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Trip Report: Arizona in April

– is lovely. Stark brown scrubby hills surrounding the city of Phoenix — which stretches on
forever. I will definitely go back to climb some of those hills someday, if I can convince
myself that the scorpions and rattlers are more afraid of me than I of them.

I attended COFES (the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software) and MSC’s 2009
North American user group meeting, VPD. Much in common but some striking differences:

* "Future" now means "when this crisis ends". I had hoped that I’d learn what leading
companies want their workers to be able to do in 5, 10, 15 years and how technologists can
help meet these needs but everyone is hunkered down, looking to cut back wherever
possible and just make it through.
* Exactly "when this crisis ends" is in the eye of the beholder. Much difference by
geography (no one from Michigan was upbeat), some by gender and a lot by age. No one I
spoke with at either event saw much hope before early 2010.
* But almost everyone believes their business will rebound … eventually. I even met
entrepreneurs at both events, none to be stopped by the economic meltdown around us.
Slowed, yes.
* Old farts abound. And, yes, I’m an old fart too in this context. Both conferences were
predominantly white, male and of a certain not-so-young age. Check out the CAD Society
for some ideas on getting younger people interested in engineering. More younger folks and
women at the MSC event.
* An interesting concept started at COFES and kept going at VPD: we are facing a serious
gap between the CAE talent needed and that available. And it’s going to grow. As more
companies use CAE, they will need more skilled people — and where are those people
going to come from? No one I spoke with has seen this problem first-hand, but then, no one
is really hiring right now. It’ll show up once things get moving again. Scary.
* The VPD conference (as always) highlighted companies’ use of simulation to meet
business needs (and some academic papers, too). The 15 or so talks that I attended were
thoughtful discussions laying out a problem, possible avenues to solution and the
compromises made to get there. Did you know that some racing teams now use CAE at
the track? I didn’t and will write more about that when time permits.
* MSC laid out a long list of imminent and longer-term software enhancements, focusing on
the core analytical products with less emphasis on enterprise and data management.
Strikingly practical, all meeting a (to me, anyway) clearly articulated need by an industry
vertical. Attendees around me seemed impressed and felt that, while some were catch-up,
many could take MSC’s products ahead of the competition.
* I had a quick chance to speak with MSC’s interim CEO, Ash Munshi. He refused to
discuss MSC, the company or its products with me, but he is a charming man who seems
genuinely liked by his employees and the customers he interacted with in my line of sight.
MSC announces earnings on May 7, so let’s see what happens then.

There’s lots more to write about, and I will — as soon as I take care of some business and
gather my thoughts. I encourage you to consider attending both conferences. COFES has
wrapped for 2009 but there are five more VPD events scheduled globally.

Earnings start next week, with PTC on Wednesday and Dassault on Thursday. Hold on…

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