15 Questions with Jeff Hanson

by: Jeff Hanson
autodesk insiders
15 Questions with
Jeff Hanson
hat is your role at Autodesk Jeff?
This may seem like a straight forward question but
it is not quite so simple. My official title is Technical
Writer. Funny thing is I really don’t do all that much writing.
Nobody wants to suffer through my writing. In the interest of
full disclosure this article was edited by one of the team’s writers.
Thanks Lisa!
My role is Subject Matter Expert on the AEX UX (User Experience) Team; more specifically I am part of the UA (user assistance)
team. So I am essentially an Architect on a team of writers. The
writers know how to write and I know how to be an Architect. I
help the writers understand our users better and bridge the gap.
I will also provide some domain experience to the product designers or just act as another set of eyes when reviewing features
which are being designed. Right out of the gate I get a tough question thrown at me.
How long have you been with Autodesk and
doing this, any other roles?
I’ve been with Autodesk for a total of 5.5 years now. I have been
part of the user assistance team as a Subject Matter Expert for 4.5
years now. I think the first release I worked on was Revit 8.1. I
think the documentation has improved a lot since then and I like
to think I played a small role in some of those changes. Before I
joined the User Assistance team, I worked in product support.
I supported all of the AEC division products Revit, AutoCAD
Architecture, AutoCAD MEP, VIZ Render (remember that
one?) Heck, Revit MEP did not even exist back then. At the
time we were all scared to have to start supporting Revit MEP,
except Kyle Bernhardt of course. His excitement could not be
contained. Yep, he started in product support too. Look how far
we have come.
Tell us a little about your background and
how you came to be doing what you do now?
I went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota. When
finished with school I stayed in the Minneapolis area and started
working at a small commercial firm. It was a good office. Stable
work and pretty committed to technology. I was always kind of
a computer/software nerd so it was a great fit. The office bought
the first release of AutoCAD Architecture (Architectural Desktop back then) and I dove right in. When a tiny company known
as Revit Technology introduced their product it caught my eye
and I suggested our office give it a shot. I think it was in Release
3 when we started using it. I was still the AutoCAD guy in the
office, but did do Revit projects here and there.
The way I got to Autodesk was because of my participation in
discussion groups. I participated quite a bit and Autodesk invited
me to a validation event they were holding in Minneapolis. They
were showing some features that were in development at the time
and wanted to see how I might like them or use them. At that
event one of the people running it recognized my name from the
discussion groups and suggested I apply for an open product desummer_2010
autodesk insiders
sign position on the AutoCAD Architecture team. I decided to
go ahead and throw my hat in the ring.
I did not end up getting that position, but I really liked what I saw
at Autodesk and wanted to work for them. Once I officially did
not get the designer position I applied for everything else I even
remotely qualified for. I got hired less than a week later for the
Product Support position. From there I just found my way to the
user assistance team because it felt like a good fit for the kinds of
skills I had.
tion, specifications, users’ feedback, design intent documents, use
cases, etc… On the User Assistance team we need to go through
all of that information and distil out the most important elements
which need to be documented. Couple this with the fact we are
trying to satisfy a group of users with very wide skill ranges. It
can be difficult to find the right amount of information to present
while not making it too simple or complex.
What does a typical day look like at your desk?
I live in New Hampshire and work in the Manchester, NH Autodesk office. I usually get to the office between 8:30 and 9:00am.
Take time to go through e-mails I may have gotten through the
previous evening. Seems like people at Autodesk work at all times
of the day. I will come in to find e-mails sent to me at 1am or later.
Of course Autodesk has employees all over the globe so I suppose
I should not be all that surprised. During this time I respond to
e-mails that come in to the Autodesk Feedback e-mail alias. So
if you are sending us feedback I am one of the people who look at
those and sends back a response.
Then I will typically take a look at the AUGI, Autodesk, and Beta
software discussion boards. Sometimes I will respond to a couple
of posts. I still can’t believe this is an activity I used to do because I
liked doing it and now I am actually paid to do it. I always wanted
to find a job where someone will pay me to do something I would be
glad to do for free. I guess I have one of those jobs now.
I might then move on to consulting with one of the writers about
a section of help they are writing, creating some storyboards for
tutorial videos, or creating an image used for an illustration in help
or for a tooltip.
At lunch time I might be attending a design pinup. A design pinup
is kind of like going back to Architecture school. A design for a
new feature will be presented for input from a larger group. The
design might only be an idea on paper or could be actually working
pieces of code. It really depends where in the process the feature
is. The reviews inspire more thought and help shape and define the
feature moving forward.
In the afternoon I might be back at my desk shooting video for
the tutorial I wrote in the morning or maybe editing in a narration
track for an already completed video. I posed for the picture shown
in Figure 1.
Before I leave for the day around 5:30 or so I will take another look
at the discussion boards and follow up with any e-mails from the
What kind of challenges do you and those
you work with deal with?
I think the biggest challenge my team deals with is trying to figure out the right amount of information to provide to the users.
When features are designed we generate mountains of informasummer_2010 Figure 1- Pausing long enough to take a quick photo
As an example I recently completed a series of 5, 2-minute videos,
a total of about 10 minutes. To create these videos, I had a design
document that was probably 25 pages, 8 10-minute demonstration videos, and pages and pages of feedback from a beta forum.
Needless to say I had a lot of editing to do. I think the videos are
successful, and we have been getting good feedback from internal
people who have seen them.
Can you say how many people work with you
or perhaps how the work is shared?
I work directly with the writing staff. The team of writers divides
up the work per major features of Revit. Some of the writers are
more focused on Architecture, Structure, or MEP, respectively,
but there is a lot of cross pollination or work on what we call
“platform” features. I work with all of them to help them understand how tools in Revit might be used in specific situations.
I might write an outline of the workflow used to accomplish a
task. I might also create illustrations for them for use in the help
The tutorial videos are produced by a smaller group. We all write
storyboards and review each other’s work for content and technical accuracy. Draft videos are created by each author for review
as well. I typically take the videos over from that point and finish
them off. Sometimes I need to reshoot the draft video but sometimes I can use it as is. I also get the narration tracks recorded
and edited into the video. One of the other team members takes
them from that point and gets them posted to Autodesk.com and