It wasn’t until I joined Twitter in July of ’08 that I first became aware of Alistar Dean. How this was even possible is beyond me. Al is one of those people who, upon meeting him for the first time, you know you will never forget. If asked to describe him, I would say he’s an uneven mix of father, scholar, punk and geek. I say uneven as I believe the mixture changes depending on environment. Perhaps ‘chameleon’ would be a more apt description? No matter, it is the sum of these parts that makes up the incredible Human being that is Al Dean.

Let’s back up a bit, though, and talk some about how Al, in his present form, came to be. Al has been surrounded by engineering all his life. His father was a Chief Engineer in the Royal Navy, his grandfather a carpenter on movie sets from the 50′s through the 70′s. It was only natural that Al would develop a fascination with design and manufacturing. It was this fascination that led him to get a degree in product design in the mid 1990′s. That was as specific as he got. I’m not sure if he was being deliberately vague or if he’s simply not sure any more. I suspect either could be true. One of the things I love about Al is he has such a way with words. What he actually said about his college days was “…spent three years arsing about as one does at university.” After those three years of arsing (that could be my new favorite verb), Al came to the conclusion that he wasn’t ready to get a real job so he was able to “blag his way” onto a Master’s Degree in Engineering Product design. I had to look up ‘blag’ to be sure it was an actual word, which it is.

As is typical of college students, he held a number of different jobs. Roofer, bartender (apropos?), chicken processor (WTH?). He then moved on to various contract jobs using Pro/E and AutoCAD. From his reply: “One of the last jobs before I jumped ship was spent designing fridge handles and the associated dies for nearly 6 months straight. A lot of dies and a lot of fridge handles. I think I lost the will to live. Or at least to open doors and discover cold food.” One constant throughout his college career was the reading of CADD (Computer Aided Drafting and Design) Magazine. How fortuitous was it that he spotted an ad placed by CADD looking for a “CAD Software reviewer?” He placed a call, was invited to London, interviewed with the illustrious Martyn Day and the rest is history. During Al’s time there, they turned CADD Magazine into MCAD Magazine, refocusing it on mechanical design while watching the fledgling PC workstation in design industry grow.

(As I’m re-reading, I’m realizing that I may be doing Al a bit of a disservice here. The interview was conducted through email, and his manner of writing is light years beyond mine, as evidenced by the quotes I’ve, er, quoted. He has so many great quotes that would make no sense out of context. That causes me to wonder; do I continue in my words or switch to his? Eh, I’ll stick with mine, I need the practice. Sorry, Al.)

Naturally, I needed to find out how Develop3D came to be. Why was I not surprised to hear that it was conceived of in a pub? It wasn’t until the end of 2007 that Develop3D was born, partially out of necessity. MCAD Magazine was being reorganized and Al, and his cohorts, realizing that they could very well end up unemployed, and that they were virtually unemployable elsewhere (his words, not mine) set about creating their own magazine. What’s even more surprising is that the name was thought up in a Starbucks, not a pub. They had their plan, took as much of the staff as they could, and set up shop. About three months later, MCAD closed its doors.

So, what does Develop3D have to offer that other magazines/ezines don’t? Well, as Al pointed out to me, that is a question best answered by those that read it, so I asked the question on Twitter. Some of the responses I received:

“They just get it. They know what people want to read about and deliver it in a way where it’s easy to take in.” – Chris Serran, Senior Design Leader
“The attention to detail and the characters that write it. They are like Top Gear for CAD” – Rachael Taggart
“Reading other CAD magazines I always have the impression that their customers are the sponsors not the readers. Not for D3D!” – Franco Folini, President of Novedge,
“The guys who run it of course. Show me another mag with such colorful characters.” – Deelip Menezes,

Al did, however, chime in with his own perspective: “We wanted to give people a magazine that gave them a sense of pride in what they do. Other professions or interests have fancy magazines that have actual time and effort spent in making them look slick and read well. Why not design and engineering?”

What they wanted, and what most would agree that they’ve achieved, is a magazine that isn’t chock full of marketing bullshit and hyperbole. The team at D3D talks about the designer’s design, with only a passing reference to the software or hardware used, much to the chagrin of the manufacturers. Apparently, vendors have been known to call up Al and complain that one of their customers was on the cover yet they hardly received any press. Al’s response? Quite politically correct, which I find a bit maddening. To paraphrase, Al simply tells them that people want to read about the designer and his/her influences, not the tools used. This isn’t to say that they don’t talk about engineering tools, because they do. However, they do it in the context of a review of said tools and not as a “co-star” in an article about some incredible design.

The previous paragraph is a perfect segue into my next question regarding Al’s day-to-day duties as editor. He was quick to point out that the true editor of D3D, if there is one, would be Greg Corke. Al’s days are spent communicating with people, essentially keeping his finger on the pulse of the industry. They’ve done a bunch of research on reverse engineering and they’re in the process of researching simulation. Al figures he only spends about 50% of his time actually writing these days. The rest of his time is taken up by “yacking and hustling.” Oh, and working on a sister publication to Develop3d. That, I believe, will be a future post. Just as a teaser, it deals with sustainability.

Even though he’s not out there designing himself these days, he still gets the opportunity to help in design cycles via reader inquiries or friends that ask for a hand. He shared a bit about one such project with me. A reader contacted him to find out what Al knew about laser scanning as he, the reader, had a sculpture he wanted to scan. Nothing out of the ordinary there, right? How about the fact that the sculpture was a blowtelope? Yeah…a Blow fish with Antelope horns. I’m still hoping to see a pic of that, Al.


Picture stolen, appropriately enough, from





March 26, 2011 · Posted in Interview  

Upon first glance, Matt West comes across as a quiet, unassuming guy. Perhaps even a bit geeky. These, I believe, would be apt descriptions, even if a bit contradictory to his current role. There’s more to Mr. West than meets the eye, however. He’s also an avid music lover (indie rock anyone?). In the two pictures below, you can see theses to opposing sides.






We’ll be focusing on the geek side of Matt today because, well, I didn’t include the rocker aspect in my interview. My bad.

Matt has a degree in English from Virginia Commonwealth University. He parlayed that degree into a rewarding career at Circuit City. He spent 8 plus years there in various capacities, topping out as their eBusiness Manager. Thankfully, Matt saw the writing on the wall, with regards to Circuit City’s impending demise, and began looking elsewhere for employment. He and his wife decided that they wanted to live either in New England, or the Pacific Northwest. He applied for positions at SolidWorks and, simultaneously interviewing for both. He also, ultimately, received job offers from both. Obviously, had he chosen Amazon I wouldn’t be writing this…

Matt didn’t set out to be a Social Media Guru, it just happened while he was employed at Circuit City due to the advent of social media during his tenure, as well as his apparent knack for it. One position morphed into another, which morphed into another. This morphing occurred as social media was maturing and Circuit City actually began to embrace it which, ultimately, led to Matt’s current duties as Social Media Manager at SolidWorks.

Social Media, a term that Matt doesn’t really enjoy, is giving SolidWorks the ability to not only push out information to its customers, but to receive feedback from them in real time. Often times you’ll hear people saying that SolidWorks doesn’t listen to its customers. Matt’s response to that? “Bullshit”. Up until the recent passing of the torch, Matt had weekly meetings with Jeff Ray, that will hopefully continue with Bertrand, regarding what was being said on Twitter, or on Facebook, or in the blogs, or in the forums. This information is also passed on to whatever product group needs it as well. Often times, a discussion on another blog will prompt a response post on the SolidWorks blog, which Matt also manages. (At this point, I could go off on a tangent talking about how SolidWorks is using social media to improve their product, but that will come at a later date.) The thing about Matt’s current duties is this, they’re fluid. He manages SolidWorks’ Twitter account (@solidworks), as well as his own (@matthewwest). He handles the Facebook page and SolidWorks’ website content. Because he “gets around” at the office, he also helps out with other departments’ projects, from writing an article to providing video.

What Matt does for SolidWorks is going to grow in importance in the coming years. Only 10-15% of SolidWorks users, by his estimation, utilize social media right now (4000 followers on Twitter, 20k on Facebook and 55k on the forums), but that number is bound to grow as those in high school and college get out in the work world. Companies are going to need to be more available to their customers unless they want to be lambasted on the internet. People like Matt are going to need to make sure that their company’s executives understand the importance of not spurning Social Media, or their customers that use it. While they may be the vocal minority right now, it won’t be long before they’re the vocal majority. Matt, however, believes that his role will become less necessary; that as people and companies become more socially aware, social media will just become a part of everyday happenings and just “happen”, without the need of someone making sure it happens. While I can see his point, I hope it’s not true. It seems to me that when things become part of the norm, they eventually become passe. Once they become passe, people (read: companies) stop paying attention.

“Geeky” Matt picture stolen from
“Rocker” Matt picture stolen from

March 7, 2011 · Posted in Interview, SolidWorks Community  

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