Today I’m a CAD consultant and content author for the superb LinkedIn company Lynda.com. But back in the day, when I was young and foolish, I was a CAD manager.
I looked after a civil and structural CAD department, with about 25 CAD drafters looking to me for guidance, advice, and (occasionally) leadership. It was a role I look back on fondly, as it taught me many things: organizational skills, managerial skills, and, most of all, patience.
My life then is much different from what it is now. My office was based in a little English town called London and my days were very structured. They had to be for my role at the time.
So here we go. The working day begins…
The Caffeine Injection.
On a normal day, I was up at about 5:30 a.m. and immediately headed to the coffee machine. While my caffeine hit was brewing, I grabbed a quick shower and ironed a shirt for the day, listening to the radio quietly so as not to wake the rest of the household. I left the house at about 6:30 a.m. to get the 7:05 a.m. train to London; no-one was awake. As a dad of young children, that was a tough one.
My standard working day was 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with an hour for lunch, but I was normally in the office by about 8:15 a.m. My bosses gave me a high degree of flexibility because of my early arrival. As a Dad, this gave me the chance to actually see my kids in school plays and go to their sports games. That balance was good for me and it kept me motivated.
So, once a double espresso was obtained from the company coffee machine, I sat at my desk and went through emails which were prioritized into three categories: “Now,” “Later,” and “When You Have Time.” I always recommend putting things in simple language; it’s easier, trust me.
After that, I would look through a few emailed CAD newsletters for good tips and tricks. Anything I found would go in my Moleskine notebook. This normally took me up to about 9:15 a.m. By that time, my CAD colleagues were arriving and it was down to the regular roller coaster of a day, managing the day-to-day workings of the CAD office.
Every day, normally mid-morning, I would have an hour long meeting with the senior CAD technicians acting as the lead on each live project. This was when I put on the business hat. Process and workflow were discussed. Were projects on time? Were we making sure that we were getting work right first time, and not doing repetitive work, cutting profit from the bottom line? Could we automate the survey information we were receiving from site to make drawing creation faster?
The list was often endless, but it was a gradual process. “Chipping away at the mountain,” I often used to call it. A number of the more established CAD drafters had a list of my catchphrases: “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” “Try it and see,” and “Let’s get it right first time, eh?” Such was the camaraderie I had built with the team.
Being a CAD manager was—and continues to be—a juggling act. I had to delicately balance my time, making sure that 50 percent or more of my time was charged to active client projects. Roughly 25 percent is lost in what they call “dead” time, such as vacations, doctor appointments, and the like. All told, I would have about 25 percent left for full-on CAD management.
The project is the priority—always. It’s all about getting the drawings out on time, adhering to both project and recognized standards, and making sure the engineers have the correct drawing revisions.
However, I still had to keep the “bigger” picture in place and managed the CAD function as well. This can sometimes be a whole day during project downtime or part of a day when the roller coaster slows down a little. I always had a CAD strategy section at the back of my Moleskine notebook, listing management tasks that needed to be done, but had no definitive timeframe. This also included a plan for new CAD workstations on an annual basis, CAD software updates, CAD standards, and the rough minutes of each CAD committee meeting I attended in my company.
Sure, I was the CAD manager in the CAD department, but there were always days when we needed more hands on deck to hit a Friday drawing deadline or to make sure that all the drawings were ready for a client visit. I was never afraid of getting my hands dirty and chipping in with the team. I did it all—drawing, modelling, plotting, and even making the coffee. My team appreciated this. They saw me as a team member, not just a CAD manager. It built a great rapport within the department, and made me much more approachable.
I always had an open-door policy in my CAD department. Since I was seen as a team member as well, it encouraged my team to come to me with new ideas and issues that needed resolution. It made for a great, efficient, cohesive team. Some of those team members are still in touch with me now, nearly twenty years later, and I consider them friends, not just colleagues.
I often look back with fond memories at my day-to-day life as a CAD manager. While there was a typical cadence to the day, it can always be guaranteed that no two days were ever alike. When you get to lead an amazing team and you’re all in it together, this makes for an amazing career.