As Onshape’s User Group Liaison, Richard Doyle, likes to say: “You can’t shake hands with an avatar.” Richard’s point is well taken – there is nothing like getting together with your peers over pizza, beer and some informal CAD-talk.

Tech-focused communities have traditionally been local, and PTC’s Onshape User Groups are no different, with most of them being city-specific. But while COVID-19 has temporarily put the physical meet-ups on hold, there are a few silver linings to the now virtual meetings.

Although the short-term future of handshakes is now in question, technology can help us extend our reach far beyond our home turf. I’ve recently logged into a half dozen meetings spanning from Oregon to the United Kingdom – groups I normally don’t interact with. It’s been a real treat to put faces to names, and watch how these different groups interact.

On a Zoom call, participants get to see everyone’s faces during a presentation, not just the back of their heads like at an in-person event. Unfortunately, hot pizza isn’t being served through the screen, but I’ve never left a virtual PTC Onshape User Group meeting without learning something new. During a recent Dallas/Ft. Worth meeting, technical services engineer Bradley Sauln showed us how to take advantage of Onshape’s browser-based tools to create a custom search engine. The convenient tool aligns Onshape’s Advanced Search with your regular browser search bar.

“Onshape User Groups help bring people together with a common goal of improving their CAD skills and learning from others who bring a different perspective,” he says. “Even after more than four years of working at Onshape, I am continually learning about small yet powerful details in the platform. User Groups are a great vehicle to share and practice new approaches and techniques.”

Thinking about communities, how many do you belong to in your own professional and personal life? A dozen may immediately leap to mind: your family, neighborhood, alumni associations, kids’ PTA groups, your work team and your company, professional organizations, boards, church or civic groups, book clubs… the list goes on. People’s motivations for joining communities vary widely, but what keeps them coming back are the tangible and intangible benefits.

Business strategist Jono Bacon, best-selling author of “People Powered, How Communities Can Supercharge your Business, Brand and Teams,” likens consumer-focused communities to a public clubhouse. He observes that communities such as User Groups “provide a place where people can congregate, have discussions, share ideas and opinions, showcase work they may have created, and debate different aspects of that shared interest.”

What Does a Typical User Group Meeting Look Like?

Although PTC Onshape User Groups are typically organized based on where you live, the virtual meetings right now enable you to meet fellow engineers around the world. This Zoom call was hosted by the User Group in Warwick, England.

It’s really up to each group to determine how they like to run their meetings, but many of them start 15 minutes early for a little socializing. The meeting is then kicked off by the User Group leader, sometimes followed by an introduction of new members. Often an Onshape engineer will present “Tips and Tricks” or answer user questions.

Since March, most meetings have featured a surprise guest to host a Q&A. Recent visitors have included Onshape co-founders Jon Hirschtick and John McEleney, both former CEOs of SOLIDWORKS and now heading up the SaaS business unit of PTC; and Onshape VP of R&D Paul Chastell.

While the opportunity to hear the latest thinking from Onshape leadership can be a perk of attending a meeting, the chance to speak directly with customers is a rewarding experience for Onshape executives as well.

“It’s always enjoyable to meet with users and see how they’re using Onshape,” says McEleney. “At the most recent Dallas, Texas User Group meeting, I was amazed by one of the attendees who was still a senior in high school. His presentation about his modeling and design automation was incredibly impressive. I often say, seeing how people use what we build is our emotional paycheck.”

“The most compelling reason to join a user group for me has been the chance to meet a diverse variety of professional, student and hobbyist users,” echoes David Parker leader of the Seattle Onshape User Group. “Our members include medical device startups, high school robotics teams and everything in between. It's so inspiring to see what they've created – and hear how they've created it.”

On May the Fourth, now embraced worldwide as Star Wars Day, the Seattle Onshape virtual meeting featured Oregon State University instructor Ada-Rhodes Short talking about the Onshape lightsaber model she uses as a teaching aid in her design class.

Cloud CAD in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – You just never know what topics will come up at a PTC Onshape User Group meeting!

Engineers, designers and entrepreneurs join PTC Onshape User Groups for a myriad of reasons, including opportunities to:

  • Be an asset to your community by sharing your knowledge or mentoring a younger group member.
  • Build your CAD skills by learning new approaches, features or use cases that you can apply to your own projects.
  • Grow your personal network with professional colleagues in different industries.
  • Share feedback directly with Onshape that may guide new product features and functionality.
  • Get an inside peek at upcoming releases.
  • Gain access to thought leaders in the CAD and product development community.
  • Be eligible for User Group prizes.

How Do I Join a PTC Onshape User Group?

The PTC Onshape User Group network is growing weekly, with 18 active meetings across 4 countries, with more on the way. There is a brand new French-speaking User Group based in Quebec, Canada – and French speakers around the world are invited to join. Want to attend a meet-up in Spanish, German or Korean? We are always looking for new leaders to start a community in their native language!

Here’s how to join the action:

  1. Go to to see a list of established groups and the upcoming schedule. Of course, you are welcome to join any virtual group meeting, but when the pandemic has passed, you will likely want to meet in person with other local users.
  2. If there is not a group near you, consider starting a new chapter by emailing with a few details about yourself. Onshape will support your meetings with a small stipend and will invite potential members in your area. We will also make a technical engineer available to teach your users new tips and tricks, or delve deeper into a topic of your choice.

So while our meetings may look a little different in the weeks ahead, they are still the best way to connect with fellow designers, engineers and Onshape aficionados. The handshakes will just have to wait.

(Click here to check the upcoming schedule for virtual Onshape User Group meetings, which are open to everyone regardless of geography.)