Although the career benefits of social networking cannot be ignored, nothing can replicate the power of old school, face-to-face interaction.

That’s why it was a pleasure to see more than 75 CAD professionals, educators and entrepreneurs gather at Google headquarters last week for the kickoff meeting of the Bay Area Onshape User Group.

Attracting customers, free users and newcomers alike, the Onshape meetup in Mountain View, California included live demos, a Q & A session with CAD experts Joe Dunne, Cody Armstrong and Ye Wang, a sneak preview of upcoming features, and plenty of social mingling.

“As soon as I found out about this, I signed up,” said mechanical design engineer Gil VanHoy, who is working for a soon-to-be-announced robotics startup in San Jose. “I want to know where things are headed with Onshape and how I can stay closely involved.”

VanHoy began his career in the 1970s drafting by hand and has been trained in multiple CAD systems over the years.

“When a CAD company is brand new, you can learn from everyone and everywhere,” he noted. “When you get together with a group of like-minded people, you discover things you don’t expect. New conversations can open up a lot of doors.”

Elijah Post uses Onshape to contribute designs to the open-source RepRap project, “humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine.”

San Francisco designer Elijah Post is an active participant in the RepRap project, a self-replicating 3D printer that makes spare parts for itself or a duplicate machine. He said he came to the Bay Area meetup because he’s interested in the “democratization of technology.”

“The thing that makes these events most valuable is that everyone in the room made an effort to get here,” he said. “I drove 40 miles to be here because it’s the kind of networking opportunity you just can’t get online.”

“It’s really cool to see some new features in the pipeline and see how quickly things are growing. I also like to put faces to the some of the names I see in emails and in the forums,” Post added. “People tend to remember the conversations they had in person.”

Also attending was Edgar Aguire, an academic advisor for nearby Mission College in Santa Clara. The community college has been rapidly expanding its technology offerings and is exploring different CAD systems to help run its new 3D printing classes.

“The advantage of Onshape is that it runs in a web browser and works on an inexpensive Chromebook,” Aguire said. “Most classrooms can afford Chromebooks.”

Right now, new Onshape User Groups are forming in communities around the world. Participants in last week’s Silicon Valley event were among the first to see a sneak preview of Onshape Drawings and the upcoming Onshape Android app, one of the most requested user features to date.

You Don’t Have to Meet Somewhere Famous

Google’s communal G-Bikes greeted visitors to the first Bay Area Onshape User Group meetup.

Special thanks to the folks at Google for hosting us! But as fun as it was to launch the first Bay Area meeting at a famous location, it’s important to note that fancy digs are not a prerequisite for hosting your own local user groups.

Some meetups are far more casual, consisting of just a few Onshape users hanging out at a restaurant or bar – remember that you can CAD on your phone anytime, anywhere. Other Onshape User Groups are more formal and are hosted by companies or co-sponsored by industry conferences. In any case, all you need to get started are tables, chairs and a decent Internet connection.

Of course, we’re happy to help. If there’s a local group already meeting, we’ll let you know. If not, we’ll help connect you with other interested parties in your community to start your own active group.

CAD is a Contact Sport

Packed House: The first Bay Area Onshape User Group at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Similar groups are forming around the world.

Since our birth only a few months ago, one of the primary missions of Onshape has been to make designing a less lonely experience. For the first time, full-cloud CAD has empowered multiple people to simultaneously work on the same model – instead of checking in and checking out files from a vault or putting copies in Dropbox and waiting forever to receive the latest changes (not to mention creating potential version control issues).

Creating products is often a collaborative process and learning can be collaborative, too.

Participating in an Onshape User Group makes it easier to network for your business, find potential partners, learn firsthand from other innovators and pick up some new CAD skills.

Whenever possible, Onshape will extend its resources and expertise to help you reach out to area CAD enthusiasts. In situations where we cannot personally attend an event, we’d be happy to make ourselves available via videoconferencing for a presentation or Q & A.

Please get in touch at community[at]onshape.com and let us know how we can help!