Sunday, February 12, 2006

Interview: Shaan Hurley of Autodesk

For those of you who are new to the world of Autodesk, Shaan Hurley is the Technical Marketing Manager for the Autodesk Platform Technologies Division (PTD). But to most of us he is the Autodesk Beta Programs Manager at and one of the most prolific CAD bloggers on the web at Shaan has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for all of you CAD Managers out there.

Scott Durkee (SD): Let’s start with an easy one. I’ve talked to people who have known you several years who each pronounce your name differently. How should we correctly pronounce “Shaan?”
Shaan Hurley (SH): I chalk this up to my mother whom has told me multiple versions of the explanation for the odd spelling of my name. I still suspect it was anesthesia. It is pronounced like Shawn.

SD: Who is eligible to participate in beta testing?
SH: Everyone that is willing to be active and can keep a secret, and wants to help shape the future of Autodesk products is welcome. Customers are selected to become Beta Sites based upon their interest, willingness, and ability to provide timely information. Beta Sites provide product feedback throughout the development process until the final release. Beta Sites are also selected on the basis of past participation and their completed sign up information.

SD: CAD Managers are extremely busy people. How much time should they expect participation in the beta program to require each week?
SH: Time is precious and we are well aware of that and are grateful for any time they can provide to help better the Autodesk products.

SD: What advice would you give a CAD Manager to help justify participation in the beta program?
· You get to preview the product before final product is released.
· You get to interact with the people responsible for the features you use and get a unique perspective of behind the scenes of software development.
· Allows you to take early advantage of productivity enhancements
· Early implementation assistance and ongoing high level support offers head-start on product adoption.
· Getting an advance look at new software.
· The delight in discovering bugs that we didn't catch in our in-house alpha testing.
· Enhancing the software for your own use by suggesting possible improvements.
· Having a sneak peek of new products and emerging technologies
· The pleasure of finding unsuspected bugs
· Making our (i.e., your!) software better as a result of this collaboration program
· Your suggestion may add new dimension to our development process!
· Most important, it's your chance to contribute to the product's design and features!
· We sometimes offer rewards like free products, free all paid trips to Autodesk University, computers, hardware, digital camera, and MP3 players and best of all knowing that you were getting your feedback in and being part of the extended product team

SD: Data integrity, software lock ups, and system crashes are always issues with beta software. What procedures do you recommend for CAD Managers to keep their drawings clean and their computer systems running during the beta feedback process?
SH: Beta version programs and files should not to be used without careful consideration that these are unreleased beta products and are not fully supported and may contain software defects (bugs). The main purpose for posting them is to find the defects and have them reported so that they can be fixed in the final released version. As with any beta software always back up your data and previous files and exercise caution when in a production environment.

SD: And what about after the beta program is over and commercial software is released – what is your recommendation for drawings and computer systems that were involved in the beta program?
SH: This can vary from beta to beta and changes in the software. We try to advise all beta sites in the Beta Readme document as to the status but in beta nothing is ever 100% so please make sure to be cautious and back up.

SD: Non-disclosure during a beta program is critical and taken very seriously. Are beta participants allowed to discuss new features with other beta participants?
SH: Absolutely beta sites can discuss among fellow beta sites the new features and any bugs. We will always announce when the date for a beta is reached and customers can then begin discussing the product publicly.

SD: There seems to be some difference between beta release builds provided to customers, resellers, and developers. Why is that?
SH: The distribution depends on the products, contents, and the goals of a beta. Many betas are aimed at direct discussion and customer feedback while some may be for training or reseller feedback and even more now are a blend.

SD: The My Feedback Portal Sign Up page includes the question “What are your motivations for beta testing or providing feedback?” This is a very subjective question that may have had some unusual answers. Do you recall any humorous responses?
SH: I have seen all kinds of responses to this question. The question is designed to elicit the candidate to say anything. Most are about how they want to be in beta to improve products then there are some that answer with the strange responses like “my boss made me”, “to save the CAD world”, “to see what all the beta fun is all about”, or “I want free software” and more.

SD: Are you still accepting applications for the current AutoCAD beta, and if so, how much longer?
SH: I definitely want new AutoCAD beta customers willing to be active right now (ding ding ding) and the more the better. We are always accepting new candidates and I will be running another worldwide blitz to get more customers from every country. Remember we have other products as well as potential other AutoCAD tools and service packs than right back into early alpha for the next release. There is no quiet time with over 40 products that we run beta through in a year.

SD: In addition to your responsibilities for the Platform Technology Division and the Beta Program, you also find time to write a great blog - over 700 posts? That’s amazing. What does a CAD Manager find when they visit your blog?
SH: I try to keep my blog varied in content to not bore nor be a marketing page. There is no telling what they might find in my 800 posts in 3 years of blogging everything from how to brush your teeth with Altoids when traveling without toothpaste, live blog posts from the Amazon Jungle via GSM modems, to deep discussions on the CPU floating point limitations. I established the blog as a way to communicate tips and tricks and technology discussions as well as inject my warped sense of humor and some photos. The blog writing does not take all that much time as I try to do it after hours and while on planes. The thank you emails from around the world are the ultimate pay for this as this is not really part of my job. I even get recognized in far away places in airports from just the postage stamp sized picture of me on the blog.

SD: A list of blogs by Autodesk employees is available at These include:

“Between the Lines" AutoCAD Blog
Hosted by Shaan Hurley

"Between the Walls" Architectural Desktop Blog
Hosted by Chris Yanchar

"In The Machine" Autodesk Inventor Blog
Hosted by: Amy Bunszel, Pete Lord, Andy Palioca, Jeff Wymer

Lynn Allen's Blog
Hosted by Lynn Allen

AutoCAD Insider
Hosted by Heidi Hewett

SH: More Autodesk Blogs are coming!!!!!!!!

SD: What other online resources would you recommend for CAD Managers?
· Join AUGI at It’s free and has many benefits. Participate in AUGI's wish list process.
· Participate in online discussion groups ( &
· Participate in Local/Regional user groups
· Respond to Communication Center surveys
· Send in those Customer Error Reports when you crash
· Attend events where Autodesk employees are in attendance. We want to get your feedback. Tell us what we are doing right, wrong, what we should continue to do or what we should be doing.

SD: You emphasized the Customer Error Reports. Can you give a couple of examples of how this method of feedback to Autodesk has helped improve the software?
SH: The CER dialog is displayed after you experience an unscheduled exit of the Autodesk application "crash" for many possible reasons. After an AutoCAD crash you enter details in the dialog after it comes up and then it sends technical details of the crash back to Autodesk where it can be analyzed and researched. Autodesk products have the CER functionality built in to get the data sent to us so we can research and solve the issues in the Service Packs and next releases of the product instead of just sending an error report to Microsoft. For example the recently released AutoCAD 2006 SP1 which addressed many CER reported issues. Please be sure to send in the report and add your contact information and any known steps when you see the CER dialog.

SD: Shaan, thank you very much for taking the time to answer a few questions, thank you for the work you do at Autodesk to improve the software we use, and thank you for keeping us informed via your blog. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
SH: Thank you. Being a former CAD Manager myself, I can truly appreciate the topics on your blog and the challenges faced CAD Managers daily. It is my job to speak with AutoCAD users worldwide and make the CAD Managers job much easier.


JTB World said...

Great initiative Scott!

RobiNZ said...

I wondered about the "Shaan" spelling!

Anonymous said...

Shaan works harder than anyone I know, I get tired just thinking of all the hours he puts in.

David Harrington said...

You have now blown my admiraton for 'Shaan' being such a unique name! Nothing beats an oops at the right time...