Autodesk University from a CAD Manager’s Viewpoint10 Dec, 2014 By: Robert Green
How are CAD managers faring this year — and what can they expect in 2015?
The end of the year is near, and that means that thousands of CAD managers have just returned from Autodesk University (AU), an annual training and networking conference held in Las Vegas. During my time at AU, I taught classes ranging from CAD management concepts to programming and training technology, and I was able to directly interact with more than 700 CAD managers. I greatly enjoy the time I spend with CAD managers, and I find the exchange of experiences and ideas invaluable.
While I realize not all CAD managers work with Autodesk software, AU is the largest gathering of CAD managers I know of, so I always like to examine the mood and trends there to draw conclusions about how CAD managers are doing in general. What follows are some impressions from this year's event. Here goes.
Who Attended AU?
With almost 10,000 attendees, AU is back up to the size it was before the 2008 recession, which tells us that the finances of Autodesk's user base are on the upswing. As usual, the audience demographics include all manner of engineers, architects, designers, technicians, IT professionals, and media specialists, representing a plethora of disciplines and industries from a total of 84 countries.
CAD and building information modeling (BIM) managers were widely represented in 39 separate classes with more than 3,700 total students enrolled.
Initial CAD Manager Observations
During my class sessions I always do some informal polling by a show of hands, followed by individual conversations, to take the pulse of the CAD manager community. I try not to have any preconceived notions about trends going into the discussions, so I can draw accurate conclusions about the problems facing CAD managers. This year it was easy to observe these trends:
- CAD managers are pressured like never before. They have more projects, more software, and less time — all while supporting more users.
- CAD managers are project managers. CAD managers are no longer expected only to keep the technology working; now they must keep the project moving as well. The technology is now seen as a part of the project rather than an independent job responsibility.
- Digital anarchy prevails. Cloud accounts, Dropbox-type file-transfer services, user-supplied devices, and branch-office mayhem make managing files and software more difficult than ever.
- CAD managers lack support from above. As has always been the case, senior management rarely understands what CAD managers do, and therefore doesn't give them the authority required to perform the job fully. What has changed is that the trend is more pronounced than I've seen before.
- CAD managers go it alone. Other than those fortunate enough to go to AU or receive other quality management training, CAD managers simply aren't trained to do what they do.
- Part-time CAD managers are the vast majority. I talk to very few full-time CAD/BIM managers anymore. Rather, I talk to architects, engineers, and designers who perform the CAD management task in addition to all their other duties.
- Burnout is looming. CAD managers have always felt pressured, but the sense of it becoming a burden is something that comes up in more and more conversations. As more individuals juggle their CAD management duties with their primary jobs, the tendency toward burnout becomes even more pronounced.
So, it appears that we'll be expected to do even more with even less next year, and that reality is starting to take its toll on many. A quick analysis of these observations reveals some interdependencies worth noting:
Pressure + Anarchy + Lack of Authority = Burnout
Pressure + Lack of Training = Bad Project Control
I will explore how to deal with these problems — particularly pressure, lack of training, and burnout — in several issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter next year.