Over lunch one day with a business acquaintance, I mentioned what I was doing. He thought it was a good idea and suggested writing a business plan and seeking investors. We agreed to give it a try. The business plan was written, and we started raising money from individual investors. We rented some office space nearby and started hiring some of the best programmers around who were also architects. These people like Mark Crosley and Spencer Jue who I had worked with in SMP were well known in this area and completely bought into and supported the concept. They developed a system, which used parametrically changeable product based icons of standard building materials such as drywall components, steel shapes, concrete footings, wood products, doors frames, window details etc., all arranged in the CSI format. These details could be inserted as icons, rotated and parametrically altered to the correct size. These icons knew what they were and automatically identified themselves with an arrowhead pointing to the product. Thus, if you created a 3-5/8" stud, it would note itself as such.
Vertex Office in 1988
Vertex Customer Testimonial
In 1990, I was contacted by the manager of the Bay Area Tapers and Painters Trust Fund, which ran a $4 billion fund, to provide a site and building analysis on an adjacent property to their present quarters in South San Francisco. They were interested in constructing a new headquarters building for the Fund. I did a code review and developed a schematic for a 12,000 sq ft building with a basement and parking. The Trust Fund decided to proceed, and I started developing a program. On completion of the program and establishing a budget of $40,000 for the construction, I proceeded into the design phase. This was an interesting project for me, and since I had no staff to supervise, this became a very personal project. Most architects (when they get to a position of being awarded substantial commercial project) are not able to sit down and do the entire project from beginning to end on their own. I thought this an admirable project to close out my practice by doing just that. I produced the working drawings in the same time frame as if I had a staff, using the Vertex system. This system worked perfectly, and my productivity was increased by 250% in using the software, totally fulfilling my expectations. The project was bid to two selected contractors, Turner Construction and Barnes Construction. The difference between the bids was only $1,000. The total change orders on the job came to 1%. I was happy with the results. During the construction, I had to attend monthly Board Meetings to be available to answer questions. It was an interesting board to watch in action. Since this was a trust fund, the Board was composed equally of union members and contractors; neither side liked the other, and it was amazing to me that they ever agreed on anything. They were a pretty violent group, one fellow apparently tried to shoot another member for some imagined slight. I decided to keep a low profile.
AutoCAD continues to grow. It has a rich set of capabilities that have evolved over time. Some of these were homegrown and others were integrated. We are grateful to contributors like Vertex over the course of AutoCAD's development. In 2010, Howard was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle in a story entitled "Architect has no designs on retirement."
Today, DWF files from AutoCAD go beyond the paper.