Interview with Rachael Taggart – Part 1

Rachael Taggart is the Director of Marketing at Lattice Technology, the company best known for its amazing XVL 3D data compression technology. She also heads a once well known organization called The CAD Society. I say that because I only hear about the organization once every year around COFES time, because that’s they give out their annual awards. The news section on the organization’s web site has press releases related to their awards for the past two years, and nothing else.

I wanted to know more about the organization, what they do or used to do. I have known Rachael for many years now and decided to do an email interview with her. As it turns out, she had a lot to say. So I am going to split this up into three parts. Here is the first one.

Deelip: What is the mission of the CAD society?

Rachael: Great question and one that I ask over and over. Here’s what the web site says:

“Over 20 years ago, The CAD Society was formed to bring together a community of CAD users of all types, levels and generations. Today’s CAD Society is a way for users to have an industry voice that is related to all the CAD products, industry-wide and across the entire globe. The CAD Society is global: It is created to be appropriate to users of every level: students, users of every level, vendors, developers and pundits.”

The CAD Society was created with great things in mind. It started off well, was quite vibrant at the beginning, and then started to lose momentum. It formed a set of guidelines for interoperability which was a huge issue across the 80’s to the 90’s. But that issue, an oozing sore in those decades, became more like an itch that was easily cured in the late 1990’s and onwards with the rise of some really decent interop solutions. The CAD Society plodded on with the enthusiasm of Brad Holtz and a few others and was just starting to regain some momentum with Joe Greco as president in 2004, when Joe suddenly died while on vacation. To be honest, it never regained its footing – or indeed any real meaning – from there. The CAD Society in terms of its larger mission is the proverbial ‘solution without a problem’ and this needs to be dealt with.

One thing the CAD Society has consistently done is deliver awards to people in the CAD industry. This is just a small part of its overall mission, but one that I think is quite important: With this simple statement I can see Ralph and others shudder. Why would these (so called) tacky awards be ‘important’ they ask? Well, no other body in the industry independently recognizes and awards excellence in our industry. And looking back, the CAD industry has been consistently filled with genius innovators who have defined so much of the current world with their work – having the tools to quickly and accurately design anything; the solutions to test a structure for viability long before it ever gets built or manufactured; the ability to manufacture a part direct from 3D, live mapping tools… I could go on for ever. But there’s no way a general technology association would be able to identify if the NURBS code that Ken Versprille wrote and patented a long time ago is significant or not. Or if Mike Payne has fundamentally and consistently changed the industry. For the same reason, the Oscar Technical awards is a separate division. In many ways, the CAD Society awards are the Oscars of the CAD industry and The CAD Society remains proud to give these awards as a way of intelligently recognizing incredible people in the industry who would otherwise be forgotten.

But the CAD Society’s wider mission remains obscure in its execution. This is (now) partly my fault which I will explain later. But the mission to bring together a community in a mature industry is somewhat difficult – today engineers and designers are CAD users pretty much by default. They are not the odd-ball ‘CAD guy’ of 20 years ago, trying to persuade the engineers on the drawing boards to try it out. (Please note that I was that odd-ball and I used my charms to get the crusty old drafting technicians to try out AutoCAD 2.4). Engineers of today use CAD like writers use Word… and they no longer need a ‘community’ to make them feel accepted and the CAD-specific communities feed their specific needs for training and collaboration that the CAD Society cannot hope to meet.

So this begs a huge question – is the current mission of the CAD Society defunct in the new century? Other than the awards, the answer is, right now, yes.

Deelip: This year the CAD society awarded Mike Payne, Roopinder Tara and Dr. Ping Fu. What are your reasons for that?

Rachael: That’s easy. The CAD Society has some very well-defined awards and these individuals easily qualify. You look at Mike: Co founder of PTC, co-founder of SolidWorks, CTO of Dassault Systemes, CEO of Spatial Corp., co-founder of Spaceclaim. The products that came from each of these companies rocked the CAD world. Ping Fu, co-founder, president and CEO of Geomagic, that took the concept of reverse engineering, made it a reality, and built a huge company and industry around it – genius and business acumen rolled into just one person. Roopinder Tara, one of the earliest creators of online CAD information and resource web sites and made it popular and profitable. But to add to that, his philanthropy in the CAD industry makes him a stand-out. But this year, after consideration, the Board decided to create a new award based on the fact that there is a bunch of CAD people out there who consistently get beat out of the awards because their contribution doesn’t fit into the tightly defined awards that we already have. You will find out more about that at COFES 2010.

Part 2 >>