This is the third in a series of interviews of Interesting People of CAD (IPoC).
Lynn Allen is a legendary figure in the CAD world and really needs no introduction. I’m very happy that she agreed to be interviewed for this series. Here is the first part of Lynn’s interview. Topics include life before Autodesk, that AU wig and user groups, especially AUGI.
Steve: Can you tell me a little about your background before you started with Autodesk? Have you always been involved in teaching and training?
Lynn: I started using AutoCAD with Version 1.4 at American Honda. I then went to one of the first AutoCAD resellers in North Hollywood where I did a little bit of everything, but primarily training. I moved to yet another Autodesk Training Center (ATC) where I became the manager of three ATCs. I also taught AutoCAD at the local Junior College along the way.
Steve: When did you start at Autodesk and what did you do initially?
Lynn: I joined Autodesk in 1994, working in their training dept. Shortly thereafter I became the Training Department Manager.
Steve: I first saw you at AU in 1995 and you were well known and liked then. How did you manage to build up such a following?
Lynn: Well, I like to believe people liked me because I genuinely tried to help the AutoCAD/Autodesk community out. I was involved in AutoCAD since the early days, had a column in Cadence/Cadalyst magazine for over 20 years (before the internet when people used to read for information). I had written several books on AutoCAD and thanks to my job as Autodesk User Group Manager I had a chance to present to Autodesk product users all over the world. I am friendly, I mean well, and I think that shows through in my presentations. I made it a point to never be too busy to stop and listen – I really want to help. I don’t think can’t fake that – people can see you for who you really are on stage.
Steve: What was the story behind the wigs?
Lynn: Well, there was only one wig… a blonde one. At one point I dyed my hair brown and boy did people complain! It was such a sticking point with everyone (it was really unbelievable how upset people were about it). So I walked into one AU and put a blonde wig on the monitor and said “Here you go people, here is your blonde hair!” It got a big laugh, but I do believe it got my point across.
Steve: You were the Worldwide User Group Manager for a while, what did that involve?
Lynn: That was the best job ever! I had the opportunity to work with local user groups all over the world as well as AUGI. My job (as well as my team) was to help them all be successful – support them – be there for them. I had a wonderful team, we all loved our jobs.
Steve: I know Autodesk put a lot of support behind AUGI. What forms did that support take?
Lynn: They provided monetary support, physical support (we helped them with their newsletter as well as other promotional marketing), various events, their website, and made sure they had a big presence at AU since they were instrumental in getting AU off the ground.
Steve: What do you think Autodesk gained, and still gains, from supporting AUGI?
Lynn: Who wouldn’t want to promote an organization full of passionate users? That said – Autodesk has really dropped off of AUGI support (and local user groups) in the past decade or so…it’s really made me sad. For years I stepped in as a volunteer Autodesk rep because they had no one to work with… it was rough.
Steve: I know there were some real characters among the people running those early NAAUG/AUGI boards. Do you have any fun stories you can share about them?
Lynn: Oh boy! Too many to tell… Although I do love the time when AUGI president David Harrington ordered vanilla ice cream (at a very nice restaurant) and they accidentally brought him the one from the dessert tray which was actually Crisco… the look on his face when he took the first bite was priceless! We still laugh about it today.
We had a president we had to impeach because he took the Autodesk software we gave him for User Group door prizes and sold it. That wasn’t cool… We had our fair share of trials and tribulations but it was all worth it in the end. I still have a massive soft spot for user groups!
Steve: I’ve heard from David Kingsley about one side of the controversy over whether AUGI should have been run using a professional management group. Do you have any insights on what went on there?
Lynn: Well, there are pros and cons with that story. AUGI did get some amazing benefits when SolidVapor was working with them as they did so much of the legwork and heavy lifting. They couldn’t do it all for free – they had quite a staff supporting all of their efforts. I also understand how AUGI felt about the situation. I can totally see both sides of the situation.
Steve: I’ve run an Autodesk user group myself, and I know it’s very difficult when volunteers have different ideas about how things should happen. What lessons could be taken from that whole experience?
Lynn: While working with a passionate group of volunteers can be challenging – they are all in it for the better good of the organization. Trying to keep that in mind definitely helps.
Steve: So if you had any advice for somebody starting up a big user group from scratch, what would it be?
Lynn: Find passionate individuals who have the time to dedicate to getting the organization off the ground (a Board if you will). These individuals need to put in a fair amount of time to do the job right. Meeting face to face at least once a year is also essential in my mind – filled with head-down brainstorming and detailed planning. Plus people get to know each other better and become more tolerant of each other. And as a corporation – definitely treat these Board members well! Spoil them a little – they’ve earned it! I have to give SolidWorks (and Richard Doyle) some kudos here – they really understand the value of user groups and have dedicated resources to help them be successful. I love that!