From Novice to Master… Forge Your Career Path

Do you want to use Autodesk products to create a new world, design innovative structures or build futuristic machinery but are currently doing little more than cleaning up red-lined drawings from Architects and Engineers? Are you a student, either in high school or college, who would love to figure out a way to make a career out of your favorite AutoCAD class? Do your coworkers come to you when they have a Revit question?

This article will offer advice, learned from career experience spanning twenty-two years, on moving up from a CAD technician drawing as-builts to being respected by design firms for your expertise in using and managing Autodesk applications. Five career tips will be presented that have helped this author build a fulfilling career from a love of high school drafting class and two years of learning AutoCAD in community college.

Master the software, not just your workflow.

Mastering an Autodesk application provides a solid foundation for various career paths in the design and manufacturing industries. Too many users only want to know the “picks and clicks” needed for their specific workflows. This approach can make them very efficient in their current role but how do they move up from there? How prepared are they for a company layoff?

Like a master mechanic knowing how to use every tool in their shop, CAD users with full knowledge of their software open themselves up to more opportunities when seeking employment.

The Autodesk Knowledge Network (AKN) is an excellent starting point for training and houses a treasure trove of instructional videos from industry experts. Learning partners and authorized training centers can be found through this site as well. Another resource is your employers Autodesk reseller. Contact them to inquire if they sponsor local user groups or offer training.

Don’t let a lack of employer support halt your learning. This is your career path at stake. AKN resources and local user groups are available to you. User group networking can help you move to an employer who appreciates a knowledgeable CAD technician and has the resources to send you to Autodesk University (AU) or help you on that path to becoming a P.E.

Cross train…not just for fitness.

At my current employer we have over one hundred Civil 3D users and I would be thrilled if even one of them learned Inventor. Why? While we don’t have the workload to employ an Inventor user full-time, we could benefit from having someone with an intermediate knowledge of part modeling to build custom pipes and structures.

Autodesk is encouraging cross-training of their applications and many employers are seeing the value of having employees who can do work traditionally contracted out. It’s important to master the software you use daily but to truly stand out, learn workflows in a secondary application that plugs in to your primary. AU and AKN are loaded with classes and training resources for Dynamo, Infraworks and Inventor part modeling.

Take a breath and put on your detective cap.

I have worked with countless people who are intimidated by Autodesk products and immediately tap a coworker’s shoulder whenever they encounter a new dialog box. All they must do is read the message or follow the command line prompt but fear of crashing the computer seizes them. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with an equal number of people who click every square inch of the interface in a panic. Inevitably the drawing locks up and they blame the software developers.

You are smarter than AutoCAD. You can outfox Civil 3D. You’re more intelligent than Revit. Incorporate the practices listed below into your daily workflows to see your knowledge of the software grow and your confidence soar.

  • Save your work often.
  • Read the command line.
  • Hover over an icon to read its ToolTip.
  • Pay attention to dialog boxes and read them before pressing enter.
  • Utilize the Help search bar.
  • Utilize the AKN
  • Utilize Toolbar and Project Explorer (Civil 3D)

Move up when changing companies.

I was not formally trained for the biggest career move of my life, but it was successful and set me on an upward path from CAD Technician to Application Administrator. After a lay-off in 2015 I realized that my strengths are not in design, but I have a strong knowledge of AutoCAD and Civil 3D. I also enjoy digging into new features after an upgrade and sharing them with my coworkers. Focusing on this in my job search, I pursued an application support and training role at an Autodesk reseller in the Carolinas. The job description stressed teaching the software and assisting companies with template and standards manuals creation.

Had I ever been taught how to teach? No, but throughout my career I had always been the CAD Tech everyone turned to when they had a software question or got an error message. Template management was second nature to me and how hard could it be to type up a manual? Part of the interview process was presenting to the company owners. Had I ever done any public speaking before that? No, but I was confident of my AutoCAD and Civil 3D knowledge, so I went for it.

That career jump doubled my salary and allowed me to buy my first home. My employer paid for my certification process and sent me to Chicago and Denver for Autodesk training. Making a career move from CAD production to Application Support at an Autodesk reseller set me on a path to develop the license management and technical experience needed for my current role as Application Administrator at the City of Charlotte.

Focus on your strengths and search for roles outside of your comfort zone.

Never burn a bridge. You will see it again.

Professional circles are smaller than you think. It’s also common in our industry to change employers several times throughout our careers so it’s very likely that you will work with a former colleague at a different company. Bet you wish you hadn’t made that snarky remark to them on the last day at your previous employer.

Never mind the importance of being a decent human being when interacting with others, maintaining positive professional relationships can help you obtain your career goals. That engineer who left the company six months ago to become a Project Manager at another, more lucrative, firm will remember the CAD Technician who never missed a deadline and knew Civil 3D like the back of their hand.

Ms. Dana Rice is an Autodesk Certified Professional in Civil 3D, a Certified Drafter through the American Design Drafting Association and was an Autodesk Certified Instructor from 2017 to 2019. She has 22 years of experience in CAD production, teaching, consulting, and managing Autodesk licenses for civil engineering and survey firms in the Carolinas and east Tennessee. Dana is currently an Application Administrator for the City of Charlotte and began her Autodesk journey at Walters State Community College in 1997 where she earned an Associate Degree in Drafting and Design.

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