CAD Manager's Newsletter #85 (May 14, 2003)

13 May, 2003 By: Robert Green

Over the last three and a half years of writing this newsletter, I've received a lot of emails. One frequent topic is career management. What's more, I've noticed over the last year or so an increase in requests for tips on carving out a more secure career in times of economic uncertainty. These questions often include everything from job effectiveness to skill sets and resources to even being a valuable company resource.

So, over the next few issues, I will address some of the more common career questions. Please understand that I can't give specific career advice but, rather, general guidelines I've found useful. Even if you feel totally secure in your current career situation, I think you'll find this interesting reading.

Here, then, in order of frequency, are the career questions you've asked.

What Is a CAD Manager's Job Description?

This is the most prevalent question by far, and it unfortunately doesn't have a single answer because each company has different needs. The following tasks are what I would consider an overall description of a CAD manager's duties for the majority of companies out there.

  • offer production CAD support if required
  • maintain CAD information back-ups in an organized structure
  • supply technical support for all utilized CAD software
  • provide support for plotting and electronic file submissions
  • head up CAD standards development, implementation, and enforcement
  • supply project standards coordination with customers
  • assure outside vendor CAD standards compliance
  • offer training and supervision of in-house CAD staff as required
  • create written technology evaluations for future software adoption
  • provide a budget for all CAD technology items

In some cases the CAD manager is also expected to provide at least some hardware and network support. [Author's Note: Thanks to T. Thompson of Lubbock, TX, for his input!]

How Do I Get Management to Understand What I Do?

Teach them!

Communicate with management at every opportunity and always, always, always remember to speak in English rather than in techno babble. You'll have a better chance of making management understand your worth if you speak their language rather than expect them to understand the vagaries of software bits and bytes. I can't overstate how important it is for you to take the time to show management what you're doing and explain why your job has value.

I've found management to be very focused on these core principles:

  • making processes more efficient and enhancing productivity
  • spending money wisely and lowering costs

So, as you communicate with your management team, think the way they do. Couch everything in terms of productivity and savings, and they will then understand what you do. Plus it will make you a better manager. After all, it's not senior management's job to understand CAD; that's why they hired you.

How Do I Lay-Off Proof My Career?

This has been a common question over the last couple of years. In many cases it raises concerns that upper management doesn't see the CAD manager's position as necessary but as overhead that can be cut.

However, there are several things you can do to protect yourself. And, as I review them, notice how these items correlate to the core principles I described in the previous section. If you align your own career to management's overall goals, then you'll be viewed as more valuable and, therefore, harder to let go.

1. Always try to eliminate wasted time and streamline work processes.

Observe how work is performed and note the problems when you see them. When you find something, or someone, that isn't working well, it becomes your duty to fix the problem. Be aware that some cases may require you to discipline or even terminate an employee. Your management will view you in terms of how promptly and professionally you deal with issues, so be prepared to act in a calm manner. If management ever has to decide who to lay off, you can be certain that those who fix problems and save labor time will be the last to go.

2. Always be willing to help in production crunches and do everything you can to keep headcounts down.

The CAD manager is the ultimate pinch hitter in the CAD organization. You must be willing to do whatever it takes to get the drawings and projects out the door, even if it means production drafting, plotting drawings, or checking prints. I've always found that being flexible is a good thing. I've also found that your staff is much more likely to work through the hard times when you roll up your sleeves and do some production work. Remember that if you help in the crunches, there will be one less temporary staffer or less overtime charge that the company has to absorb. So, you'll have also kept costs down.

3. Always be sure that management knows you're doing all of the above!

It is up to you to keep management in the loop. I recommend filing a weekly progress report where you briefly outline what you've done, how your staff was utilized, and what you think you'll be doing the following week. This weekly report format fosters communication, takes only minutes for management to read, and provides durable documentation of your management prowess.

Should I Learn Programming? Which Language(s)?

Generally speaking I've found that roughly half of all CAD managers have some ability to enhance, customize, and/or program their CAD applications. The great majority of CAD managers who perform customizing do so in an AutoCAD-based environment. And they typically use AutoLISP, with relatively few using Visual Basic (VB) or Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).

Whether or not you should pursue learning a programming language, and which one, depends largely on what programming language your CAD package supports. If your company has enough users to justify the cost of developing customized CAD applications, then it may be a good idea for you to pursue learning the appropriate programming language to do so. On the other hand, if you work for a very small company or a company that uses CAD in a strictly out-of-the-box manner, custom programming can be a difficult expense to absorb.

Only you really know the metrics of your company; and, therefore, only you can really decide if programming skills can be justified in your current environment. I will say, however, that programming skills may be something you would like to pursue outside of your current job, if only to build skills for the future.

Summing Up

I'll continue addressing other pertinent reader questions in the next issue. And I invite you to email me at with any questions you may have, so I can address them as well.