10 Things I Wish I Knew When Learning AutoCAD & Working in the Real World

Hey Everybody,

In today’s post I wanted to share some of the things I wish I knew when I got started as a designer and using AutoCAD in the real world. I’ve been in the industry now full time for almost 15 years and even longer part-time/in school. There have been a lot of ups and downs over the years and I’ve certainly had my share of screw-ups, missed deadlines and spun my wheels with tough issues, which is why I wanted to put together this list of a few things I wish someone shared with me early on in my career.

Let’s jump right in:

1. Ask Questions

There really are no dumb questions when it comes to design and AutoCAD in particular. Simple questions like “what layer should I use for this..” or “where do we save these files..” can lead to a great learning moment and discussion with your supervisor/trainer and will set you up for success in the long run. One of the worst things we can do as a new designer/drafter is to assume or guess these things, they can lead to more issues later on as well as set up bad habits that can waste a lot of time for ourselves as well as projects.

2. Google is your friend

It’s best to just accept it now and early on in your career, google is the first stop when we need answers for technical issues, errors and how to’s. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be asking a senior designer or trainer in the office, but when it can be answered or solved with a single google search, sometimes it’s just a better use of time to look it up first. I also think this can mean searching on the AutoDesk Knowledge Network, Autodesk forums or any of the great AutoCAD/Design blogs out there.

I’ve posted about some of my go tos in the past here: My go to Sites when You’re Stuck In AutoCAD!

3. Save often

This one’s kind of self-explanatory but make sure your Autosave is turned on in AutoCAD and set to an appropriate length of time. Basically as long as you’re willing to redo your work, I tend to set mine around the 30-minute mark but it will vary if I’m working on large files over a VPN for example, where save times could be quite long. There’s nothing worse than having a file crash or a power outage and losing hours of work, which tends to happen exclusively when you have a tight and quickly approaching deadline.

4. Don’t worry/compare to what you learned in school

Things are different in an office environment, you will be learning new workflows, techniques, and more importantly CAD standards from day one at a new job. It can be tough to let go of the safety and comfort of school and everything you’ve learned and become accustomed to, but you need to be open to learning and taking on the challenges as they come in a professional setting. This goes for drafters/designers moving to a new company as well, it’s important to bring our skills with us and use them to help the team but we need to be open to new and different workflows and standards.

5. Under Promise and Over Deliver

This will come in time but as you progress in your career you’ll learn a balance when it comes to over-promising deliverables, timelines, budgets etc..
Early on this can be as simple as over-promising when you can finish a drawing for your boss or a client. When giving estimates, be it time-based or monetary, you want to be realistic, by giving a deadline that is comfortably achievable to conservative you build in a factor of safety for anything that may come up unexpectedly. This could be another project, an issue with the design, or technical glitches with your computer or AutoCAD. This way, if everything goes smoothly you should be able to over-deliver, by producing the drawing early, being-under budget or both. Estimating times/budgets will take a bit of learning and trial-error but once you get used to it this method can be really helpful. Do note though, try not to be too conservative with estimates or take advantage of them, it’s always better to Over-deliver:)

6. Get in Front of Issues/Delays

In following the previous point, we’ve all missed deadlines, messed something up, lost a file, etc… It’s always best to own up and to reach out to your project manager, boss, or supervisor early and as soon as possible. By being preemptive when it comes to delays and mistakes your boss will certainly be more forgiving and in most cases grateful for the open communication. It will also allow you and the team to troubleshoot and remedy the situation much faster, avoiding later disappointment or costly issues.

7. We’ll never know everything

It’s best to accept that no matter how long we’ve been doing anything in life, we’ll never know everything about it.  As designers using technology daily, we need to be able to put ego aside and make an effort to continually learn and pursue new workflow, tips, and tricks. This can be anything from attending conferences, webinars, training or simply asking questions. It’s easy to fall behind in our industry and the best thing we can do is to be proactive about staying knowledgable and learning.

Shameless Plug: I have an email list where I keep you up to date on all my new tutorials/tips. Signup Here (CAD Intentions Newsletter)

8. Follow CAD Standards,

Every company has its own sets of CAD Standards/Procedures and they can be overwhelming at first. Some will have an entire book to read through and review for every action, command, and workflow that you’ll be expected to do on a daily basis. For others, it will be as simple as a few templates, layers, and general rules of thumb. Regardless of the Standards, make a genuine effort to read through them as soon as you can, along with reading them, put in some time and effort to adopt them and work to make them second nature. CAD Standards are necessary to keep a Companies deliverable/product consistent and they can save a lot of time when implemented and used appropriately.
If you’re just starting out or perhaps a freelancer or engineer on your own, I highly recommend developing and working on a set of Templates/Standards to use for your drawing. It will save you a ton of time in the long run. I have a few Templates available for download on this site to get you started here: AutoCAD Titleblock Templates

9. Keep Organized

This one is a bit of a two-parter, organization can be the key to meeting deadlines, being able to jump back onto a project after a few month and avoiding unnecessary headaches. Keeping your files organized on a server/could storage using a folder structure (I’ve got a post about Folder Structure here) and method of keeping files in their proper place can be a life-saver. There is nothing worse than having to pick up an old project from years before and realizing you have no idea where a key xref or base file is and instantly dreading having to redo a bunch of work. Also, save copies/backup of files after each deliverable/revision this can be invaluable when something in a project changes and you need to quickly revert back to a previous version of a design or worse yet a failed/errored drawing!

Part two of organization, I’ve already written a post about here: Tips to Staying Organized and Focused where I talk about the importance of keeping an organized list of tasks/todos for projects as well as some tips to help when things become busy and overwhelming at work or just in life.

10. Have Fun

Honestly, try to have fun, and don’t let stress, office politics, or deadlines get to you. I know I’m not the best at this or separating work life from home life and these stresses certainly exist for all of us to some extent. It’s easy to get into the mindset that the grass is greener on the other side or to let minor issues and stress at work get to us. But we are lucky to work in such a fun and exciting industry and it’s important to remember that.

If you ever find yourself needing a break, take one, go for a walk, grab a coffee with a friend/co-worker or even take a long weekend/vacation day etc.. you’ll thank yourself later on in your career.


If you happen to work with or know any other new designers, drafters, engineers etc.. that could benefit from today’s post I would love it if you would please share it with them!

You can either copy-paste the link above to them, or even just share it on twitter (there are share buttons further down \/ ). I would greatly appreciate it and thank you all in advance!



That’s all for today, I hope you all will continue to check out and enjoy my posts here, they have been a ton of fun to work on and I’m excited about more. Be sure to subscribe and follow on twitter @cadintentions to keep up to date and be the first to get updates as well as sign up for the newsletter Signup Here (CAD Intentions Newsletter).

As always, thank you so much for reading and watching, I am super excited to be back and posting regularly on the blog and hope you all will follow along.

Cheers and happy drafting!

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Brandon is a Civil Designer, Aspiring Blogger/Creator, Husband, Father to two Amazing Kids and Tech Aficionado from a small town in Canada. He has been obsessed with design and technology since he can remember and working as a Civil Designer for nearly as long. Brandon’s blog and Youtube channel, CADIntentions.com has been his outlet and excuse for keeping up with new tech and trends in the CAD design world for the last 10 years growing to more than 60,000 subscribers and over 15,000,000 views, while also being the source of many great friendships and unique opportunities. If you would like to Sponsor CAD Intentions or Work together in some way, Please visit my About Page and send me an email: http://cadintentions.com/about-me/

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