Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Tinkercad Is Down – Autodesk

This morning the following letter was sent to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, CTO Jeff Kowalski and several leaders of the 123D applications teams who are responsible for the Tinkercad product and engineering efforts. Tinkercad is a central component in the toolchain of schools' 3D modeling and printing curriculum. I encourage everybody with an opinion about the state of the site to constructively discuss your requirements and expectations and the impact the disruptions have had on your classrooms and your long-term planning for 3D curriculum.

Voice your support for Autodesk improving Tinkercad reliability, responsiveness and feature set by using the #FixTinkercad Twitter hashtag.

I was a Tinkercad user a year or so before Autodesk picked up stewardship of the site in the spring of 2013. I’ve been an active user in my own work and as a 3D modeling instructor at various schools in the East Bay. Guillermo (Melantoni, 123D project Line Manager), I’ve brought you into my classrooms and into my lab early on to show you how my students are using the tool. I’ve been to your offices several times to meet with both product and engineering teams to discuss the product’s many strength and crippling weaknesses. 

It was around this time last year that the state of the site had deteriorated to such an extent that I publicly called out the Autodesk team proclaiming, Tinkercad is Dead, because the site was at that point for all intents and purposes completely unusable. I was a lone voice in that discussion because few teachers were using the site as centrally in their curriculum as I was. Sure enough, fully 2/3 of my students who were affected by those failures chose alternative activities and never returned to 3D modeling. It’s been relayed to me that however opinionated I was, this frank online discussion contributed to Autodesk committing some additional resources and to the decision to make some changes in the development team. This eventually led to the migration of the application stack over to a large public cloud. Responsiveness improved markedly in the spring as a result, though many significant usability issues have still never been addressed.

Now, 10 months later and smack in the middle of another academic semester in which 100’s, if not 1,000's, of classrooms are now reliant on the site as a central tool of their current curriculum, the site has once again been left completely unreliable for going on 3 weeks with no end of the troubles in sight. The students, teachers and districts now left to cobbler together replacement curriculum in real time are the same stakeholders Autodesk has actively pitched Tinkercad to during the past year as an ideal tool for classroom use. Many are us are Tinkercad users because Autodesk encouraged us to do so. 

If one were to not read user complaints and only focus on the hype and spin emanating from the 123D team that Tinkercad is managed by, it might sound like the site is virtually flawless and that users are all but dancing in the streets. Yet it’s my sense and the sense of other teachers and administrators I’ve talked to, that Autodesk doesn’t fully appreciate the full extent of people’s frustration with Autodesk’s stewardship of the site. Stating the obvious, a web application is a fundamentally different animal than a native application. Autodesk may not fully appreciate the significance of these differences or the reasonable expectations and requirements schools have for the site even though they don’t currently pay for students' use of the tool. 

I also don’t think Autodesk realizes the negative impact users' Tinkercad experiences are having on the company’s long-term objectives at the intersection of the maker and education markets and their impact on Autodesk's brand overall. Though I appreciate Autodesk’s strategy for expanding your presence in these markets, I think it prudent that you reassess your execution and adjust your tactical plan to take into account the impact ongoing conditions will have on your long-term prospects. As an aspiring stakeholder in these communities, I would also ask you to consider the impact your missteps are having on the makers, students and schools you serve. 

- Bob Krause
Berkeley, CA


  1. Update: I've received and email from the GM & VP of Autodesk Consumer Products, Samir Hanna.

    He seems to think that the problems users have been experiencing have only been in the last week and that, according to his accounting, the site has been "down" for only 20 minutes of the last 36 hours.

    He cites that the number of users has doubled in the last 2 months, with as many as 20k concurrent users and never less than 10k.

    He's suggested that we schedule a phone conversation, and I've responded that I don't have classes Friday morning and can talk then.

  2. Friday morning Samir Hanna and I had a fairly productive and informative conversation about the state of Tinkercad. This issue has consumed significant forum bandwidth this week. So I’ll just summarize here and refer those interested in the details to submit comments to the "Fix Tinkercad" topic on the Tinkercad Community forum. I think the most significant take-aways of the call for Tinkercad users are as follows…

    * Tinkercad users should continue to expect further downtime, extended response times and occasional other significant problems until the middle of February, 2015 while the engineering team completes their upgrades to the code they inherited from the original Tinkercad founders.

    * Samir acknowledges that his group must increase transparency, improve communication and raise it’s understanding of users' requirements and experiences with the application. Autodesk will do a better job of communicating with users. The team will publicly speak up about the problems we’ve experienced and will keep users continually informed, especially over the next 3 months while these upgrades are being developed and rolled out.

    * Once the upgrades are completed in mid-February the necessary planning, resources and priorities will be in place to insure that Tinkercad will be a service that users can count on being available and responsive with significant and relevant new features added regularly.

    In summary, Tinkercad will finally be a reliable tool no later than 3 months from today, but that means that it’s going to be rough sledding until then. Though I’ve seen many a promise made by others on the Tinkercad team missed, Samir has personally and publicly committed to this deadline. (Samir: “Not a day later.”) Though the realization that a reliable site is still some time away, the site is open for business and Autodesk should make every reasonable effort to run it as such. That means that downtime should be scheduled off-peak and announced minimally and hour or more beforehand. Reasonable testing should be done under a simulated full load on their staging cluster prior to go-live.

    I would encourage users to continue to use the #FixTinkercad Twitter hashtag when they feel that Autodesk is delivering a less than reasonable user experience given the realities outlined above. That said, let’s try to give the team the support and leeway they need to get the job done. — That is, done right and completed on time.

    - Bob