This year marks the 20 years since I first started playing around with CAD! In honor of this, I thought I’d share 20 things I’ve learnt working in the CAD world.

#1 New to CAD? – DON’T PANIC!

When you first open up a CAD software package, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed. What is this? How does that work? Why isn’t that happening the way I wanted it to? Although it might seem impossible at first, slow down and take your time. You’ll get there in the end.

#2 Beginners should always start simple

I’ve spoken to lots of new users that say “I want to make my own house in CAD” or “I’m going to create a video game”. Whilst that is a great goal, my advice is: start small and simple: a table, a 2D drawing of your house, a Lego brick… Once you’ve got the basics down, you can make something more complicated.

#3 There is probably a faster way to do something

The first thing I ever made in CAD was a sphere (yes I started in 3D). I did this by drawing a box, drawing 3 circles on the top, front and side faces, and extruding the outer bounds. That’s definitely NOT the fastest way to do it, but I was delighted by the result. I then spent the next few weeks finding as many ways as possible to create a sphere, not actually doing my school CAD project.

Which brings me nicely to my next point:

#4 Doing something differently doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong”

There are many CAD users that will (sometimes aggressively) instruct you on the “correct” workflow for something and will listen to neither rhyme nor reason when you patiently explain why that’s not quite right for you.

My advice? Be open. Listen to what they have to say, try it out, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t worry about it. There is always more than one way to do something in CAD.

#5 Don’t pay to learn

There are soooo many free online resources available: 2D drafting tutorials, Youtube content, CAD blogs, CAD forums, and of course, help centers. Don’t spend 100s when you’re just getting started. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can land yourself a CAD job. If you need more specific training, your employer will likely cover the cost.

#6 Pen and Paper

Even after 20 years of CAD, I still regularly grab a pen and a piece of scrap paper to quickly sketch first ideas. Especially for more complex projects. It’s fast efficient and can help you formalize the shape in your mind before you start working in CAD.

Although there are a few CAD puritans that will disagree with me, I’m not about to throw away all my pencils just yet.

#7 Don’t be afraid to switch software

Many people seem nervous about switching between different CAD products. In the last 20 years, I’ve played with Rhino®, AutoCAD®, Adobe® Illustrator, IsoDraw®, Blender™, Unity, Unreal, CATiA, a few others even I can’t remember the name of and of course, BricsCAD! The thing to remember; they are essentially all the same: drawing space, the infamous Command Line, toolbars, grips… It’s no different to switching between Google Docs, Microsoft® Word and TextEdit.

#8 Use 2D and 3D

I’m constantly amazed by the number of CAD users that practically go bald at the suggestion of using 3D, but I’m here to tell you that 3D modeling is here to stay. As the old saying goes: if you can’t beat them; join them. And, let’s face it, 3D is really good fun!

That being said, I believe the 2D isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so don’t neglect it.

#9 It’s likely no one will really understand what you do for a living

Even my family is a bit confused as to my exact job description. When I tell people that I work with CAD, they seem to think I’m either a computer programmer or an engineer. In truth, I’m neither. They don’t realize how varied the world of CAD really is: architects, engineers, game designers, technical publications specialists, stage designers, scaffolding companies, trains, planes and automobiles all use CAD!

#10 Even recruiters will be confused by CAD

If you work in CAD, it’s you’ll probably get a few messages from recruitment agents that likely, don’t really understand the difference between a technical illustrator, a UX designer and an electrical engineer.

When this happens, read the job description they send you and be prepared to tell them that you’re not right for the job. But always be polite and thank them for their interest, you never know if your paths will cross again.

#11 Save save save save!

No matter how stable your CAD platform, there is plenty of room for human error. So you should always save your work regularly. Who knows when the cat is going to start jumping around on your keyboard or you’re going to do something really stupid, like accidentally copy an entity 1 billion times! Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there.

This also goes for saving copies of a project at different stages. Before every “point of no return” I always (well I try to anyway) make a backup copy so I can refer back to it later down the line if I need to.

Additionally, backup copies can be super useful for remembering how you created an entity or demonstrating your progress to your boss.

#12 Put the CAD down and walk away

Learning when to walk away from a drawing is a skill in itself.

Although every CAD “expert” likes to pretend that they know everything there is to know about CAD, always have the fastest workflow, and do everything correctly the first time, in reality, that’s simply not the case.

Sometimes, when working on a particularly complicated CAD drawing I confuse even myself. The best thing to do in these situations is to save the drawing and work on something else. Maybe even sleep on it. When you get back to it, chances are, you’ll have found a solution to the problem. Which brings me to my next point:

#13 Dreaming in CAD

I don’t know about you, but since I started working with CAD all day every day, I’ve dreamt in polylines. Not all the time, but I do frequently wake up booleaning solids or working out the linework of a car engine in isometric.

Please tell me I’m not the only one!

#14 Daydreaming in CAD

Additionally, sometimes you’ll likely find yourself daydreaming in CAD too; working out how you would recreate the curve of something or if it would be faster to array something and edit the array or simply copy it. Then you realize someone asked you a question in the meeting and you weren’t listening. Oops!

#15 The felt tip fairy

I got used to the Felt Tip Fairy and CAD Monkey labels pretty quickly, even learnt to embrace them, but some CAD technicians get a bit touchy about this one.

One day, even I’d had enough! So, I offered to swap jobs with the technical writer for the day and see who lasted the longest. The technical writer declined my kind offer and I never heard from them again.

#16 It’s a man’s world

It’s a fact. There are more men than women working with CAD. Although at times, this has made me something of a novelty, it has never been a particular problem for me. I’ve had some great colleagues, both male and female, and some bad colleagues, also both male and female.

#17 Respect your elders

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really wise, older CAD drafters. They started when it was still ink on a drawing board and have seen the rise of CAD over the course of their careers. I used to work with a man who could spot the difference between a 0.75 and 0.5 pt line from 2 meters away, and I’m not exaggerating.

I learnt, and still am learning, so much from people like Bob!

#18 Don’t neglect the next generation

It might sounds cliché, but it’s important to remember, as much wisdom, skill and experience the older generation might have, they can also be a little set in their ways. It’s always the young graduates, who have the drive and, well let’s face it, the naïvety, to bring in new technologies, such as BIM and parametric modeling, to the workspace.

#19 Let newbies make mistakes

At some point in your CAD career, it’s likely you’ll make the switch from learner to teacher. When this happens it’s important to guide new users, but not dictate. Show them how to do something, walk away and let them make mistakes. Come back after a while and show them some “options” to fix their problems.

If they ask for help give it, but don’t breathe down their necks. You never know, they might find something you didn’t know about yourself. Which brings me to my final point:

#20 You never stop learning

CAD is an ever-evolving world. That means that there is always a new challenge, a new technology and a new technique to be mastered. I’ll never pretend to know everything there is to know about CAD, but I can certainly try my best!

How about you?

I’d love to know how long you’ve been working with CAD and what you’ve learnt in the process. Share your stories in the comments below.