DE 15th Podcast Series: Jon Hirschtick, cofounder, SolidWorks
In a 15-year-old issue of InfoWorld (November 20, 1995), on page 31, a roundup of desktop mechanical CAD packages displayed at Autofact conference in Chicago appeared (source Google Books). The author, Pardhu Vadlamudi, listed SolidWorks 95 ($3,995 then), along with Solid Edge ($5,995 then) and AutoCAD Mechanical Desktop ($6,250 then). It was one of the earliest reports taking note of what would eventually become a serious contender in midrange CAD market.
InfoWorld described SolidWorks as a “solid modeling system for Windows 95 and NT … [with] a Feature Manager, which let users compile a list of features as they work on a model.” At the end of the piece, for those who wanted more information, the author listed three phone numbers — no emails, no web addresses, just phone numbers. Today, the preference, both by readers and by vendors, would have been to list contact emails, not phone numbers.
Jon Hirschtick, cofounder of SolidWorks, is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. But he’s still regarded with respect for his role in forging a path in Windows-based 3D solid modeling. At SolidWorks World user conference (the next one is set for January 23, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas), he is regularly mobbed by fans, both new and old.
When he and his technological co-conspirators wrote the business plan for SolidWorks, Windows was not yet widely accepted as a proper platform for mechanical modeling. “I could see that Windows was very quickly going to evolve into a robust enough OS that you could put a full-featured 3D modeling system on,” he recalled. His confidence came partly from Windows’ 32-bit capability, the availability of graphics cards, and Intel’s new crop of powerful CPUs, he noted.
The bet on Windows paid off. In June 1997, just two years after making its debut, SolidWorks caught the attention of Dassault Systemes and was promptly snatched up by the latter for $300 million. Today, for those who wish to elbow their way into the CAD market, SolidWorks remains one of the toughest to unseat (it successfully withstood similar attempts from established players Autodesk, PTC, and Siemens PLM Software for years). In Boston Globe‘s top 100 midsized employers for 2009, SolidWorks ranked 12th, writing paychecks for 387 Massachusetts residents.
Asked to speculate on headlines that might appear in 2025 issue of DE, Hirschtick said, “I predict you’ll be featuring hardware that’s CAD-specific, some sort of device or display … You’ll look at the picture of a keyboard and a mouse in the way we now looked at punch cards.” He may be on to something there. The text-and-pointer input combo developed in the DOS era turned out to be both a handicap and an ergonomic disaster in the age of 3D. “I think you’ll use CAD more in the fashion of the movie Iron Man,” Hirschtick envisioned.
Hirschtick thinks video games — especially how they handle visualization and rendering — point the way to how 3D modeling systems will operate in the future. “It’s incumbent upon us as an industry to see how we might take advantage of those technologies being pioneered, even [in how they use] physical simulation, in the video game market,” he said.
He also thinks hosted software, or the software-as-a-service model, is poised to bring on a new mindset. “Installed software would seem archaic,” he mused. “We won’t even think of things like backup, upgrades, license code. We’ll expect to have information everywhere.”
For more on Hirschtick’s ideas for the future, listen to the podcast below, part of a series commemorating DE‘s 15th anniversary.