Hitting All the Keys on the Piano

March 3rd, 2014

I play the piano in my home every once in a while. Mostly I do it to annoy my young daughters who are learning how to utilize a piano properly. Even a casual observer would be quick to recognize I do not know how to hit any notes, have no idea about pitch, nor know how to read music. I am hitting the white and black keys and on occasion pressing the pedals. I have no idea what the pedals do. All of this might contradict my statement that I know how to play the piano.

I often find that when people indicate they use AutoCAD® Civil 3D®, they are using Civil 3D about as well as I play a piano. And there is another similarity—learning to use Civil 3D properly requires the same thought process that goes into learning how to properly utilize a piano.

Practice Makes Perfect

One thing people probably don’t do enough is practice utilizing Civil 3D. We tend to figure out how to do a task then repeat it over and over. Sometimes we end up banging the keys on the keyboard to get the results and sometimes we fully understand the way we should be getting there. Often we get some pointers on a better way of doing a task, only to forget them quickly after the task is complete. It takes repetition to remember how to do a task.

There are many ways to practice using Civil 3D. One method I have used in the past is to write about the steps to accomplish a given task in my blog, in articles for this magazine, or in a forum post. Writing it down reinforces the steps and forces me to explain why I am doing a task a particular way. This provides me two benefits: the first is repeating the task so it may be easier to remember, and the second is having a resource to refer to later on.

Another method I utilize is to create a video of the steps using Screencast. It’s free and easy to create an unedited video with Screencast, although if you want to create a more professional video it will take quite a bit more time. These videos help me step through the task steps I used as well as occasionally helping out other users of Civil 3D.

Forums

Another great way to advance your knowledge is through discussion groups. I’ve found this has two benefits. There is the benefit of helping others and giving back to the overall community. There is also the benefit of expanding your knowledge on how to solve problems that other people have encountered. A vibrant community, in my experience, makes learning Civil 3D easier. The more active a forum is the more often it will be returned through a search engine result.

For Civil 3D there are primarily two forums I use. There is the AUGI forum that provides a great way to ask your fellow AUGI members questions. It is moderated by your fellow users and tends to be a nice place to ask questions. A more active forum is the Autodesk forums, which provide a wealth of information and usually show up in Google searches.

Playing your Own Tune

My daughters recently had a piano recital. Some of the pupils enhanced the song learned during their classes. They changed it up to provide a sound all their own. Similarly, after learning the basics of Civil 3D, it is advantageous to your advancement to figure out how to use the software in ways not originally intended. For example, I’d often use two profiles to model a water line pipe, since at the time the pipe networks where strictly good for gravity pipe situations.

In my industry, the labels required are not intuitively created in Civil 3D. This is especially true for sewer pipes and manholes. In order to “play my own tune,” I utilize the power of expressions to get the label in the exact location I require, or show the requisite information. I’m always on the lookout for creative ways to solve a problem. Sometimes these methods don’t come out the way I intended, but I usually learn something in the process.

Putting Yourself Out There

It takes feedback from others to truly understand how well you are using Civil 3D. In piano there are recitals and being judged or graded by those who have more experience playing the piano. And, similarly, in Civil 3D there are a variety of ways to put yourself out there to gauge if others have better ideas.

One way is writing articles, such as the one you are reading. Another way is through a blog. Feedback often occurs on posts, in which you find people with strong opinions on how to do something. Of course, with any feedback it’s important to recognize if the feedback is appropriate.

A local user group is another great way to both put yourself out there and get instant feedback on your ideas. It is also a great place to get ideas on how to utilize the software. I find I get the most out of user groups by participating fully. I’ve presented at a few of them and the process of preparing for these presentations helps solidify my ideas on how to perform a task, which helps greatly in my understanding on how to utilize Civil 3D. The feedback also provides suggestions on ways I hadn’t considered to accomplish a specific task.

Diversions in Interest

In life we often have diversions of interest. In the case of one of my piano-playing daughters, it is learning how to play bells. In Civil 3D it is important to keep an eye out for diversions. One diversion I found was utilizing Civil 3D’s API to enhance the features of the program. While my official occupation is Civil Engineer, I also do quite a bit of programming. I feel this has advanced my understanding of the product as well as provided a revenue stream outside of Civil Engineering.

If programming does not interest you, there are programs available that enhance Civil 3D without requiring you to take up programming. Two diversions I utilize are the SincPac by Quux Software and Steltman tools. And there are other products available that make doing civil projects easier.

Finding those products can sometimes be difficult. There is now an Autodesk Appstore that helps you easily finding the products. Not all of the products available may be found in the app store, but there are quite a few available. Besides the products that make Civil 3D easier to use, there are also products that provide learning material.

Results Will Vary

Here I’ve explained some of the items I use to advance my understanding of AutoCAD Civil 3D. Following the steps will lead to people reaching out to you to figure out how they can utilize the product as well as you. You might even get asked to join the Autodesk Expert Elite and get cool rewards such as trail mix, Altoid mints, and a cool button when checking into Autodesk University!

One of the things about Civil 3D I enjoy is there is always something new to learn to advance my knowledge of the software.

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