Just read this:


Julian has so much right.  But he doesn’t really understand the forces at work here.  I can understand this.  It wasn’t until fairly recently, the last five years or so, that I started to understand what was going on either.  The problem is the difference between what a company is supposed to do and what it actually does.

I don’t think there is a better look at the frustrations that we creatives have for the way corporate culture works or doesn’t.  I’ve learned the hard way how stifling corporate life can be for people who create for a living.  It’s not easy to play the game the social set wants to play.  We don’t appreciate time in unnecessary meetings or micromanagement.  We don’t want to constantly be looking for knives to stick into people’s backs or watch out for knives coming toward ours.

Of course the problem is that we creatives don’t really understand that we don’t really exist as people in the corporate mindset.  We exist as tools to be used or objects to be manipulated.  Creatives are outside the game. Here’s a perfect example:

The problem is that we creatives want to rock the boat.  We don’t like the nonsense, the social games that are so important to the people in the C suite.  Creatives are disruptive.   We want to change the order of things, to make things more efficient.  We care about things like customers and making better product.   Creatives want to do what the company or organization is supposed to  do and don’t really understand, that to the people in charge, that’s not the goal that the people in charge are pursuing. Creatives are disruptive to the flow.

Creatives don’t understand that the game is the important thing and status is more important than actually bothering to learn the business.  As long as the procedures and rules are followed, profit will flow and the game can go on.  And if things go wrong, there’s always a consultant to tell you why.

And if things crash, there’s always the next table with the next game.

This is Pournelle’s Iron law of bureaucracy, the corporate version.


Given long enough, any organization will be taken over by those who work for the organization and don’t do what the organization is supposed to do.  That is certainly the case for large corporations like Autodesk.  Julian can’t understand the reason of the Socialcam purchase, which was to make Autodesk look sexy and with it in social media.  The purchase probably happened because Mr. Bass wanted to know why his company wasn’t into social media in a big way and Facebook envy.  I imagine that trying to make the debacle actually work was the impossible task for some poor sod who’s head was in the guillotine anyway.

As for Pier 9.  That’s part of San Francisco tech culture.  It’s Autodesk’s demonstration of how culturally connected they are.  It’s being relevant to the whole maker ethos.  The fact that this irrelevant to the customers who pay big bucks to save minutes in spindle time is not something that the powers that be at Autodesk concern themselves very much about.  After all a good sales team can cover up for a lot and Autodesk has always been strong in sales and marketing.

I started out using AutoCAD way back in the late 1980’s at college when it was the only game in town.  It was a great program to learn on because it was so bad.  Everything I’ve used since is heads and shoulders better than any Autodesk product in terms of productivity.  The company since has been able to keep up by purchasing technologies and concentrating on marketing.  All of their products started out being done from outside the company.  That’s the way they have operated for as far back as I can remember.  So I’m not surprised by the CTO’s attitude.  I’m guessing he figure that they can either buy a solution or market their way past it.

The problem with CAM is that Autodesk is moving into an environment that I’m not sure they understand.  Jobshops aren’t interested in your artist in residence.  They are interested in saving time, because time is parts delivered and that’s money.  Here’s a case in point:

Part 2.

If guys like this are willing to pay for machines that cost the same as a small house to save minutes, how much does anybody think that they would be willing to spend for software that optimizes for their machines.  The problem for Autodesk is that  Autodesk has always sold the products to customers and not paid lot of attention to customer feedback. In the markets where Autodesk has made it’s money that’s been Ok because the user base has been people who weren’t very tech savvy.  Autodesk’s user have been architects for AutoCAD and artists for 3DsMax.  These are people who don’t depend on getting  things done quickly  and once they learn a tool they don’t like to change.  The people running jobshops though tend to be very tech savvy and if they are willing  to change $150,000 Vertical Machining Centers they won’t hesitate to change  software.

Is the situation hopeless?  For Autodesk, probably.  Julian has  pointed out some pretty serious  long term issues.  Autodesk does have  product with fairly large installed user bases and very little competition.  But 2D drafting  doesn’t have a future.  3Ds max is  a product with a good reputation but 3D will always have people snapping at the ankles.  As  far as Inventor is concerned it’s a distant second to Solidworks and going to stay there.

The problem is far deeper than just one company. As Tom Peters pointed out, the majority of large companies  are in the grip of the iron law.  By and  large, once founders leave or retire the mechanisms of the Iron Law take over.   It just becomes too easy  to just keep doing what the company has always done.  After all it’s not their money.



  1. Julian Todd · February 17, 2015

    Hey, thanks for the write-up. Just to add, I’ve no problem with applying Sturgeon’s law to the corporation (90% of everything is crap). My problem was that it was 100% crap.

    I could not find one glimmer of life anywhere, not one person who thought it was worth their while, say, to kick up a stink about how harmful the reliance of Sharepoint or Perforce was on productivity. There was not anyone who saw the brutal irony of a software company that attempts to sell its products into a market as entrenched as CADCAM being wholly unable to comprehend the idea of reviewing the utterly crap and out-of-date software products which it itself depends on internally. The joke is on them, and it could have been fun picking a battle such as this if I could have found some allies willing to play.

    To have killed off all signs of life is an amazing management achievement, given how the organization is made up of thousands of technically competent people who are constantly coming in through acquisitions. I don’t know what happens to the interesting people. They either duck in, become dull and get paid well, or they bugger off somewhere else. If it’s the latter, you would think they’d at least have someone in HR who was curious enough to debrief all resignations to see if there was an obvious easy-to-fix pattern. But they don’t do that. What a pack of amateurs.

    Anyways, try not to OD on the blogging. Here’s a book to add to your reading list:

    BTW where are you based?


    • jccarlton · February 17, 2015

      I’m in Connecticut. But I used AutoCAD at college way too long ago and if you knew what to look at, the signs were obvious even then. The problem is that the people who would be interesting to you or I are not those who are interesting to the people in charge. It’s Poutnelle’s iron law.


  2. Pingback: The End Of Entrepreneurship? A “Lets Build” Special | The Arts Mechanical
  3. Jon Banquer (@JonBanquer) · June 1, 2015

    The problem for Autodesk is fixable but not with a CEO that is out of touch, on an ego trip and who has zero understanding of how modern, state of the art, CNC machining job shops run.

    The Autodesk CEO prides himself on being a “maker” and he views everything through the rose colored glasses of a “maker”. He turns off seasoned veterans of the CADCAM business who end up quitting or getting fired because he see’s them as expendable and he doesn’t listen to what they have to say. Sadly, the Autodesk CEO thinks that buying a 5 axis wood router for his home shop can easily substitute for many years of hands on experience designing fixtures and machining lots of different parts that consist of many different types of materials.

    In the recent past Autodesk made an attempt to hire me. I explained very clearly to their recruiter why I have no interest in “makers” or in CADCAM that’s designed for “makers”. Nothing against “makers” but with well over two decades of working in modern, CNC, state of the art machining job shops I now have a very good idea of the CADCAM tools that are so badly missing in HSMWorks, Inventor, etc.

    How Autodesk handled the purchase of Delcam and how poorly Delcam is now run is a very serious problem for both myself and those using Delcam products like Featurecam.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn


    • jccarlton · June 1, 2015

      The main issue with the maker movement is that it’s driven by mostly young people or people who are inexperienced with using engineering tools. That’s a big reason I started in on this blog in the first place. I’m trying to fill in some of the gaps and kill some of the hype. And maybe provide an instruction set that makes it easier for the maker types to do it right and bring better product to market.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jccarlton · June 1, 2015

      As for buying a wood router, if you really want to understand CNC, you have to work with metal. There are some very nice small mills that can teach you a lot. And they are not expensive for a CEO. For that matter you learn a lot just hacking away with saws and files.


  4. Pingback: Some Trends That Are Coming | The Arts Mechanical
  5. Pingback: When Things Go Wrong | The Arts Mechanical

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s