Management

Make the Most of Your CAD Career

1 Dec, 2015 By: Robert Green

To excel at your job, you’ll need to do much more than simply show up for work every day. Learn about the various factors that affect success in the workplace and make a plan for your future.


Voices of Experience
Hear from some members of the CAD Managers Unite! Facebook group as they share career development strategies they've found useful.

Whether you're fresh out of school or you're a seasoned veteran, it always pays to think about maximizing your career potential. Long gone are the days when you could just punch out some redline markups in AutoCAD and call it a day. Today's engineering, architectural, and design environments require fluency in a wide array of software products and learning approaches. And, of course, your employer will evaluate you not only on the software you know, but on how you work with that software to get results.

So how can you maximize your CAD skill set, then leverage those skills to both benefit your career now and build advancement potential? The diagnostics and strategies in this article should help you answer those questions in the context of your individual circumstances. Here goes.

Where Are You Now?

First off, we must acknowledge that the definition of a "CAD career" varies from user to user. In most cases, your primary field of endeavor isn't CAD, but some sort of design process that uses CAD as a tool. Understanding what the CAD expectations are in your given career path requires some self-categorization on your part. To start planning, look over the following career profiles and decide which type of CAD user you are.

The designer: This person creates detailed product or building designs using a variety of CAD or building information modeling (BIM) tools, meaning he or she must be fully versed in the use of those tools. Often supporting the project engineer/architect, the designer is responsible for getting working prints to manufacturing/construction. CAD fluency and speed are critical for this career profile.

The engineer/architect: The focus of this person's career likely isn't CAD per se, but to do the work, he or she must be knowledgeable about CAD tools and able to supervise team members who use them. CAD fluency and familiarity with analysis tools that use CAD models are required, but production-level speed is not as critical in this career path.

The project manager: This role is responsible for supervising subcontractors and internal teams. These users often aren't hands-on with CAD these days, but a solid working knowledge of CAD — particularly in terms of final file formats and data portability — is required in this career path.

The super user: People in this category must use CAD tools as part of their work, but a keen personal interest leads them to go beyond the typical level of CAD knowledge to learn everything there is to know about their tools. The super user, also known as a power user, is often consulted by other employees for technical support and guidance.

The CAD manager: This person's career has led him or her to become a technical leader in CAD tool implementation, with a focus on debugging, customization, purchasing, and training. The need for advanced skills in a wide range of CAD tools, along with the communicative skill set required to lead training sessions and work with senior management, make this position very demanding.

Solidify Your Current Position

Now that you've identified which type of CAD user you are, it is time to demonstrate mastery in that category. After all, you can't move on to the next step in your career until you've nailed down your current position. To do this, let's draw a few educated conclusions from the categories above and provide some action items that will help you achieve mastery in your current position.

All positions except the project manager require software fluency. Therefore, the more you learn about the software you use, the better off you'll be. Action items include self-study via books or online resources, as well as peer interaction to gain valuable tips and tricks from others.

Designers and super users should strive for fluency with their CAD tools, plus high speed of operation. These users should expand their knowledge of software features, but they must also learn to increase efficiency by paring down clicks and picks. Action items include thorough self-analysis to identify time-consuming processes, followed by software research to identify features and methods to use to become more efficient.

Engineers and architects should make sure their core CAD knowledge allows them to create models that accurately reflect the designs they work on, so supporting calculations will be accurate. Action items include learning more about calculation tools for design, streamlining design processes, coordinating discipline-based files (particularly in building information modeling environments), and gaining a working knowledge of clash detection tools.

CAD managers must develop the same skills of all the user types above, while building the communication skills of an expert trainer. Additional action items include conducting immersive self-learning via written materials and videos, gaining a working knowledge of IT and networks, and acquiring basic programming skills.

So, in summary, you should learn everything you can about the software you use, no matter which role you have. In addition, you need to specialize your skill set depending on your career track.

When You Stop Learning, You Stop Earning

Continued learning is such a crucial part of expanding your CAD skill set, so you'll need to find every way you can to learn more, in less time, and at reasonable costs. The article "Explore the World of CAD Training Options" highlights a variety of training providers.

But locating the resources is just the beginning! A disciplined, strategic approach using the following concepts will help you maximize your training experience.

Be independent. Don't expect your company to teach you everything. Go above and beyond your company's training program to better yourself on your own time.

Get started. If you want to learn a skill, you have to start somewhere, so dive in — it'll get easier as you keep at it. And if at first you fail, try again.

Add it up. Each five-minute video or seven-minute tutorial you take in contributes to a larger learning experience. In fact, five minutes of education every business day will yield 20 hours of training time per year.

Let productivity guide you. As you learn more, focus on topics that will help you in your job, and skip topics you'll never use. Your career will only advance as you demonstrate higher productivity!

Document it. If you turn in a weekly report or evaluation form to your boss, make sure he or she knows how much independent time you spend learning new skills and what those skills are. Believe me, that will call attention to your drive and work ethic!

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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