What Are Careers In Computer Aided Design?

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At the heart of the CAD/CAM technology is the computer-the data-crunching machine that manipulates figures and digitized points to allow drawing and drafting, refining, and even finite element analysis. "CAD is to a drafting table as word processing is to typewriters," says Josef Woodman, educational manager of AutoCAD, the top-selling personal computer CAD system.

Woodman sees CAD jobs falling into five major categories: engineering technologists and architects; engineering managers who need to know CAD; sales and marketing of CAD packages and services; teachers of CAD systems; and CAD usage in factories.

What's it like to work with CAD? Here are stories of people who actually do.

Hydrogeology Consultants

In Edmonton, Alberta, geologist Glenn Karlen teams AutoCAD with an IBM AT computer for illustration. His firm, Hydro-geological Consultants, Ltd., investigates subsurface flow of water for petroleum industry clients, towns looking at water supplies, and government agencies.

Karlen, 29, taught junior high and high school chemistry and physics for two years...then returned to the University of Alberta to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in geology. Since 1983, he has been working full-time as a hydro-geologist.

"In our business, we make frequent reports to clients," he says. "We use CAD to illustrate location maps and geological cross-sections. I interfaced AutoCAD with a 3-D surface contouring package, so we also use CAD for different types of graphs that illustrate our data."

"Our CAD system lets us make very minor changes on a drawing with minimal effort. We can make multi-colored drawings, and we shorten our time between first draft and final product."

Karlen is self-trained in CAD. Though he formerly spent 65 percent of his work time on CAD, his firm has recently hired a computer technician (at a starting salary of $20,000 in Canadian dollars) to do most of the CAD drawings. "We looked for someone who was familiar with computers, though not necessarily IBM," he says, "and someone with drafting experience, though not necessarily CAD, who wasn't afraid to explore with the computer."

Karlen says CAD has improved his firm's productivity remarkably.

The company's system uses a Hitachi Tiger digitizing tablet and a Hewlett-Packard 610 plotter. "I will take a group of water well data-geological logs, correlate them in rough sketch, lay them on the digitizing tablet, and use AutoCAD to give me a report-quality picture," Karlen says.

Hydro-geological Consultants Ltd. also uses CAD for digitizing electro-logs. "When you put a special tool down a hole and bring it up, it tells you the different formations you have, sort of like a line graph," he explains. "We digitize those, and can insert them in our cross-section drawings if we want to."

CAD also creates contouring and 3-D surface maps. "I retrieve data from a database, use another package to create a contour or 3-D surface, and bring that data into the AutoCAD system," Karlen says. "AutoCAD allows me to manipulate the image...to move it around, place it anywhere, or highlight specific points. This again produces a figure for our reports to clients."

In Alberta, Karlen says, newspaper want ads ask more and more for people with CAD experience. "Almost all the engineering firms we deal with have a CAD system," he says, "whether it's PC, minicomputer, or mainframe. Seminars on CAD systems are being taught in Edmonton and Calgary by personal computer consultants. One professional engineer I know has gone into CAD sales."


Miami-based landscape architect and land planner Larry Henderson uses CAD in two disciplines. In landscape architecture, his firm does conceptual design, followed by hard surface plans... planting plan, lighting plan, irrigation plan, and details. As a land planner, his firm does conceptual master plans and site planning. "Our clients are cities," says Henderson, "or major land developers like Arvida and DCA, or commercial institutions, such as corporate Burger King."

Why CAD?

Increased productivity, says Henderson. "Although our original reason for bringing in CAD was to get around the difficulty of finding trained people, what's actually happened in our field is much like the Industrial Revolution."

"We've decentralized. We can use people with typing skills to use drafting lettering computer packages, so we don't need trained draftsmen. We used to have to count up all the different houses, apartments, town houses, and parking spaces in our land plans. Now ancillary computer programs do that for us."

Henderson uses an assistant to do early base information drawing. Then, most of the time, he does the CAD design himself. Next, assistants do the detail drawings.

A typical recent project called for his firm to design luxury condominiums in Boca Raton, Florida. "As soon as we had the surveyors' information, we typed it into the CAD system," he says. Architectural plans were hand-drawn, but we then used a 24 x 36-inch digitizer to create our typical buildings from the architectural plans. Next, we used AutoCAD to arrange the typical buildings on site, drew the parking spaces with CAD, and eventually the sidewalks and landscaping."
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