Thursday, September 12, 2013

10 Questions: with Shaan Hurley

Shaan Hurley


If you've used AutoCAD, or any flavor thereof, in the past ten years, you should have at least heard the name: Shaan Hurley.  Unless you just dabble with it, and don't really try to push it anywhere close to its limits.  If you've even leaned against it enough to make it squeak a bit, you should know his name.  If you went to any of the Autodesk University (AU) conferences in the past two decades (sorry, not trying to date anyone here) you HAVE to know his name.  If you attended them and don't recall his name, you're either braindead, or spent your entire week there in a bar.

Shaan is synonymous with AutoCAD customization.  I tried to summarize it with all sorts of words, but that's about the best and most succinct combination of terms I could muster.

At AU 1997 in Los Angeles, I ran into Shaan, in person, for the first time.  It was a weird situation, after several strangers (i.e. people I had never met or known beforehand) had approached each of us, separately, and made some comments to the effect that there was some animosity between us.  As far as I knew, there was none.  Mainly since I had never met Shaan before and my online conversations with him were very limited and technical in nature.  So, long story short: We saw each other from across a huuuuuuge expo floor area, and cautiously walked to a midway point.  The conversation, as I recall, went something like this:  "Um. Hi Shaan." "Um, Hi Dave".  "How are you?" "Good! How are you?" "Good!" followed by some chuckling and relief.

I've always respected Shaan, and what he's meant to the world of CAD/CAM software engineering and design.  As you'll see in the questions below, he's very much customer-focused; always thinking about the products from the user's point of view.  Without that, I can't imagine where the entire industry would be today, let alone Autodesk, or even "PC-based" CAD features.  Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this (I sure did)!

The Questions

Dave: When did you first put your hands on AutoCAD? What were you doing with it (project-wise)?

Shaan: It is a little blurry but I believe it was around 1989/90 and AutoCAD R10 or R11. I was using it to design a pressure vessel for a pharmaceutical company. It was pretty intimidating at first to draw the drawings so that the fabrication shop would not come back in the office and yell at me.

Dave: What was the first programming language you learned?

Shaan: Here we go into the way way way the hell back time machine, I learned to program using BASIC on a terminal writing a game back in high school. It was a surfing game and based on your choices it would generate your next moves in the surfing tournament or you were heckled for hitting the pier, hit the rocks, or got caught in a fisherman's line. The limit on the amount of programming, debugging and gameplay was limited to how much paper you had in the terminal. There was no monitor just a monster terminal comprised of a keyboard constructed of pig iron that consumed reams and reams of paper and for it computing it was connected to the schools mainframe. This was a long time ago, but after the punch card era of computing.

Dave: If you had to sum up what AutoLISP is (or was), as well as what it means (or meant) to you, personally, how would you describe it?

Shaan: I stumbled across AutoLISP in desperation after scripts were just not powerful enough to do what I wanted them to do. I am so glad I found and learned AutoLISP as it saved my day and sanity so many times. I remember looking at all the Hot Tip Harry code and figuring out how others were using it. Being able to automate my AutoCAD work saved me time and allowed me to focus on other things. An example was the layout of large tubesheets for heat exchangers with complicated tube pitches and patterns. It could take a few days manually to layout the tubesheet and of course change during design always happens and adds even more time. When I write a LISP routine to layout the tubesheets I took what was days and reduced it to less than a minute and a I had a detailed layout drawing.

Dave: Which airport is your favorite to pass through? Which airport makes you dread traveling through it?

Shaan: My favorite for sheer awe of the architecture is Shanghai's Pudong airport. Not only can you arrive on a MAGLEV train at high speed, but the architecture of the terminals main area is amazing and the super reflective floors makes it even more amazing (Flickr Link). As for my least favorite airport that is difficult these days as there are so many poor airports whether they be hard on the eyes as a throwback to the 1950's or have perfected the art of making travel painful and a truly broken process. I think one of my least favorite would be a tie between Chicago O'hare as I always seem to get delayed there or have to walk or run from the furthest two points in the entire airport in the shortest amount of time. Orlando's airport drives me crazy just due to the sheer number of crying kids with Mickey Mouse ears on their heads and having just spent a week of nothing but junk food and sugar.

Dave: If you hadn't gone into the world of architectural/engineering design and CAD, what do you think you would be doing for a living today?

Shaan: Don't laugh Dave, at first I wanted to be a marine biologist. Yes, be paid next to nothing and spend 10 years of my life on a desert island studying some obscure jellyfish or sea creature. Of course that was my dream job and instead I fell into growing my hair long and playing guitar bands then having to find a real job like so many others. I am not kidding, about 1 out of 5 CAD software related people I know said they started in a band. How do you think we always have Autodesk employee bands at AU? A bad injury caused my dreams of being a famous rock and roll star to fall flat into reality and I started working in the steel fabrication industry and eventually becoming a mechanical designer.

Dave: Where do see the CAD industry in ten years from now?

Shaan: I think the industry will still be there as engineers, architects, designers and such will still need a way to take what is in their minds eye and put it to a form where others can build it. What form CAD actually is may be a difficult prediction but I think remote software whether on the public or private cloud will most certainly be a part of it allowing more computational power to be scaled and managed instead of limited to each workstation on each desk. I do hope as a recovering designer that we find technology that allows us to make the process of getting the design ideas from your mind to a digital form such as a drawing or model much easier, and no I am not suggesting a USB port in the skull. In  my days of design work, I had the design all built out in my mind and had to remember all the CAD system commands and process in order to translate it to a drawing. I always wanted a way to limit or remove the worrying about the CAD process in design and just allow the design and ideas to flow. 

Dave: What is your favorite, or most relied-upon, freeware or open-source utility?

Shaan: There are so many I rely on, but perhaps FileZilla is near the top of my list currently working with so many files on remote servers at work but in my personal life the open-source fav is VLC.

Dave: Favorite continent to travel to?

Shaan: These are not continents but islands. I love South Island New Zealand, but it is tied with Japan for the many of the same reasons the people and the tranquility.

Dave: If you were given absolute control over any Fortune-500 company for a week, which would it be and what changes would you request?

Shaan: First order would be to make my one week extended to permanent, yes who wouldn't try that move as that is like given a wish and making the wish for unlimited wishes. Second would be to encourage employees to always consider the customer first and foremost and get to know them even the bean counters should know a company's customers and what your product or service means to them and their companies. If the customer needs are always considered and you keep close to them and have their trust, then success and profitability should follow as you will know what your customer’s needs are and what to make.

Dave:  Favorite breakfast food selection?

Shaan: Coffee.


I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did.  I have to say that it made a four hour layover in Charlotte NC seem like fifteen minutes.


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