Make a Reading Plan to Stay on Top of CAD Technology9 May, 2017 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: With technologies and workflows changing so quickly, the amount of information you need to keep up with may seem overwhelming — but it doesn't have to be.
The past few years have proven to be turbulent times for CAD managers. With all the cloud hype, the rise of rental software, changing licensing terms, and endless software updates, CAD managers have had to rethink how they procure, run, and manage software. All this begs the question: How is it possible to keep up with these constant changes? In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll explore a few strategies to stay informed and be in the know — without spending all day doing so. Here goes.
More Info, More Often
If you want to keep up with the constant evolution of the CAD landscape, you’re going to need to read — a lot. Every month, I wade through a huge amount of press releases, blog posts, tweets, articles, and reviews for all manner of software, hardware, and training resources.
There’s a lot to read out there, and to be honest, not all of it is worth reading. The trick is to find the resources that answer your specific questions and speak to your company’s needs, while bypassing those that don’t.
The most effective CAD managers I know read as much as they can from a wide range of sources so they are immersed in a variety of news, opinions, and technical content. Further, they make reading a routine part of their regular schedule — daily, weekly, and monthly — so they are always current. Here is my personal reading strategy for your consideration:
Scan social media sites daily. I sign up for notifications from CAD-centric LinkedIn groups and Facebook groups, and I follow vendors via Twitter. If something big is happening that impacts the CAD world, you’re likely to see it in these locations first. I try not to dwell on social media activities, but I do find a daily check-in to be helpful. Tip: Check social media feeds in the morning, so you’ll be aware of any breaking news from other time zones.
Read a truly good business paper/blog daily. I read the Wall Street Journal, but you can substitute any good daily business paper or blog that is relevant for your country. The reason I recommend this is that all of us only have a job because the business we work for has projects to complete. The better you understand the business environment you operate in, the more you’ll understand market ups and downs that could impact your career. Tip: Read the business paper on your lunch break to give your mind a midday break from CAD and project issues.
Browse a good IT resource weekly. As CAD managers, we need to be aware of advances in hardware, networks, operating systems, and mobile devices so we can plan. The best place to read about these types of topics is in an IT-focused magazine or blog. Tip: I’ve read InfoWorld for years and have found it to be a fantastic resource for all sorts of IT topics.
Catch up with blogs and vendor sites weekly. These are the trusted authors, vendors, e-mail newsletters, and blogs that I find most valuable. (Note: If you haven’t yet subscribed to my CAD Manager’s Newsletter, you can do so here.) Create a reading list or dedicated e-mail folder for these items, and read through them once a week so you can really focus on your reading. Tip: I complete my weekly reading list on Friday afternoons as a reward for making it through the week — and to energize my mind for the week ahead.
Read professional journals monthly. Magazines, trade publications, or information that is relevant to the industry you operate in, as well as many CAD magazines, are typically published monthly. I simply read these as they show up.
By creating a reading schedule, I find that I can more easily make a habit of reading to enrich and reward my mind with new concepts.
Prioritize Your Reading List
When you read any given press release, blog post, tweet, review, or journal article, you want to get right to the meat of the content and quickly decide whether you should spend your valuable time reading it. I use a triage approach when sorting through my reading to make a read or no-read decision on each item so I can focus on the good stuff. Here are some strategies I’ve found useful:
Read the last paragraph first. A well-written article or post should have a comprehensive summary paragraph that states what you should have learned from the article. By skipping ahead to this conclusion, I instantly know what the article was about (in general terms) so I can decide if reading the whole piece will be of use. If I can’t decide whether reading the whole thing will be worth it, I’ll read the introductory paragraphs, then make my decision.
Look for bold text and bullet lists. If an article is worth reading, then you want to get to the relevant portions of it right away. I scan through the piece to see which items are highlighted and/or bulleted to get a feel for which sections pertain to my needs. I find this method especially useful for new software updates, where a bulleted list of features will tell you whether spending more reading time is worthwhile.
Avoid buzzword-laden marketing articles. Phrases like “enabling enterprise-level collaboration” or “facilitating cloud-leveraged group collaboration” are dead giveaways that you’re reading something generated by the marketing department. Of course, if you’re trying to learn about collaborative platforms or want to see the marketing spin on a particular technology or issue you can read on, but if you’re trying to get concrete information about a new product or software release, skip the marketing fluff and move on to the next article.
By triaging your reading list and focusing on the material that makes sense for your current needs, you’ll spend less total time on reading, and you'll learn more.
Continually Expand and Refine Your Reading List
Now that you can sort through your reading list more efficiently, it is time to explore new sources of information you may not have thought of. Here are a few ideas that have served me well over the years:
Sign up for user group newsletters. Many user groups provide awesome support resources, and some even have newsletters.
Search for topical, problem-based technical resources. Considering upgrading your CAD department to AcmeCAD 4.2 this year? Well then, make sure you type “AcmeCAD 4.2 problems” into Google and see what comes up. Many times you will find non-vendor, user-hosted support forums, or user groups that have resources worth reading.
Ask your friends. Rather than just asking your peers if they know the answer to a certain problem, why not ask them what resources they enjoy reading? I’ve found many helpful authors/bloggers over the years, thanks to friendly referrals.
By continually seeking out new reading resources, you’re much more likely to find useful tips, tricks, and strategies that you can apply to your CAD management workload.
My friend Matt Murphy often points out that, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve found that the best way to find out what you don’t know is to read a wide variety of resources. By being open to new information, you may find new ways to approach your job and become more efficient at not just technology, but management as well.
One thing we do know is that as software and IT technology continue to change, the burden of staying abreast of those changes will continue to be a challenge for CAD managers. I hope this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter has given you some ideas for building a reading list, getting into a reading routine, and expanding your resource horizons. If you have any hints or strategies you use to manage your reading, please share them by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time.