CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

cad-engineers-community

Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :). So called “Community Rules” were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities  few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software  – SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as “Facebook for Engineers”, it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of “community rule” was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information.  Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like “improve quality” or “decrease cost”. By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • Stan Przybylinski

    Hi Oleg,

    Thanks for this post about communities. Back in the before time when I was working at the Software Engineering Institute, it was our mission (or part of it) to determine how to speed the maturation and diffusion of (software) technology. As part of that work, we looked research in a lot of disciplines, including sociology, social psychology, communication theory, and a host of others. It was there that I first encountered this notion of community, around communities of practice. (I can see my copy of Schon’s “The Reflective Practitioner” on my shelf.) This was of interest, because technology moves through people, partly, and people maintain their linkages with past employers, and particularly with others with the same training (engineers with other engineers). These networks can be leveraged to great benefit.

    One of the problems with the notion of community today is that there is a “if you build it, they will come” mentality. But, as you say, you need to have that shared interest BEFORE the tool to really make it work. Then you are invested in it, just as engineers are invested in being engineers and want to learn to improve (at least most of them).

    Keep up the good work.

    Stan Przybylinski
    VP of Research
    CIMdata, Inc.

  • beyondplm

    Stan, thanks for your comments! I agree – many of “social XYZ” fads started as a belief to build community around something people are NOT familiar with. However, good online communities were created by mixing of internet and another interest (e.g. Facebook = Internet + Stalking; Flikr = Photos + Internet; LinkedIn = Resume + Internet). I think, enterprise software needs to learn more about organizational culture and communication to build successful communities. Best, Oleg

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