The Training CADpocalypse

yunotrainOne of the questions I see almost every single day: “Where can I get decent CAD training?  Oh and it’d be great if it was cheap as free.”

CAD tools are more complex and capable than ever, especially at the high end of the market.  Yet training for those very tools continues to dwell in the Stone Age, clinging desperately to traditional methods and artificial barriers.  New users are finding it difficult to get started, and too many current users are failing to keep up with the pace of technology.  CAD proficiency has a very real impact on data quality and reusability, yet fails to attract the necessary attention.  A developing CAD training crisis could turn into the training CADpocalypse if we’re not careful.

Most working CAD users (engineers or otherwise) I know would be lucky to receive a few days of formal training a year, if at all.  Even in vibrant economies, most companies I know are justifiably stingy with training dollars.   Sometimes it’s difficult to justify specific training via measurable productivity gains.  It also doesn’t help that many available training options aren’t terribly affordable.  While instructor led courses often prove very effective, they remove employees, hardware, and expensive licenses from production usability entire weeks at a time.  Some would also argue that the traditional classroom is a fading model.  Truly innovative ways to train have been slow to take hold in this space.

New engineers face a similar problem.  Very seldom do university engineering curriculums have the necessary time to properly introduce engineers to the latest authoring technologies.  Fortunately for them, some (not all) of the high end platforms have recently made student versions available.  These can make a huge difference by providing full exposure to a CAD tool.  At least while the student is still a student, anyway.  Once they are disassociated from their learning institution, the ability to continue learning is abruptly severed due to licensing stipulations.  Because you stop learning when you graduate, right?

Online training tools have helped to cope with training needs.  Quick!  What’s the most vibrant, active platform for CAD training?  If you guessed YouTube, you’d be right.  Somewhere in the midst of the cheap-as-free on-demand video revolution, YouTube unwittingly stumbled into a somewhat unexpected market.  It’s now the training nexus for everything from basket weaving to auto repair to CAD.

So YouTube and its heirs will save us all right?  Well, not exactly.  In all our excitement, we left a small detail out.  You sort of need the software.

Well fortunately if you’re employed and you want to learn something new, you are probably set.  Probably.  Well, as long as you stay at work to do it…. Oh, and provided your employer has deployed the tool you want to learn… and whatever you want to learn is in the currently deployed version…   oh, and if that particular module is licensed.  Oh wait.  This isn’t so great.

But it can be much worse.  Suppose you’re not employed or want to try a different tool.  Now you have an entirely different kind of problem.  Suppose you want to investigate troubles a supplier is having with another CAD system.  Want to learn a new module that your company may not have currently licensed to help justifying buying it?  Want to experiment?  Want to crowd source a design using the highest caliber tools?  Want to independently evaluate differences between CAD packages?  Sorry, the vendors largely think for each of these use cases you should probably just DIAF.

Or you could just buy the software yourself.  All you have to do is sell one of your cars, take a second mortgage, or plan an “Oceans Eleven” style casino heist.  That’s how George Clooney takes care of his CAD training.

Again, gaining access to student versions (if one exists) requires signing up with a defacto learning institution, and that’s not always a viable option.  I understand companies are justly trying to protect these rather expensive software platforms from falling into -and being illegally distributed by- the wrong hands.   However, this restriction costs the user community dearly, and the nefarious types are hacking their illegal copies regardless.

So where else is there friction between expensive software platforms and users needing to learn on their own?  In the realm of 3D animation and visual effects, AutoDesk Maya is offered as a Personal Learning Edition entirely free of charge.  In visual arts and video production, Adobe offers access to its entire creative suite for a reasonable monthly subscription fee.  You would think the CAD industry should follow suit.

That may be the future after all.  According to Cadalyst, Solid Edge may soon be available via subscription (no doubt derived from an experiment with Solid Edge Design 1 last year) though it’s not exactly affordable for individuals.

But is this enough?