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 second part of Lynn’s interview, which includes discussion of travel, gender issues and a nasty poster.
Steve: As Technology Evangelist for Autodesk for over 20 years, presentation was a big part of your job. You have a comedic, apparently casual approach to your presentations that is very popular. How much preparation do you have to put in to make it appear so casual?
Lynn: You have no idea how much planning and preparation I put into my presentations! Those on the inside think I’m a little insane I rehearse so much – but I need to in order to feel confident about my presentations. If I’m not confident – I can’t be myself. All that comedy comes from relaxing and just treating the audience like family.
Steve: Your job involved a vast amount of travel, and I see you haven’t stopped. I once remarked that I didn’t know if you had the best or worst job in the world! Which is it?
Lynn: It’s a little of both, Steve! I love spending time with users all over the world… but the travel can really get to me. It always sounds so much more glamourous than it really is. I really do love being home!
Steve: What are some of the travel difficulties you have had to face?
Lynn: Again, oh boy! How long do you have? I’ve had some real travel nightmares. Missed connection nightmares that turned into very painful sagas. I’ve lost my luggage more times than I can count. And I’ve had food poisoning too many times – ended up in the hospital once as a result. Definitely not very glam.
Steve: Are there any countries you still have left on your bucket list?
Lynn: Absolutely! Greece and Iceland. I’ve been to over 75 countries but would really like to add these two countries to my list.
Steve: One of the things I’ve always admired about you, and I think one of the reasons you’re so popular, is how much of a straight-shooter you are. Of course there are limits to how critical you can be about your company’s products. But you never seemed to shy away from saying things like, “That’s a bit annoying” or, “I don’t know why they did it that way, that doesn’t make much sense to me.” Did you ever get into trouble for being too honest?
Lynn: Good question. While I may have been a straight shooter, I wasn’t saying anything the users weren’t thinking! And I also praised the products like crazy so there was certainly more positive than negative. I don’t remember getting into trouble… the teams I worked with were very willing to take my feedback and try to do something about the issues and concerns. No software product is perfect.
Steve: As a female in a male-heavy field, I know you didn’t have to line up for the toilets at AU too often. But you must have faced some difficulties over the years because of your gender. Can you share some of those, and how you dealt with them?
Lynn: You know – I have always been pretty easy going about the gender issue and have actually been treated with a great deal of respect since joining Autodesk. Let’s remember that Autodesk had one of the first female CEOs and I think Carol Bartz’s presence permeated throughout the company. And it was difficult for someone to challenge my AutoCAD knowledge… just since I’d been doing it for so long and was one of the industry leaders so that usually shut people down as well.
Now before Autodesk – well that was another issue! I once had an ATC professional student insist I go get him some coffee (before class began on the first day), treat me clearly as a subordinate, complain that the instructor was late – only to be shocked to find out I was actually the instructor and was going to be so for the next 4 days. He wasn’t very happy about that!
Steve: You once had a “Win a date with Lynn Allen” thing sprung upon you without your knowledge or consent. I must say that horrified me when I heard about it! How did it go down with you?
Lynn: Well, I’d say they probably thought it was amusing in the grand scheme of things but of course it was totally inappropriate! I didn’t have to deal with it as others came to my aid and put an end to it before I had much of a chance to react. I can’t even remember how we fixed it. I believe whoever won was invited to join a big group of us to dinner. It is funny now!
Steve: Were there any other unpleasant surprises like that?
Lynn: Well the biggest horror by far was the poster size version of my face that was put out by Autodesk Marketing! I freaked out when I saw it – especially when the marketer told me it went out to 250,000 customers! I cried in my office for hours. They didn’t even bother to touch it up – it was awful! My boss was so very sweet – he went straight to the top to complain about it and eventually the person who put out the poster “went on to pursue other opportunities” (it wasn’t his first major marketing mistake). I was traumatized for ages. I’m still traumatized when someone tells me they still have one or they ask me to sign it. Burn your Lynn Allen posters… please!