Pursuing an engineering career was never a question for me. When I was six years old, I remember stopping my mom from throwing out the old toaster oven. My curious mind took it apart, fixed it and reassembled it. In middle school, I was teaching a SOLIDWORKS class at age 13. And my high school years were filled with making guitars from scratch and being the go-to mechanic to fix my classmates’ cars.

With that background of self-taught, hands-on mechanical experience, I chose to further my studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for Industrial and Management Engineering. At RPI, I focused on optimization of supply chains, product development, manufacturing design, and cost accounting. While not in class, most of my spare time was devoured by my Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) project car, wrangling a team of 40 students, managing the $15,000 project, and welding (sometimes as late as 4 am).

The Formula SAE series (recently rebranded as “SAE International”) is an international engineering competition that challenges university undergraduate and graduate students to design and build small formula-style race cars. My first visit to RPI’s Formula SAE shop had me on my back and swapping the motor out of an older project car – I already was getting my hands dirty 30 minutes after introducing myself. The Rensselaer Motorsport team projected an open and welcoming feeling toward anyone willing to lend a hand.

I instantly knew this opportunity offered rewards no classroom could provide: hands-on experience, teamwork and pure engineering.

DIVING INTO HIS WORK – Onshape QA engineer Jason Slingerland during his college days.

I ran my FSAE team for three years and couldn’t have asked for a better education. Countless hours were spent in the shop helping peers with CAD, troubleshooting subsystems and designing tooling for manufacturing. There were no grades or extra credit for being in the club. But the emotional paycheck after months of late nights, testing, manufacturing and the ability to say “I made that” was more than enough.

What did I learn from my time building race cars?

Well, engineers are – and forever will be – stubborn and skeptical. New technology? I’ll believe it in a year. Faster process? Probably costs more than it’s worth. Cheaper production? Oh, I’ve heard this one before. Getting engineers to move on from what they already know is difficult. They might know areas where they can improve, but the project queue is always too deep to implement something new – or the required growing pains for change don’t seem worth the effort.

One summer in college, I worked at a machine shop cranking handles and throwing chips on a manual Bridgeport mill. The shop used AutoCAD 2000 to design mechanical assemblies – yes, 2D CAD to design 3D, moving assemblies! Moving to another system just wasn’t on the table because the method they had was “working.” My chief takeaway from that job was that “working” and “working well” are not the same thing.

Overcoming Obstacles

In what would prove to be an invaluable experience foreshadowing my reasons for joining Onshape, I also worked as a part-time draftsman for a civil engineering firm while I was still in school. It was here where reality smacked me in the face with the lesson that technology can’t solve all your problems. Every technology, no matter how impressive when it’s introduced, has its limitations.

Unfortunately, my 10 years of SOLIDWORKS experience was not very useful in an office with a license of AutoCAD 2015. Because I replaced their previous draftsman in the middle of a project, I had to learn very quickly. After Googling enough knowledge to get the project out the door, trying to actually work on the file was a major challenge itself. I was hit with so many crashes that I had to set autosave to save every 5 minutes.

Then, I had to deal with versioning issues. In the network drive containing every project they ever completed, there were numerous “FINAL” or “FINAL_V2” names added to the end of nearly every file. I could never be confident I was working on the latest version of a design. Was “final-final-2” enough indication, or was there a “final-final-3” lurking somewhere else?

But in retrospect, this frustration prepared me well for my current role at Onshape, my first “real job” after college. At Onshape, my responsibilities as a Quality Assurance Engineer includes verifying a stable and intuitive product for all our users, as well as testing our sheet metal tools and standard content.

Engineering speed bumps don’t just involve CAD, but they do tangibly start there. I am proud of working at Onshape, because I am helping shape the CAD system I want to rely on in the future. At some point in my career, I’d like to work as a mechanical engineer, professionally doing what I did at RPI. Wherever I land in my next role, I want my company’s decision to use Onshape to be a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want to use the most modern CAD system?

My overriding goal here and now is to help my team reduce the perceived technical overhead or stress that engineers immediately associate with the word “CAD.” We believe that CAD should be as intuitive as walking or talking. After all, “engineer” is just an intimidating word for a problem solver with a budget.

At Onshape, we want to make the biggest and most sweeping impact on the engineering community since the slide rule. I personally don’t want to help make this change for the fame or the story at the office water cooler, I want it for selfish reasons. Having seen, experienced and worked through engineering highs and lows with aging CAD technology, I want the engineering process itself to become better – because it is the last thing people think about improving.

Getting my fellow engineers to make the leap of faith on a process change is no easy task. Problem solvers always want clear and repeatable data before making a decision from their current process. I understand this logic, because money, deadlines, or even sometimes lives are at risk. So I embrace the opportunity to help modernize CAD – for my future self and my colleagues – presenting a solution that speaks for itself through innovation, quality and well-thought-out functionality.

I can’t think of a better place to start my engineering career!

Engineers Week