I’ve been working this gig for two years now, and I think I’ve figured out what I like the most, and what I like the least. Seemed a little silly to me to call it the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, because this is surely the coolest job ever – so we’re going with the Good, the Better, and the Best reasons I keep coming back for more.
I’ve seen about a million installations, at least it seems that way. I heard you cringe at just the thought, and I hear the panic in some of your voices when you call and things haven’t gone quite as planned. The two main things I’ve learned about installing SOLIDWORKS products are these:
- Every installation is a little bit different because none of us work in the exact same environment – not every computer is created equal, and each person has different tasks to accomplish that require any number of configurations of peripheral programs , and
- Before you begin, you’ve got to have a game plan. If you’re unsure of where to start, give us a call and we’ll help you create that ever-so-important to-do list.
I like to start with the basics – think about doing this stuff in the days leading up to the upgrade. First and foremost, take a few minutes and make sure that all of the machines that will be affected by the upgrade meet the new system requirements; you can check these the System Requirements. This includes machines like the license server and the clients (those that will run SOLIDWORKS). But don’t forget about the guys on the shop floor who are using programs like eDrawings, or maybe the technical writers who are using programs like SOLIDWORKS Composer, and anyone else who might be contributing to your data management systems like SOLIDWORKS Enterprise PDM. I’ve seen upgrades make it to the 80% mark and have to be rolled back because someone further along in the process was overlooked. 🙁
After that, it’s a good idea to maintain your own library of installation files. SOLIDWORKS only keeps the last two versions (2014 & 2013) on the website, and within those versions, they only post the initial Service Pack release followed by the latest two (2014 SP0.0, SP1.0, and SP2.0 & 2013 SP0.0, SP4.0, and SP5.0 for example).
I like to encourage companies to assign someone to this task, the CAD Administrator or IT; have them keep an eye out and download a complete file set for each iteration of the software. You never know when you’re going to need it. What if you get a contract and your customer is still running 2012 SP5.0 and the media kit has gotten up and walked away? These files are no longer available on the website, which means getting to them just became a chore. By keeping a library of installation files, you allow yourself some insurance.
The next thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to backup those files! If you’ve got a customized toolbox, make a copy – these things can get big, and just the copy itself can take a significant amount of time. Backup things like your customized Design Library, templates (all of them! BOM, Revision Table, Cut Lists, etc), materials databases, and weldment profiles. It’s super important that these types of files are NOT saved in the default installation locations. Save the things you can find in Tools>Options>File Locations separate from SOLIDWORKS – it’ll give you some peace of mind, you don’t have to worry about overwriting or losing them during an upgrade.
And last but not least for the basics, set your users up for a successful transition by having them use the Copy Settings Wizard. I like to do this periodically anyway, again just for peace of mind. If something goes haywire with my settings, I can always go back to the way they were last month rather than starting over completely.
When I’m not working on support cases, I get to do lots of other cool things like teaching training classes and helping users prepare for their certification exams. At first, training seemed like an overwhelming concept to me. What would it be like to teach people to use SOLIDWORKS? The answer is, it’s AWESOME! We run SOLIDWORKS Essentials over five days. On Mondays, we learn about the interface and basic sketching, and extrude a box. Everyone thinks, “Man, this SOLIDWORKS stuff isn’t so bad.” On Tuesday, we get a little more detailed and take a closer look at the Property Manager, Start and End Conditions, and Design Intent. Then come the revolves, and patterns, and shells. By end of day Wednesday, it seems like students are exhausted and maybe even a little fearful of what comes next. Thursday we talk about configurations and drawings – I admit, Thursday is rough for us all – I like to spice things up with candy. 🙂 Then on Friday, something really cool happens. We start to build stuff! Universal joints and Allen Wrench sets get the students excited again.
When I see their victorious smiles of understanding, I remind them how far they’ve come by showing them the box we built Monday morning. This is without exception my favorite part – the relief in the room is always palpable. Relief because it’s over, and more importantly, relief because they’ve got the tools they need to do their jobs. Relief on my part because I know they get it. It’s an incredible thing to see and be a part of – one of my cohorts recently discussed the importance of changing the world, and reminded us that we are a part of that. I get the chance to teach people with amazing ideas how to use a tool that will help bring their visions into reality. Like I said, it’s AWESOME!
Now for the absolute BEST part of my job. For this, we’re going to head back to technical support. What? Technical support is the best part? Technical support was the Good, it can’t be the Best too! That doesn’t make sense! Let me explain. I’m not talking about the installation kind of tech support. I’m not talking about the “My-Windows-Installation-Is-Unstable-And-I-Have-To-Reformat” kind of tech support. I’m talking about the kind of tech support where you guys call me with a best practice inquiry, or the unsolvable modeling problem. I like puzzles. I like having to change my perspective and attack something from a different angle. I enjoy talking to you about it, and serving as your soundboard for the pros and cons of taking those alternative approaches.
I’m talking about the kind of technical support where someone has questions on their latest certification, or using the community tools in their Customer Portal. There’s nothing cooler to me than seeing a request for me to “grade” a certification practice test, or a thank you note from one of my local high school teachers for coming out and talking SOLIDWORKS for a couple of hours. What I gave up in this job was the position to see something through to the end. I can no longer take a project from inception to production, so I have to live vicariously through you and your accomplishments.
One of my favorite cases went on for several weeks – we were working on a handle mold and getting it just right took lots of two steps forward and one step back. I talked to that customer recently, and there are close to a thousand of those handles out there in the world now, one of which is sitting on my desk as a reminder.
One of my favorite students has come through several classes with me here in Albany, and when he passed his Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional exam (CSWP) he made sure to shoot me an email, AND tell other people about his certification journey. Not only did he get certified, he encouraged others to do the same.
It’s that kind of success and enthusiasm that make me want to get up and come to work every day, and it comes from you. Keep sending me those mind benders and sharing what you’ve learned. And thank you for keeping me on my toes!