Thoughts on John Walker's Papers

John Walker is the technological force behind the success of Autodesk. His web site has a collection of things he's written over the years. He has a verbose but smooth writing style which makes even his casual documents seem suitable for publication, but the most interesting thing about his papers are the thoughts behind them.

Walker is interested in many things; he has a discussion of the most commercially practical way to reach near earth orbit; various up-to-the-minute satellite photo presentation programs; a discussion of his calorie-counting diet method as published in his book The Hacker's Diet (he recommends the same mathematical approach I used a few years ago, which is based on the fact that (calories burned - calories eaten) / (3300 calories/pound of fat) gives a person's rate of weight loss); and assorted programmer utilities.

But the most relevant to me was his book The Autodesk File. This is a huge (900 pages, I think it says) collection of documentrivia from his entire tenure at Autodesk. Every so often Walker would get up on his soapbox about something or other, and the resulting papers reflect his corporate concerns over the years: hiring good people (Autodesk ran an add proclaiming six-figure salaries for superprogrammers who were literate as well), what is an airhead (someone who insists that the calcium in quartz is what makes it resonate with your back muscles to reduce pain, even when convinced that quartz contains no calcium), how to take a company to IPO, what makes a good executive (leadership and vision), how a CEO ought to deal with journalists (stay away from them), and so forth.

Most interesting of all are Walker's concerns about the future of Autodesk. His "nightmare scenario" is that Bill Gates will wake up one day and realize that the entire CAD market is a plum waiting to be plucked from Autodesk's fingers. To combat that Autodesk needs to run ahead, Walker feels that CAD will become the central force in the next new interface, VR. Everyone will want to edit and create in this new user interface mode, so Autodesk is poised to become a mainstream player rather than a niche market dominator. Yeah, right.

All in all, interesting if unfocused browsing of a careerful of ideas from a very smart nerd.


J. Walker, the web site. J. Walker, The Autodesk File, 1994. J. Walker, The Hacker's Diet.
Substantive changes:
    March 21, 1996: created.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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