It’s an exciting time to be a developer working with Autodesk technology.
For my entire career at Autodesk, I’ve been a platform guy at a product company: while much of AutoCAD’s success, over the years, can be indirectly attributed to the existence and use of a rich set of APIs, Autodesk has largely (and this is of course a gross generalisation) approached the exposure of APIs as an afterthought, or at least a secondary activity. Some teams have been better than others at building a platform and then a product based on top of it – a shining example is the Object Modeling Framework, upon which AutoCAD Architecture and MEP are based – but there are many cases where APIs have simply had to be retrofitted. Revit’s a great example of a product that fits into this category: it was definitely not architected as a platform when the company was acquired by Autodesk, but over the years the Revit team has done an amazing job of turning that around, building a robust platform for external developers.
But the times they are a changin’. When the Forge initiative was announced at AU2015, I won’t say I was skeptical, but there was a certain caution to my optimism. Was it even possible for a “big” company like Autodesk – with the inertia that comes with having 10,000+ employees, worldwide – to make the shift to focus on delivering a new web-based platform and a set of products based on it? And manage to keep delivering value in our desktop software, in the meantime?
There have been examples of big companies making such radical shifts. Apple’s possibly one example, although their shift relates to going from selling computers to mainly selling music players and mobile phones. Amazon is of course a more relevant example: evolving beyond a marketplace for books (and now more or less anything) to providing the world’s most popular cloud computing platform. Amazon’s shift was in many ways driven by a top-down mandate… in late 2011, Steve Yegge – an ex-employee of Amazon who was trying to get colleagues at his then (current?) employer, Google, to buy into a holistic platform strategy – accidentally posted a hilarious rant for the whole world to read. It describes how – while, in his opinion, Amazon gets a lot wrong – one thing Jeff Bezos got exactly right was his 2002 mandate for the engineering staff to focus on delivering platform capabilities. This was the moment of conception for AWS. (Looking back at my posts from 2011, it turns out I wrote about this at the time.)
But does Autodesk – which doesn’t have this kind of top-down culture – have the chops to do something similar?
In recent weeks I’ve become convinced it does. Part of this is seeing the energy the company is putting into organising the upcoming Forge DevCon, but a larger part is seeing how our various engineering teams are getting behind the Forge initiative. And not only to deliver services through it, but to use it for their own products.
Something you may not be aware of: Autodesk employees see more services when they log into forge.autodesk.com than external developers do. The delta will hopefully disappear (or at least reduce), over time, but for now there are quite a few services that haven’t yet gone through the process required to make them fully public.
Let’s take a look at the APIs I see when I log in using my Gmail address:
And here’s the set I see when I log in with my Autodesk email address (I’ve blurred the specific APIs, but this should give you a sense for the fact there’s lots of good stuff coming down the pike).
Autodesk is really “all in” on Forge. There’s a long way to go, but I do believe that by the time of AU2016 we’ll really have a lot more to talk about (beyond what we’ll be talking about in 6 weeks in San Francisco).
So yes, it’s a great time to be a platform guy at Autodesk, or to be a developer working with Autodesk technology. Forge on!