As I have mentioned in previous articles, many moons ago I was a CAD manager of a team of roughly fifteen CAD operators. Back then, the only community we had was meeting in the company sports and social club for a couple of pints and a laugh and joke about the week that was. The Internet had only just kicked in, and we were on 56k dial-up modems (feeling old yet?). Internet-based communities were only just beginning.
I am now on the board of directors for one of the biggest Autodesk communities on the planet, and the Internet is king. The world is very flat and small now. I wonder what Christopher Columbus would have thought of it all?
Nowadays, a CAD manager must embrace the community revolution. It is a great way of allowing your CAD team to educate themselves and network among their peers. User groups and forums are a phenomenal support mechanism, providing not only application support but also giving your CAD team the opportunity to shine in their peer group as a CAD Jedi master in their particular specialist topic.
There are no favorites here. The Internet makes sure of that by democratizing the Internet-based CAD world, allowing all to have access, no matter what level the individual is at. I always recommend the following user-group Autodesk communities to every person I train or provide consultancy to.
Autodesk Discussion Groups
The Autodesk Discussion Groups are the arena that Autodesk itself provides for CAD product users. There are full instructions on how to use the groups on the webpage, along with a breakdown of forum etiquette. Forum etiquette is important. Just as in real life, manners maketh the man (or woman), as they say. You have to play nice with the other kids, right?
The groups are broken down into Autodesk product groups, such as AutoCAD and Revit, and there is an area for additional product forums as well. All you have to do is sign up. Autodesk made signup easy by way of an Autodesk ID that allows access not only to the discussion groups and forums, but also to most Autodesk user-related pages, such as its web-based apps and beta-testing programs.
Autodesk also recently introduced an Autodesk Expert Elite program to reward the users who provide the most support, guidance, and expertise in the discussion groups. These users get recognized with “badges” of achievement and certain Autodesk concessions.
The screenshot below shows the Discussion Groups page, with me logged in using my Autodesk ID.
Autodesk User Group International (AUGI)
Even though I serve on the AUGI Board of Directors, I can safely say that both the Autodesk and AUGI user communities are not in competition with each other, and I have no bias toward one or the other. They are both there to help the overall Autodesk user community talk and learn from each other. In fact, there is a huge amount of crossover and mutual benefit, and if I was still a CAD jockey, I would make sure I was signed up to each one.
I am, in fact, signed up to both. I use both religiously as a trainer and consultant, both as a source of information for articles such as this, and to assist my clients with support and consultancy issues.
AUGI was formed originally from the North America Autodesk User Group (NAAUG), which over the years grew to become AUGI. It is a non-profit organization run completely by volunteers (me included). Autodesk provides sponsorship and guidance, but it does not dictate policy. That is all agreed upon by the AUGI Board of Directors, which acts in an advisory capacity.
As per the Autodesk groups, you need to sign up to become a member. AUGI has three levels of membership. Basic membership is free, Premier membership is $25 per year, and Professional membership is $100 per year.
The AUGI forums, however, remain free to the Autodesk world, no matter what level of AUGI membership.
Again, the AUGI forums are full of Autodesk product information and support materials—essentially, it’s users helping users. The forum boards are broken down by product, and there has been a recent move toward providing forums in localized languages as well.
AUGI also provides a monthly magazine called AUGIWorld, which Professional members receive in hardcopy format, plus a regular e-zine called AUGI HotNews. They are both full of articles written by users, combined with numerous tips and tricks pages, helping to educate and support the user community.
The screenshot below shows the English section of the AUGI forums. Again, there is forum etiquette, so play nice!
So, why am I such a fan of the Autodesk and AUGI communities? It’s simple: They provide free support for the CAD team. Plus, they allow the CAD team to network and make contact with the outside CAD world. You can’t lock your CAD jockeys in a dark room and chain them to their workstations anymore. The Internet is inevitable, so give your CAD team access. Sure, be careful and lock down sites that could be deemed as inappropriate, but even Autodesk has a Facebook page for each of their products. AUGI has a Facebook page. AUGI has its own blog, BLAUGI, as well, so there is no escape. Just give in now!
Letting your CAD team on the Internet shows a level of trust, too. As a CAD manager, if you trust your team, they will trust you. You might have the odd one or two who buck that trend, but most CAD jockeys work hard and want to improve themselves. And to improve yourself, you need knowledge. Where does one find that knowledge nowadays? On the Internet, of course.
The Autodesk and AUGI communities are beneficial to the CAD team. They can learn and improve there, plus feel a bit empowered by being a CAD Jedi in their field, in their forum group. Why do you think my AUGI forum name is CADjedi? A nickname initially, but it stuck!
User communities are one of the major benefits of the Internet to the CAD world in general. Use them to your advantage and get a well-rounded CAD team!