If you used to be a SOLIDWORKS® customer before switching to Onshape, my name or face may be familiar to you. For 14 years (2004-2018), I was the SOLIDWORKS Senior Manager of User Advocacy, offering company support for its user groups worldwide. I am a huge advocate for community user groups, having started my first one in Austin, Texas in 1999. The following year, I became one of the founding members of the SOLIDWORKS User Group Network. At the time, I was a designer for a rapid prototyping machinery company, and I continued to lead my local chapter when I switched jobs and began designing equipment for a boom truck and crane company.
Face-to-face contact with your industry peers is an irreplaceable experience. You can’t have a meaningful conversation in 140 characters or less, and you can’t shake hands with an avatar.
Leading a member-run community user group is a labor of love. I was urged to start the Austin chapter by my reseller. I was “that guy.” And it’s kind of funny because I now have a knack for spotting these people. I was the guy who always went to their events. I always sat in the front. I asked most of the questions. Someone said to me, “You should start a user group!” So I did.
I’ll never forget what happened at my very first meeting. I met a guy who had just been laid off the day before. And coincidentally, he sat down next to a guy who was looking to hire a mechanical engineer immediately. It was the perfect match. He got hired the next day and told me he’d never miss another meeting (he never did).
This encounter inspired me and made me want to do this even more. It sounds a bit hokey, but the communities I helped build became like family to me. Many leaders of that user group network are Facebook friends now. When they travel, they get together in person whenever possible. They even get together with their families and the relationships all started just because they wanted to learn how to use the software better.
I’ve Now Switched Design Platforms
The thousands of product designers and engineers I’ve met over the years might be surprised to learn about my new role at Onshape. I’m the “User Group Guy” for Onshape’s cloud product development platform now, surrounded by a few friendly faces from my SOLIDWORKS days (Jon Hirschtick, John McEleney, Dave Corcoran, Joe Dunne, etc.). And I’m happy to report that the hair is standing up on the back of my neck again. I get goosebumps when I wake up in the morning, eager to dive into my new mission of building up an Onshape User Group network.
How did I first get involved with Onshape? I was exploring various CAD systems for a pet personal project. I have a dream of designing and building my own tiny house for whenever that glorious day of retirement arrives. Knowing some of the key players at Onshape piqued my curiosity to give the new platform a try.
So I popped over to the online Onshape Learning Center and took one of the self-paced courses. As an experienced CAD user, I found using Onshape to be easy and intuitive, and I envisioned the value of leveraging its real-time collaboration tools with construction and architecture experts to offer feedback on my design.
I knew the CAD part would work similar to SOLIDWORKS. What I didn’t fully understand – and what I am absolutely loving now – are the collaborative aspects of Onshape. Back to my tiny house project, I’ve had a framing expert leave comments on my earlier design and point out a few things I was doing horribly wrong. Now that I’ve learned about versioning and branching, I can’t get enough of it, as I can experiment with different styles of roofs.
From Building a House to Building a Network
I am now starting to build a self-sustaining network of Onshape User Groups. The idea is that these groups will be fully supported by Onshape, but that the local chapters will be completely run by members. We can offer some extra help getting started, of course, and that’s what I’m here for, but it’s important that the chapters have full autonomy.
I hope this doesn’t sound even a bit narcissistic, but I’m looking to meet dozens of other Richard Doyles. People who absolutely love to share what they are working on. People who naturally feed off of fellow engineers’ creative energy. Current Onshape users (and potential future ones) who are already helping each other in online forums.
I know you’re out there, because I’ve already met a bunch of you at several Onshape roadshow events. The idea of starting your own Onshape User Group might sound daunting, but we’re going to provide the basic infrastructure to get things rolling and help you build momentum in your community.
Want to raise your hand? The first step is filling out a form on the Onshape website and sharing why you want to start a user group. Then we’ll have a phone conversation to talk about your passion and explore your areas of interest.
Onshape will be offering a User Group Leader Guidebook offering tips on how to select meeting venues, promote your events on social media and through traditional networking, and how to arrange your first technical presentations. The guidebook will also explain how to be reimbursed for refreshments (never talk product design on an empty stomach!)
To me, the most critical aspect of a user group is that it be 100 percent about professional development – not about being a captive audience for sales pitches. If you choose to have a company present a new technology or tool, make sure their talk is very technical/educational in nature and is not thinly veiled marketing. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow engineers, it’s that they do not want to spend their free time listening to a sales pitch.
As a pilot program on the west coast, we already have Onshape User Groups forming in Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose – and we will be expanding to other communities across North America this fall. Interested in setting up your own Onshape User Group? Join me as I eagerly plunge into the second stage of my career and lure people out from their cubicles for some engaging face-to-face conversation.
If you’re interested in launching a new group, please visit our OUG landing page and tell us what inspires you. I’m also happy to answer any questions or hear from you directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.