Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Lone Wolf's Guide to Learning (or Trying) Civil 3D

Note: The original article was published in Fall of 2006. The text below has been updated as of Fall 2007.
A little over a year ago, I published an article with this same title. Since then, the knowledge base has grown and changed, so it is about time I wrote up a new guide!

Read on for more information on some free resources for learning Civil 3D on your own. None of this replaces real live classes, mentoring or instruction from someone who has been through it before, but as you are going through your journey, whether you have support from a consultant or not, you will need supplemental information to keep you going and keep you motivated.

These resources will also help you figure out what you would like to ask any potential trainer or consultant, and help you get more out of any Civil 3D classes you attend.

First things first…before you start using Civil 3D:
1) Clear you head of preconceptions. Civil 3D is not Land Desktop. It will not behave like Land Desktop. Just let Land Desktop disappear from your brain while you are learning Civil 3D.
2) Realize that this will take time to learn. Don’t give up.
3) Take time to learn about styles and settings, but try not to get too hung up on cosmetics while you are experimenting.
4) Keep away from your legacy projects until you have completed a successful, new, pilot project. If you really want to get frustrated with Civil 3D, try migrating a project while learning skills while learning settings and styles. Get the basics down, then migrating a project will make sense.

If you remember NOTHING else:
1) Always start a Civil 3D drawing from a Civil 3D template. File>New>Choose a Civil 3D Template.
2) For every task, Ask General Toolspace and his tabs, Prospector and Settings. General>Toolspace. The Toolspace is the Civil 3D command center. If you haven’t yet discovered it, you haven’t discovered Civil 3D.

The Free (or Close to Free) Stuff
1. Subscribe to www.civil3d.com/ (and every other blog you can find)

The world changes by the minute. Your best sources of information aren’t going to come from a static textbook, but the dynamic conversations of the Civil 3D user world. The Civil 3D knowledge base expands exponentially each month, if not each week. If you think it takes too long to read blogs, discussion groups and other resources you are doing it wrong. Keeping up with my looong list of blogs takes approximately 5 minutes per day. Learn about how to subscribe to feeds using a tool like http://www.bloglines.com/. If you aren’t sure which blogs to subscribe to, you can start with my list which can be found at this article: Read What Dana Reads. There is a little file attached to that article that will subscribe you to a healthy list of blogs to get you started, and has links to some recommended blog reading resources.

2. Order Mastering Civil 3D 2008
Ok, so it isn’t free, but c’mon now, where are you going to find this kind of info for less than $50?
When you invest as much blood, sweat and tears as we have into this 1000 or so pages of juicy Civil 3D goodness… you gotta throw in a plug for yourself, right? In all seriousness, we feel that this book will be worth the wait and will be a good resource for beginners as well as having information for advanced subjects.

3. Make a habit of watching the Autodesk Friday Webcasts

If you don’t tune in every Friday from 12NOON to 1PM Eastern Time, you are missing out. Each week they provide useful information on a Civil 3D subject. Recent topics have included Implementation Obstacles, Grading Best Practices, Client Success Stories and more.
You don’t need to call in for sound anymore. Just sign up, then login while you eat your lunch. Gather a few friends around. Make up some kind of non-alcoholic drinking game to make it interesting. For example, pop an M+M in your mouth every time Rob Todd says “drawering”, or every time Dave Simeone makes fun of Dan’s barn. Whatever you do, tune in. I find that if I get out of the habit of tuning in, I miss out on something. I also find that every single time I watch I learn something even during the most basic webcasts. Just do it. See you there.

4. Watch the archived Webcasts that you have missed
I used to watch these while ironing. But I don’t iron anymore, so I will put one on while eating lunch or when there is nothing good on TV. Search the topics for something that appeals to you or you need help with, then watch it.

5. Join the Civil Engineering Community Site
The Civil Engineering Community Site contains shared files, helpful information and an entry point to the Autodesk Discussion Groups. Get a login.

6. Read the papers (and watch the screen casts) from the AU 2006 Power Track
AU Papers are free to everyone with a Civil Engineering Community Site login. Screencasts are free for past attendees, subscription customers (through subscription center) and AUGI members (free to join, create an AU Online Login through http://www.augi.com/)

7. Read the papers from other AU 2006 Classes
Same deal as number 6, only check out the topics that aren’t taught anywhere else. There are 400 classes to choose from. You are bound to find something to learn. There are classes on managing geotechnical data with Civil 3D, road rehab projects, visualization, intersection design, grading tools, points, surveying and more.

8. Check out the Skill Builders and White Papers
The folks at Autodesk publish short papers and tutorials on timely topics. Check them out, work through them and learn something to help get you rolling down that hill again. I especially recommend the Grading Best Practices paper .

9. Network with other Civil 3D Users at users groups meetings or online
Like the CAD blogs, the active discussion groups provide a daily knowledge resource, as well as free help from your peers. Before posting to a discussion group, search through previous posts first to see if your question has already been answered. It is also helpful if you have searched the web, some blogs and Civil 3D Help for some answers before posting. Post courteously and keep in mind that NOBODY is paid for their time answering questions on a discussion group. And finally, pay it forward. Help others as you have been helped yourself.
Some groups to try:

The Autodesk Discussion Groups: These are the biggest groups. Great for lurking and searching for answers. Can be intimidating for new users to post. http://civilcommunity.autodesk.com/discussions/

The Cadapult_Civil Yahoo Group: I started this group about 2 years ago for my clients. I moderate the group so that there is no hair pulling or monkey business. The group tends to be friendly and open to users of all experience levels. Some of my earliest students have become great contributors to this group and help new users a great deal. All are welcome. Cadapult_Civil Yahoo Group

The AUGI Forums: I am not active here, but since they are limited to AUGI members only (AUGI is free to join) they tend to be a little more private and friendly than the Autodesk Discussion Groups. http://www.augi.com/

None of these strike your fancy? Start a Facebook or myspace special interest group. Start a google group. Find a way to communicate with other users in an environment that feels safe.

10. Try an AUGI ATP
Both active and archived AUGI ATP classes (free, online classes with an instructor during their active month) are great for catching up on your AutoCAD skills and learning about Civil 3D. Sign up for your free AUGI membership and follow the links to ATP to see the complete list of classes.

The Not-So-Free (but totally worth it) Stuff
Autodesk University

Save your pennies, talk to the boss, do what you have to do- but be there. Take this chance to follow the Power Track to bone up on Civil 3D basics, or sit in on classes and labs that aren’t taught anywhere else. I spent a lot of time in the AutoCAD classes because I am always behind on things like dynamic blocks. There are also advanced Civil 3D classes, Map classes and so much more. For less than $1700 you get to choose from something like 400 classes, you get most of your meals, and a nice hotel room at the Venetian. Look for discount coupons from your reseller, for AUGI members, for early registration and at CAD Camp.

Our very own James Wedding will be presenting at many upcoming dates this fall including Little Rock, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Baltimore while equally exciting Mark Scacco is presenting in Tulsa, Detroit and St. Paul. Some of the dates are still tentative, but mark your calendars and keep watch. CAD Camp is a great, inexpensive way to meet other users and gain access to top notch instructors.

Have a favorite resource? Post a comment to this post to share your favorite Civil 3D knowledge source!


Anonymous said...

Dana, I have been and still am that "lone wolf" and your points are dead-on accurate. I have made every mistake you warn against and am now facing such resistance to the use of Civil 3D that it is virtually banned from use except for minor tasks and there are NO plans to acquire 2007.
Your point about not worrying about the styles has some merrit, but I don't think they can be ignored completely. At least in the 2005 & 2006 versions, the out of the box and standard styles are so far removed from anything anyone around here was used to seeing that the final results were not acceptable generating much initial resistance. I had to generate some styles to get at least close to the output needed before the software was given a second look.

Dana said...

I agree that you need to work on styles so that things look more normal to you, but not on day one. Get through at least a handful of tutorials before you tackle that.

Autodesk University classes and papers have some great style creation information- check out James Wedding's "House of Style" class and similar at AU Online

Anonymous said...

I agree that it should not be the primary focus early on but consider this. On the second of three 12+ hour training classes, whenever students were talking with each other away from the instructor, 90% of the conversations were about concerns regarding the appearance of the program output with the provided styles. This was considered to be a major difficulty in being able to implement Civil 3D for their firm. I am encouraged by your reports that additional styles have been provided with 2007, hopefully they have included some that will match more closely with those we ave to use.

Dana said...

Dude- yeah! I was more thinking watch the mini demos, go through a tutorial or two and then tackle some styles.

Most often, I can assure you a style can be made.

It is hard to digest this- but I can assure the masses (at least most of them) that almost anything is possible in the world of styles in 2006 and even more in 2007.

If you can muster a slight bit of faith in that, it will be easier to tackle once you have some skills.

One thing I do with folks is coach them on getting a few of those styles created so that when they are playing with it things look more normal. But that costs $$.

If you are looking for the best bang for your Lone Wolf buck, focus on baseline skills first, trusting that styles "if you build them, they will come"

Mostly what I am warning against is this:

Don't sit down to do the aligmnent tutorial, then after drawing you first segment try to make the alignment style perfect. You'll never get through it then.

And yes, the 2007 templates are awesome Right Out of the Box. They are extremely complete and even if they arent your cosmetics, they are more normal looking and therefore it is easier to visualize your projects with them and adapt them to your look.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dana, could you comment on the C3D books you have on your list? 2 of them are by Harry Ward; is the one that says "NEW" a revised and updated version of the other (which btw had some great reviews on amazon)? Any comments on Zimmermans book? I used his Harnessing LDD book quite a bit. Is his Harnessing C3D good also?

Thanks for your help!

btw, I just found this site, and have already subscribed - lots of good info!

Unknown said...

Question. i have problem with civil 3d regarding paving profiles. i created 3 profiles like left curb , center and right curb but three are different profiles so i want to add 3 profiles together. how can i add in civil 3d 2008