AutoCAD, and How I Got into Software Development

I recently came across a truly amazing collection of letters and notes surrounding the formation of the Autodesk company, who are most well-known for developing the AutoCAD drafting software.

The Autodesk File

This struck me as a treasure-trove, since AutoCAD actually provided the strange inspiration that launched my software-development career more than 10 years ago. It is therefore fascinating to me to hear detailed stories relating to the company’s inception which until now I had no insight into.

When I was studying civil-engineering we had to take units in drafting using the AutoCAD software, and would afterwards often use it as a tool to provide technical drawings for assignments and projects. As with any piece of software that you are required to use, but not experienced enough for Stockholm-syndrome to have set-in, you quickly find frustrations due to flaws or your own ineptitude. This was certainly the case for me with the tool. I did gain skill over time and found it to be a very expressive drawing interface in many ways, however, since I had no experience in software-development, I arrogantly thought - “I could make something better.”

This was the first time I seriously considered writing software for any practical purpose. I googled “how to write a program” and other such things before learning that Java was the most well-regarded language of the day, and I set about downloading the necessary IDEs, etc. in order to start creating my masterpiece. Well, I quickly learned that this was quite a bit more involved than I had imagined. Not only was even the most trivial idea unfathomably detailed in its construction when broken down into its primitive concepts, but Java certainly didn’t make life any easier with its verbose and convoluted syntax and APIs.

After this I googled such things as “easier programming language than Java” and whatnot. I ended up settling on Ruby, somewhat due to it’s quirky origin story and its philosophy of developer happiness. I soon realised that not only was I extremely arrogant in thinking that I could create a better AutoCAD with any ease, but AutoCAD was one of the best conceived and designed tools that I have ever used to-date. I still draw inspiration from its many interface ideas - from AutoLISP being presented to the user as GUI actions are performed, to its extensive macro integration and sophisticated snapping guidelines.

I’m not sure there is a moral to the story, but by the time I realised that my task was not going to be realised any time soon, it was too late for me, and I was hooked on software-development for its own sake.