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The Whole "CAD TECH" Thing (WAS: "designers")

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Title: Message
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, May 19, 2004 8:10 AM
Subject: designers
 
Anyway, if you are looking for a draftmen, I have found CAD Techs with a 2 year degree to be fine, and without that the experience is what matters.
My point--made here many times previously--is that I don't know what purpose a "CAD Tech" serves anymore. I realize there are a lot of them around, but I think they are an anachronism, supported by the older generation of engineers (who tend to be the principals and managers of engineering firms) to whom the computer is still an awesome technology about which they know very little.
 
In the "old days" (actually not that long ago; we're talking within the last twenty years, and a period that only lasted about a decade) CAD "Technicians" were repositories of the arcane knowledge of operating CAD software. This was back in the days of turnkey systems integrating rather expensive client-server hardware, mainframe or mini-mainframe based, with "powerful" CAD/CAM/CAE software.
 
The ponderous cost of such systems typically came with a fixed amount of training for the operators. Additional training was expensive, not to mention the fixed labor costs for which the company gained nothing while the operator was negotiating the learning curve.
 
"Back in the day" it was considered "not cost effective" to provide this sort of training for the engineers, "we can get a CAD guy to do it." And Cad Techs were actually no more than what I called "human Xerox machines": The engineer gives the tech his sketches, and/or looks over the tech's shoulder while the drafting is done. The tech hands the engineer the "check prints", the engineer marks them up, gives them back to the tech who makes the corrections, hands the second generation "check prints" back to the engineer who marks them up, repeat as needed.
 
In actuality the whole process was quite labor intensive and resulted in the disappointing cost-benefit ratios we saw back in the late-80s/early-90s when this was the norm. (I specifically recall all the magazine articles on the subject of "Where Is The Big Benefit From CAD We Were Expecting?") But many of today's principals/managers grew up under that system and it was, for most, all they knew. So the notion of the "Cad Tech" persists.
 
In fact, the cost of a single CAD seat is "peanuts" today in comparison with that era. A modest PC workstation with CAD software will cost less than $3,000--often much less if you really want to stretch your dollar and invest in, e.g. Intellicad (an Autocad clone that costs less than $200).
 
And learning to use it is also trivial; in fact, most young graduate engineers have already learned to use CAD software in school. Training is mostly self-programmed, utilizing trade-paperback books you can buy out of any college bookstore or on Amazon.com. The familiar Windows interface adds that much more to the ease of learning.
 
My experience, back when I was still managing others, was that a kid right out of college was the perfect "CAD Tech". In fact, it was a great way to introduce them to the whole design-drafting cycle. With a bit of experience working with a P.E., the graduate engineer was soon doing his own designs and doing the drawings as well.
 
As a one-man shop I have exactly one "CAD Tech" on the payroll: Me. I do all my own drafting, just as an architect does. In fact, the drafting is part of the design process. It is much faster and much more cost effective for ME to render my own design drawings, because I know what I want to do. The "human Xerox machine" cycle no longer exists.
 
(As an aside, I have yet to meet a "CAD Tech" who knows as much about utilizing the powerful features of Autocad as I do. Most of them are vaguely aware that there is such a thing as "Paper Space" for example.)
 
I realize that a one-man operation is somewhat unique in the industry, but the idea of the "designer" being the "draftsman" is not. The draftsman in the long-ago days (1940s-50s-60s) was typically someone who had the knowledge and experience of an engineer without the degree.

That is no longer true. Most kids who want to be engineers go to school to become engineers. The kids coming out of the CAD tech mills are not so motivated by and large (yes, I know there are exceptions, but that's ALL they are). And I think that you will invariably find that something is sadly lacking with the average "CAD Technician" that you hire from such places. There is no real "career path" for such, and I doubt that many of them even think in those terms.
 
If you want someone to do your drafting, get a graduate engineer out of school who has the requisite skills, and put him to work. By the time he is ready to be "more than a draftsman," you'll find that he can do all the aspects of putting out design/contract drawings, and can do so far more cost-effectively than the "human Xerox machines" can. And there's always more engineers just finishing college if you need another "draftsman."

So that's my annual "CAD Tech" diatribe.