Pillar of the CAD Community

11 Apr, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Cadalyst's CAD Tips are made possible through the efforts of many readers — and one very hard-working reviewer, Brian Benton.

Brian Benton is a multifaceted contributor to the CAD community. A senior engineering technician in a civil engineering firm in Florida, Benton shares his expertise with his fellow CAD users through a variety of formats. You may have watched his CAD tutorial videos, read his software guidebooks, or used one of the many Cadalyst CAD Tips that he's vetted. Or perhaps you follow CAD-a-Blog, where he shares updates and commentary about Autodesk software and other CAD-related topics.

At the end of 2012, Benton was selected as an inaugural member of the Autodesk Expert Elite program. Launched at Autodesk University 2012, the program recognizes customers who make extraordinary contributions to Autodesk's online support community. According to Autodesk, the goal is to empower these super-users to "better share their knowledge, assist their peers, and support the Autodesk community."

"The Expert Elite program is making a strong effort to recognize that contributions to the Autodesk Community come in a variety of forms," explained Jillian Bejtlich, community manager, Autodesk discussion groups. "Oftentimes it’s a phenomenal answer to a question in the discussion groups. Other times it’s a high level of interaction and helpfulness through social media. In Brian [Benton]’s case, we chose to recognize his phenomenal contributions through his blog, CAD-a-Blog. It is an undeniably wonderful resource and we’re happy to call him an Expert Elite now."

Cadalyst: Were you surprised to learn that you were selected for the Expert Elite program?

Benton: I was surprised, but also proud to be included. I have worked in the design business for 20 years, and I find it very satisfying to be recognized by the creator of my main design tool in this way. When I look at the people who were selected, and I see their work and other contributions to the Autodesk user community, I am very humbled to be a part of this group. If anyone needs to know anything about an Autodesk product, these Elites have the answer — they have seen and done it all.

Tell us about your blog.

I started CAD-a-Blog in 2007. I had been in the business for about 15 years at the time, and I knew that I had a lot of experience that others might benefit from. Plus, it feels good to help people! The site covers several topics, but it focuses on tips, reviews, and news about AutoCAD and other Autodesk products, because that's what I know best.

One of the goals that I had for my blog from the beginning was to create a platform for myself — a body of content that could open doors to other opportunities. And the more I do with it, the more opportunities I receive. One thing that I have learned from blogging is that the more I put into it, the more I get out of it.

It takes a lot of time. Some years I've written a lot, while others, I was lucky to get a few posts each month — but I don't think I have missed a month yet. I want to write every day, but my "real job" and life get in the way!

In addition to blogging, you also write instructional books and produce training videos. What's your approach to conveying information?

I am very proud of the training videos that I have made with Infinite Skills. My videos teach through real-world examples. It's one thing to show somebody how to draw a line with the Line command; it's another to show them when to use it, the best way to apply it, and why. In addition, the lessons in my videos build on each other. For example, we start by drawing some basic objects, then use those same objects in future lessons.

Writing a book is very different from making a video. There is a lot of back-and-forth between the text I'm writing and AutoCAD, followed by several rounds of editing to make sure everything in the book is accurate. Videos require fewer edits because the student can simply watch what I am doing and see where I am clicking. I think making videos is easier, but keeping the room quiet enough for clear recording poses its own challenges!


Many Cadalyst readers know you as the CAD Tips reviewer. What makes a good tip?

I absolutely love reviewing the Cadalyst CAD Tips — I have learned so much in that role. There are three types of tips, all of which are valuable. The first goes into detail about a command (or tool or system variable), making readers aware of options that they may not have known about. The second type of tip reduces picks and clicks, improving efficiency so that we can get more done in less time. The last category — and probably my favorite type — is the tip that shows you how to solve a problem. It may utilize one tool or command, or it may comprise a series of steps that takes the user from point A to point C.

You've worked in a variety of design fields. Where are you currently employed?

I started off as a drafter for a railroad tank car manufacturing company. I have also worked as a detailer, drafter, and designer in the mechanical, structural, civil, inspection, surveying, marine, and environmental industries, and I even spent some time at a large-format printer sales company. Now I am a senior CAD technician for a small civil engineering and land planning firm in Fort Meyers, Florida. I work in land development and typically do the design layout work for residential developments. I love it: The work is simple enough, but you still have to get everything just right — and my boss is the best. It may not be an exciting job, but it really is an important one.

How did you become interested in this field?

In my school, the seventh-grade boys had to take a semester of mechanical drafting. (The school administrators failed us all by not even considering that the girls should also take this class.) There, we learned the basics of drafting: How to make projection views, isometrics, cross sections, bills of materials, and general drafting. I totally killed it! I was so fast that the teacher ran out of things for me to draw, so he had me go back and ink the first set of drawings — that was fun. In eighth grade we took a slightly more advanced version of the class, and that's when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

My dad worked as a supervisor at a production facility for railroad tank cars. Half of their drafting department was using Bentley MicroStation. He arranged for my brother and me to get a tour and watch the drafters; that was the first time I saw CAD software in use. He was trying to show us that if we stayed in school, we wouldn't have to work in a labor job like he did in the steel mills. It worked — we were shown the value of working with our minds.

My second look at CAD came in a drafting class my first year of college, where we were introduced to AutoCAD 9. Later that semester my dad once again opened a door for me, and I started working in the same CAD department that we had toured a few years earlier. By that time the entire department was using CAD, and my first assignment entailed using MicroStation to redraw many of their old board drawings into CAD. I worked there for about two years, then moved to a small engineering firm where I used AutoCAD 10.

Outside of the CAD world, what activities do you enjoy?

When I am not working on a CAD-related project, I am spending time with my wife and kids — they keep me busy. I also really enjoy tech trends and gadgets. If I had my way I would own every tablet, phone, computer, plotter, scanner, gizmo, and doodad that there is.

As for outdoor activities, I go kayaking occasionally, and I volunteer as a "turtle walker." From May through September, I get up early twice a week and walk a stretch of beach looking for loggerhead sea turtle tracks and nests.

We look for them for several reasons: One is to document how many nests there are in a season to help quantify their numbers. This data helps biologists evaluate what is going on in the seas. We also make sure that the lighting from nearby buildings won’t interfere with the hatchlings when they emerge from the nest. The baby turtles crawl to the brightest light in the sky, which is supposed to be the moon. If humans place lights too close to the nest, the turtles instinctively crawl toward them instead of toward the water. This means certain death for the hatchlings and harms the natural cycle of the species.

I have also been able to participate in a hatchling release. It's hard to believe that a baby turtle small enough to fit in my hand will grow to be so large. The adults can weigh up to 500 pounds, and they are majestic.

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Lynn Allen

Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!
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