Interview with Al Dean – Part 1

The co-founder and editor of DEVELOP3D is a very interesting individual who goes by the name of Al Dean. If you have been following me on Twitter, you will have noticed Al and me publicly argue on a regular basis on a number of things. However, I can assure you that our offline arguments are far more interesting and colorful.

I have often written about the CAD media, traditional press, bloggers, etc. on this blog and Al has always had an interesting take on that topic. Something about that topic always blows a fuse in his head and he lets out some steam every now and then.

Today I decided to do an email interview with him and sent his a set of questions. As it turns out he had quite a lot to say. So I am going to split this interview into three parts. Here is the first one.

Deelip: I have noticed that you have some pretty strong views on the CAD press. What is it that pisses you off the most?

Al: Yeah. I do right? I don’t think I’ve held back much. Let’s deal with something here. Who are the CAD Press? There’s precious few magazines out there – those that perceive themselves as the ‘CAD Press’ or part of the ‘CAD Editor’s Club’ all write online content – they’re bloggers, their digital journalists, they’re writers. As simple as that. Some are aggregators of content, some write books – they’re content producers. The same goes for bloggers – they produce content. Simple as that.

Now. What pisses me off? It’s a few things. First is that the ‘CAD press’ are just that. They talk about CAD. They talk about the tool. Not the task. To my mind that’s a fundamental mistake. By concentrating on the tools, rather than the task or at least treating both equally, you’re not giving the full picture. Would you review a hammer without talking about how well it bangs in nails? To extend an already weak analogy, would you read just about hammers or would you like to read about carpentry?

Much of the content out there is completely without context.

The other thing that drives me absolutely spare is the focus on a couple of companies within the space: namely, Autodesk, SolidWorks (specifically SolidWorks, not even Dassault) and occasionally Siemens PLM. There’s an obsession with Autodesk that I simply don’t understand. Yes, the Autodesk guys have some very interesting tools. Yes, AutoCAD is widely used in many areas of industry and many sectors and yes, Inventor is an impressive product. But if you read the content from many of the ‘CAD press’ it’s about Autodesk this, Autodesk that, SolidWorks didn’t invite me to something.

My point is that there are a huge range of tools out there that never get seen, never get looked at in any ‘depth’. Now. Why is that? Is it because the ‘CAD Press’ only ever attend events that they’re invited to, that they’re comped for? A little bit, yes. Is it because there’s a steady stream of information that’s sent out that can be used? Yes. Do they bother to go out and find new tools, new developers that just want to get their product out there or conversely, talk to older vendors that haven’t seen much action in years but have a compelling solution? No. I don’t believe they do for the most part.

Is it also because they haven’t got the background in the use of the products to actually dive in and use these things? Yes. I believe it is too – that’s something that amazed me when I started out as a writer in the late 90s – just how many people that I’d previous thought were knowledgeable, actually had almost no fecking idea what they were looking at. How can you talk about a CAM system if you’ve never operated a mill? How can you talk about Moldflow if you’re never designed a plastic part? Madness.

Final thing is this. Who is much of the ‘traditional press’ addressing? Is it the user? I’m not entirely convinced. Is much of the content created to flag up the fact that they simply exist? Maybe. That’s a great unanswered question, but an important one.

Deelip: What is it that you love about your colleagues in the CAD press? There must be something 😉

Al: I like the passion from many and I have a massive amount of respect for all of them – even if I disagree with things, that respect is unfazed whatsoever. Plus, I’ve been hanging around conferences and events with these people for over 10 years now. It’s like an extended family type of thing. We sit around, we bullshit and we yap. We all get on our high-horse every now and again. But it’s all forgotten (at least I hope so, this interview might be a stretch).

Deelip: Who do you think is the best person to review something as complex as a MCAD system? (1) A user who uses the product 8 hours a day, (2) A casual user who uses other MCAD products as well, (3) a journalist who has been covering the product for many years but has never really used the product, (4) a journalist/blogger who has been sent by the CAD vendor to one of their resellers for a crash course on the product, (5) Anyone else? In fact, rate them from best to worst.

Al: I’m not going to rate them – that’s pointless. There’s pros and cons of each. Take the blogging community. I love it. There’s people creating amazing content simply because they want to. Yes, some are looking to monetize that, but good for them I say – that’s a hard nut to crack on your own.

But, the one thing that bloggers don’t have is a wider view of the world. If you’re a user, you tend to use a very specific set of tools and have a natural focus for what you write about – the old adage of “you write what you know” holds true. That’s 100% a good thing.

The problem I find is that you find a lot of repetition, a lot of covering the same topics, the same tools. Take SolidWorks for instance. 2010 was a big release and it got a huge amount of coverage, from the press, from the blogging community. That’s a good thing. But when did you last read about someone writing about the simulation tools in SolidWorks, when did someone look at the full version of their Sustainability toolset? You didn’t for the most part.

For me, that’s where a professional writer can provide something different – to take the time and look at the tools that no-one else ever talks about. Same goes for a point I made earlier, about the smaller vendors. The team we have at DEVELOP3D treats everyone the same. if someone wants a review, they can have one if they’re prepared to put the effort in, give us the product, give us a demo and get it done. And we do it in every issue.

Now, why is that important? First off, we like the technology and we like helping people. These products and technologies are there to help designers, engineers and manufacturers get their work done more quickly or to greater effect. But they can’t use them if they don’t know about them. That’s our job.

Part 2 >>