The Sly CAD User’s Guide to Professional Development

30 Jun, 2015 By: Randall S. Newton

How can you get the training you need if you don't have management's support? Try these tips to get started on your own.

A few weeks ago, I posed a question to the Facebook group “CAD Managers Unite!” which is hosted by Cadalyst columnist Robert Green: “In your opinion, what are the unmet or unsolved issues (or continuously nagging problems) regarding professional development for CAD users and managers?” My question may have been open-ended, but the answers were surprisingly consistent. As Robert wrote in the first of 24 replies that were posted in rapid succession, “The biggest thing I see is a total lack of willingness [on the part of management] to commit the time for professional development in the first place. The resources are out there — the time to take advantage of them isn't!”

The next 23 messages were variations on the same theme: Management doesn’t know how to help CAD users become more productive — or doesn't care. The reasons given for this lack of enthusiasm varied (can’t bill to a specific project, can’t take time away from projects, managers are not CAD users, users are expected to already know the software), but the end result was the same: little or no time provided for CAD training.

There is a time and a place for challenging management, but we're not going to take that tack in this article. Instead, we propose the old adage, “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” If CAD training will make you more productive, but time is not offered for training, then you've got to get it on the run — and if necessary, on the sly. Here are a few ways to make the best of a challenging situation.

Sly Training Trick #1: Call It Workflow Enhancement, Not Training

Nemetschek Vectorworks had a problem: Longtime customers were calling to say they had decided to leave Vectorworks and move to a different solution (usually Autodesk Revit). When Vectorworks account managers started asking them why, it turned out these users had been with the product back when it was known as MiniCAD. They had updated their software over the years, but hadn't made any changes to their workflows. “As we introduced new, intelligent BIM [building information modeling] tools, our longtime users were not picking up on the new features and new ways to use the software,” says Rubina Siddiqui, BIM industry specialist for Vectorworks. “They were still doing MiniCAD drafting in our BIM product.”

Siddiqui and her Vectorworks colleagues countered by offering to hold a free short seminar on the modern way to use the product. “We showed them what the software was capable of, and then suggested they invest in training instead of new software,” she said. “Over and over again, once the longtime users understood they needed to focus on workflow and not CAD commands, we kept the account.”

Sly Training Trick #2: Tap into the Power of Your Peers

Unlike its smaller competitors, Autodesk relies on its vast reseller channel to provide traditional classroom training to end users. But that doesn’t mean the company takes a hands-off approach to the training needs of its users. Today’s users expect a Google search to give them an answer in 20 seconds, says Joe Travis, senior product manager of Autodesk Knowledge Platform. “People are looking for just-in-time training. When was the last time you watched an hour-long training video? People want the little nuggets of information to get them past a problem.”

To provide a central resource, Autodesk has created the Autodesk Knowledge Network (AKN), a community site filled with videos, PowerPoint presentations, chat streams, and blog posts. “We demonstrate and document new techniques, new workflows, to help the user take the software to new heights,” Travis explains.

Much of the content is created by Autodesk employees, but increasingly the AKN features content created by users and resellers. Autodesk encourages people to create short screenshot-based videos using its free Autodesk Screencast software. “We don’t limit it to Autodesk products,” Travis notes. “There are Screencast videos of third-party add-ins and interoperability tips.” The goal, Travis says, is for the user to be “effortlessly productive,” with no roadblocks in the workflow.

Sly Training Trick #3: A Tech Support Call Is a Training Opportunity in Disguise

Design Express is a Benelux distributor of Vectorworks. They make sure their first point of contact after the sale — tech support — is staffed by industry professionals. “Every single one of them is also a trained industry professional, which means that our trainers are architects, civil engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, and so on,” says Bart Rammeloo of Design Express. When someone calls with a problem that is solved by a tip or an insight, instead of a bug report or feature request, it becomes an opportunity for Design Express to introduce the user to other ways of learning more about the product, such as their private tailor-made sessions, free YouTube videos, and a free in-service day with a series of one-hour sessions, at larger user sites.

Sly Training Trick #4: A Tip a Day Can Really Add Up

Jonathan Pickup is a Vectorworks trainer and manual author based in New Zealand. He believes in traditional classroom training, but isn’t letting today’s trends go to waste. His goal now is to get one tip a day out to as many users as possible. “Coaches make their basketball players shoot free throws every day, even though they already know how,” says Pickup. “It is a fundamental. Quite often in my online sessions I see a need to understand the fundamentals.” So Pickup offers fundamentals via online forums, YouTube videos, Twitter updates, and his blog.

Pickup likes the math of starting small with user training. “If I save a user a minute a day, that’s five minutes a week, 20 minutes a month” — which adds up to four hours per year. But, Pickup notes, that’s just for one user. What if there are five CAD users all benefiting from the same tip? Twenty users? Once Pickup gets his foot in the door with a CAD-using firm, the sky’s the limit. “One client had me in for an hour, and they said I saved them a half-hour a day.”

Sly No More

The point of being sly is to advance one’s own cause without being noticed. But if you're succeeding in increasing your productivity, you can’t help but be noticed eventually. Being sly about upgrading one’s CAD knowledge is really only a short-term strategy — a covert way of getting management to realize the value of formal training by proving the value of informal training. When you learn a new tip or workflow process, document it. Try to quantify the value; like Jonathan Pickup, do the math to see how quickly the saved minutes build up — then tell your manager about what you find.

About the Author: Randall S. Newton

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