I guess the first question that comes to mind is: what exactly does a CAD Manager do? I could answer that by saying they manage the CAD group but that wouldn’t even come close to the scope of work that a Cad Manager covers. Depending on the firm they work for, a CAD manager may cover processes from scheduling workload to doubling down as the company’s entire I.T. department. The larger the company, the better defined a CAD Manager’s actual duties are but there is no simple way to tell you exactly what skills you’ll need to garner a CM position. In this article, I’ll cover the most common functions you should be able to handle before you start seeking a CM position.
Even a small AEC firm has a “go-to” CAD user, the guy that everyone turns to when things start going wrong. Whether it’s annoying bugs and glitches, or total CAD system crashes, there’s always one person who seems to know how to fix the issues. If you want a career as a CAD Manager, that person had better be you. CM’s have to have a good understanding of their primary CAD package (I suggest being familiar with both AutoCAD and MicroStation products at minimum) as well as a clear idea of the problems that may arise from how they interact with other programs and peripherals. My suggestion here is to become very comfortable using search engines and navigating your way through CAD focused discussion boards. Nobody can ever know all there is to know about a high end CAD package but the CM has to know where to find the answers needed in a short amount of time.
I have found this to be one of the stumbling blocks for most people stepping up from the lead drafter and into the CM position. You have to develop a good feel for how long each specific task and drawing takes to complete. More importantly, you need to have an understanding of all your CAD staff and their particular strengths and weaknesses. All too often, new CM’s will schedule based on their personal capabilities and keep having cost and time overruns. Remember that you most likely got this position because you were the best drafter in the firm. Sadly, the other folks aren’t always as quick or reliable as you are. A large part of your job will be directing work to the person who can do it most efficiently. You need to know that Drafter A is reliable, but slow, so you avoid giving him work with tight deadlines.
This is the key to making yourself a success as a CM or having every designer in the firm hate you. It is your job to review every single drawing that your CAD folks complete, before it gets handed back to the design engineer. You need to review each drawing for readability, presentation, and adherence to standards. If you don’t look for all three of these, no one will and your files will either go to senior staff before mistakes are noted, or worse, out to your client. You need to look for lines of text overlapping, lines that are too thick, too thin, or have incorrect line types. Lastly, you’ll need to make sure each plan looks like it was professionally drafted and the information on it is understandable. Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how much trouble that overlooking such a simple step can cause!
Building the company CAD standard processes and libraries falls squarely on the shoulders of a CM. In between the day-to-day workload you’ll need to find time to build templates, detail libraries, layering systems, and a hundred or so other odds and ends that are needed to keep a CAD group efficiently working. That includes delving into new releases of your software (programs like Civil 3D and AutoCAD Architecture update yearly!) and making the needed changes to your standards to keep them compatible. This is the fun part of being a CM but, sadly, it’s the one you’ll have the least amount of time to address. Senior management is going to want you to maintain your own billable time at levels nearly as high as the rest of your CAD staff, despite the additional overhead duties that come with the job.
Manage Your Staff
Last, but not least, you’ll still need to do the job of a manager. That means performance reviews, interviews, hiring and firing, scheduling vacations and a hundred other issues that will come up. The larger you firm, the more time this is going to take. You’ll need to develop a thick skin and be very flexible to find last minute solutions. You’ll figure that out the first time you have a “can’t miss” deadline and half your staff calls in with the flu!