Vice President of Strategic Relations at Autodesk, Phil Bernstein, is leaving the company the press and pundits like to refer to as the 800-lb guerrilla in the AEC software market. Autodesk is not just the clear industry leader in AEC software due to its size, but also its associations with the largest AEC firms in the world and many—if not perhaps the majority—of the leading thinkers, trendsetters, and award-winning architects in North America. And Bernstein’s position over the past decade and a half played a vital part in that.
Bernstein shared the news via a large group email that read:
It’s with markedly mixed emotions that I write to announce that I am stepping down from my role as vice president for strategic industry relations at Autodesk. Having left my comfortable role as a practicing architect sixteen years ago next month, I’ve decided it’s time to refocus on architecture, turn my attention to teaching, writing and lecturing, and seeing what might come next. These years have given me a once-in-a-lifetime chance to think deeply about how design, construction, and technology have evolved in concert, and I hope some of the resulting insights have been useful to the building and technology industries that are increasingly inter-dependent.
Berstein says in the same message that he will be transitioning responsibilities to other colleagues at the company, and his duties will fall into good hands. By November Bernstein will be consulting to Autodesk as a Fellow and supporting thought leadership and strategic endeavors.
Parsing, Timing, and Context
Bernstein’s opening sentence makes it clear that this shift is coming with some difficulty. Note the word choices in “markedly” and “mixed”—clear indicators that leaving Autodesk at this present time may not feel entirely right.
On the other hand, in terms of timing and context, Autodesk as a company is still in the midst of a financially painful transition to an all-cloud oriented delivery model and the scheduled elimination of “perpetual” software licensing. Without seeing a “thinning” of executive ranks at Autodesk, it makes little sense to associate Bernstein’s departure to Autodesk’s tightening general ledger.
In terms of strategy, our conversations seem to strongly point to him championing Autodesk’s cloud-based approach; he is acutely aware of both the rising complexity and increasing plurality of software tools involved in a typical building project. And he knows that Autodesk can’t be the software “best answer” to every building project’s key challenges. (see, Architosh, “Phil Bernstein on the Changing role of the 21st Century Architect—The Interview (Part 2),” 17 April 2016). As such, with up to 40 tools being involved in a large building project, he recognizes that the cloud allows individuals more flexible access to specific types of tools for workflows that are constantly in flux in today’s large AEC world.
The Connection To Architecture
One of the things that stand out as a loss for Autodesk with this move for Bernstein is his deep understanding of the multiple fields and their respective concerns in the built environment.
In a follow-up email with Bernstein after his announcement, I shared my view that it takes astute architects, not just technical folks in AEC, to properly frame the complexity of the discussion behind what I framed as an “arranged marriage” between computer technology and the field of Architecture with a capital “A.”
He wrote back—”You articulate perfectly below why I took this job…in 2000.”
This nuanced exchange translates to recognizing that Bernstein—as both an experienced architect and a professor at Yale—puts him into a rarified company; he straddles two worlds that institutions like NCARB have long recongized—theory and praxis. Why should a tech giant like Autodesk care about having a “bridge” professional onboard? After all, there are many avenues of connections between universities and Autodesk and architecture firms and Autodesk. But having many roads doesn’t mean all your roads lead to Rome. And this is where Bernstein played a pivotal role. His job was to make sure they did.