On Pulleys and Pirate Ships: Learning CAD

CAD Maker News
Make:cast talks to Jake Sugden and Josh Manley who are the teachers of CAD Class.

A lot of makers struggle to learn CAD. Why is this keystone piece of software such a challenge to learn? One reason is that you have to find projects that motivate to you to do the work of learning. Another is finding other people who can help you throughout the process.

This is what I talk about with Jake Sugden and Josh Manley, who are the teachers of CAD Class at cadclass.org. Jake and Josh met at Urban Workshop in Costa Mesa, California, a professional makerspace where they had a lot of opportunity to see people struggling to learn CAD. They have put together an online 12-week class for those who want to learn CAD along with others.


Audio / Video


Dale: Welcome to Make:cast. I’m Dale Dougherty. 

I’ll start by having them introduce themselves.

Jake, do you want to go first? 

Jake: So I’m Jake and Josh and I currently working on a course about CAD modelling using Fusion 360, picking up from the total beginner and taking them through the professional and showing the entire spectrum of what you can make in Fusion 360. It is a completely free CAD program that was more aimed at the maker person. Josh and I are both makers. We’ve been wood workers, metal workers, welders, laser printer enthusiasts, 3D printer enthusiasts for years. And so it was the CAD program that kind of joined us towards. But when we started out we realized that it’s an incredibly important tool, but it is an agony to learn. And so Josh and I were like let’s just make our own course and let’s make it fun and interesting.

Dale: Give us more, a little more on your background. What do you do and how’d you learn to do these things yourself? 

Jake: I’ve been a maker my whole life. My first introduction of making is when I was four years old, my dad got me a hand saw for Christmas when I was four, and he taught me how to cut a two by four in half, and he just hasn’t stopped from there.

I was a professional woodworker for years and years, and and just out of my parents’ garage. That’s how I paid for college. Just doing odd jobs here and there. And then I moved over to be a teacher at a makerspace in southern California called Urban Workshop. That’s where I met Josh, and it is a playground.

It’s like a toy shop of all these different tools, all of these different genres of making that we could jump into where you go, Hey, I really want to learn how to use the metal lathe. And they go, all right, make a few projects in there and, and write a class. . And so it was just this really fantastic area.

It was very freeing where he said, Hey, do you want to learn how to do screen printing or laser printing? And I said, absolutely. I want to learn everything. And so we just got to jump into it. And so we Josh and I over the last deCADe, we just built up just a very wide expansive skillset that just passes over so many different mediums.

Dale: We’ll come back to that. Let’s, let me go to Josh here and Josh, just introduce yourself. 

Josh: I’m Josh Manley and unlike Jake I had a bit of kind of a winding mechanism, a winding route towards making. . So I grew up with a father and a stepfather who were both very handy and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I was in the rebellious, like absolutely not phase. But I did end up painting walls and I’ve taped off more things in my life than I care to admit, especially from a young age. And then I went the traditional college route, I studied pharmacy and I went down the science path, have a couple of publications, one in a chemistry journal and a couple bio publications and got into that world. And it’s there, I would say, even though I didn’t really know it at the time that I really got introduced to making, so in a chemistry lab, I was just making chemicals every day. I started to really enjoy cooking around that time as well.

So I’m in a chemistry lab and then I’m in a bio lab. I’m definitely in the making world. But I knew that was not the place that I wanted to end up after about a year. So after I graduated and after I did that for a few years, I moved to New York City and I started a science tutoring company with a pie in the sky idea that I would help people understand that the science that’s taught in a classroom is really nothing like the science that happens in a laboratory.

And maybe I could bridge those worlds, help inspire students who were otherwise turned off by the idea of science.

Dale: Afterschool program of sorts? 

Josh: Some of it was after school. Yeah, it was a lot of SAT/ACT standard tests. And then a lot of– have chemistry tests coming up on Friday and I don’t know anything about it. Can you help ? 

That was that big idea. It was like, maybe I can help people understand what happens in a lab. But what really happened is people wanted to get A’s on their tests and they wanted to get into Harvard. So I did that for about six years and about, I would say about four years in, as these things go, I just had this thing in my head like, I want to make things.

And so I would go around to all of my friends, I’d say, I want to make things. And they’d say yeah, we know, but what are you gonna do? And I’m like, I don’t know, but I want to make things. And so I got presented with an opportunity to move out here to California from New York. I closed my tutoring business down and I told people before I left, I said, I’m gonna find a job making things and teaching.

And they said, yeah, but that’s ridiculous. Tell us when you figure that out. And that’s when I found, like Jake was saying earlier, that’s when I found Urban Workshop. So I walked in the front door. Steve (Trindade) was the founder. I happened to catch him on a day that he was there and I said, Hey, I’d like to work here.

And he said: Who are you? And then I got indoctrinated into the making world and absolutely fell in love with working with my hands, with the creativity involved in this stuff and saw it as a real opportunity to bring together some things I was passionate about in the past.

Dale: Just for folks to know Urban Workshop is in Costa Mesa in Orange County, California. And Steven’s, last name Steven Trindade. Okay. How would you describe work Urban Workshop in the class of makerspace things? It is a bit more professionally oriented, I think, than the average makerspace. 

Josh: It is, yeah. I I would call it a professional maker space. In a lot of these spaces, you’ll have maybe a 3D printer, a couple of lasers, and then some maker stuff. Sometimes wood shop stuff, sometimes metal shop stuff, but nothing, for the most part, I would call it either hobby level or introductory professional level.

And I would say Urban Workshop was a step above that. So it was much more professional equipment. HaasCNC Mill, professional woodworking equipment. 

Dale: And you were director of education there eventually, right? So you had people there that wanted to learn how to do those professional things as well.

Josh: That’s right. From like a clientele perspective, I would say it was kids so that we had a lot of youth programs and a ton of kids interested in this stuff. Obviously, shop class went away in schools. Then I would say you’d have the curious hobbyists who tended to take classes and they wanted to know how to do this stuff, but not necessarily to turn it into a profession.

Or maybe they were dabbling and trying to figure out whether or not they wanted to turn it into a profession. And then you had the professionals. The people who are product developers, full-time engineers, and they already, for the most part, they already understood how to use the equipment. They just needed access and space to store their projects.

Dale: Interesting. I have an interview with Tim Keller of Inventopia and his is a little bit more an entrepreneurial, he calls it a microfactory. He said a lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to make the thing that they have. They don’t have the skillset or interest in doing it, so they’re looking for other people that can do it. Do you think that happened at Urban Workshop and people showing up and saying, can anybody make this for me? 

Josh: Oh, it definitely happened at Urban Workshop. Yeah. We had a huge influx of people, a lot of people from ultra simple, can you cut this piece of wood to much more complex where they wanted full product development. 

Dale: Prototyping and things. 

Josh: Yeah. I think that is a pretty big world. it’s interesting, although we got that clientele, I think because we had the equipment, it gave people the false sense that they could figure out how to do this stuff instantly.

So I would say in some ways it encouraged people to go in there and give it a try only to realize how difficult parts of it were not to know. They ran into the unknown unknowns. I would say that space in particular encouraged people to give it a try when they may not have.

Dale: Jake, were you gonna say something on that?

Jake: I’m just thinking of all of the different projects that came through the door. One of them that definitely comes to mind is I had a student who who I believe was maybe 12 years old. I taught him how to use every single tool in a wood shop. Absolutely loved it. Told his dad, came in. I taught him how to use the whole wood shop, and then I don’t hear about him, and then I seem like a month later I’m like, Hey, how’s it going?

And he goes, it’s going great. I’m building a pirate ship outside. I go, huh? And I look outside and in our parking lot they’ve netted out like 10 parking spaces and they’re now constructing the hull of a pirate ship. And I go, what? And he says, yeah, it’s cheaper to build it than buy it. And so this is just this bizarre kind of energy and mentality that comes into that place.

It was so addictive. 

Dale: That’s kind of what I like about the maker’s building pirate ships. They’re unexpected things. So you guys, both who were in a place where you see a lot of people that come in at different skill levels, and there’s obviously a kind of person that comes to a maker space that knows exactly what to do.

They’ve been trained to do it, and they just need access and time to do it. It also attracts a number of people who have an idea and obviously I think the maker community is a bit, in this category a lot. People want to be able to do something useful and something fun.

And they may be the same or not but they don’t have the skills to do it. A lot of the ways you do things is a lot easier than it was before. It still takes a lot of time and practice to get to be good at these things. When you want to really do what I think really matters, it’s like prototyping an idea, it can be a steeper learning curve than some people expect and they either give up or they find their way through that. It gets me to the major thing we’re here to talk about is CAD.

That is one of those intermediate level things that people sometimes are afraid of. And I guess my basic question is why can’t you learn CAD on your own? And some people do, obviously. Yeah. I was gonna say, there’s Tinker CAD all the way up to Fusion 360. There’s SOLIDWORKS, there’s all kinds of different programs that do this in different ways. 

What do you think the struggle is for most people who want to learn this but end up giving up on it?

Josh: It’s such a, it’s such a good question. I’ll start and then I would love if you jumped in, Jake.

 I would say for starters, it’s one of those black box softwares, kind of like Illustrator, Photoshop, something like that where there’s a lot of buttons, a lot of functionality, a lot of possibility, but also an overwhelming amount of information. The way people tend to approach CAD is they don’t even know they need it until somebody says, oh, you should try making a model, right?

So you get in, you start making things with your hands. You decide that you really like the process of making stuff with your hands, and then enough people tell you that CAD modeling is important and may be able to help you do what you need to do. Or to operate the machines you want to operate, that you eventually go, I should learn CAD modeling.

And I think the approach that makers take to making things doesn’t work all that well when it comes to learning CAD modeling. When you’re gonna make something, you might have some materials around that are sitting in the shop, especially if you’re a new wood worker, you don’t even know what wood to buy.

So one of the difficulties in maker spaces when — I’ll try to make an analogy here. Is when you’re teaching people wood shop, you’re focusing on the machines and a project that you’ve already set the steps out for them. When they go to do that on their own, now they have to figure out where do I buy materials and how do I buy materials and how do I load it in my car and how much does it cost? And what do I do with all the extra stuff? And then when I get to the shop, how do I prepare it? This edge isn’t as flat as the piece that I got when I originally learned so when it comes to maker spaces, like part of the difficulty, the maker equipment is just one small piece of a larger equation.

And I think that same kind of idea happens with CAD. So you start CAD modeling and you go, I would like to make a pirate ship. And so you start Googling like the way you may try to approach some kind of learning, how do I make a pirate ship in CAD? And then you very quickly realize, okay, I can download the software that I.

And I can learn some basic tutorials, but there isn’t a tutorial that’s gonna take me from where I am to being able to make a pirate ship. It’s, there’s no direct connection there. So the next snaking type of learning is how do I go from not knowing anything about this software to being able to make something complex that I have in my mind that I want to put in the real world?

And that’s, I think, where most people get stuck. And I think that, like I was saying earlier with making, it’s something somewhat similar with making is you might want to make maybe a dining table is the next thing you want to do and now you have to go and you have to research joinery and you have to research maybe weight distribution, types of wood that you’re gonna use.

That same thing happens in CAD modeling where you go, okay, I want to make a pirate ship, but I don’t know what these menus mean. So maybe I should start with the menus. It’s like an a la carte style learning. Most people who try to go the a la carte route end up going, okay, this is not the way that I’m gonna learn but I don’t exactly know what is the way that I should learn. Should I go and take a college course? Should I talk to the people here and just struggle through making models? Should I go through free YouTube tutorials? What actually is the best way to go about this? And the world of possibility opens up and gets really difficult to make a decision.

How do you feel about that, Jake? 

Jake: I totally agree with that. I think when people get into a brand new genre of program like CAD, because there’s so many different options, they don’t know which way to go, how to start. My first university class ever was learning SolidWorks, and so I’ve got totally different avenues of how I learned different CAD models or different CAD uh, software through different avenues, going through the kind of traditional academic way was incredibly difficult. Most of the time I just tried to teach myself how to did it. And I just, brute force learned it and it was agony. It was long nights at the library with a janitor kicking me out and I’m like, no, I’ve just gotta finish my homework.

And then I’ve also gone through just trying to learn it through YouTube or just learn it through books. And what I found very quickly is, the way that I learn CAD is exactly the way that I learn a new tool and or learn a new genre of making like metalworking or welding. And that is that I need to make something that I find interesting.

It in every single chapter one of every single CAD book they have, you make a pulley. And it is this fantastically uninteresting, uninspired project that 

Dale: It’s not a pirate ship. 

Jake: Yeah, no. While you making it, you’re going, okay, alright. I make a circle and then I’ve got an axis and I revolve it.

And at the end of it, after blood, sweat, and tears, you’re going great. I’ve made a pulley. How exciting. . And from our from our position, we’ve started out by saying let’s actually make interesting stuff. I don’t have it with me. I should have it in a, in arm’s reach. But when I first wanted to learn how to use the metal lathe, the first thing I ever did was look up, Hey, what are some fun metal lathe projects? Let me go on Pinterest. And what people will say is, oh, you should make a machinist hammer. I was like, eh, okay. Maybe. And someone said, oh, you should make a spinning top. Okay. And then all the other projects are just fantastically difficult. But they didn’t really interest me all that much.

So I went through all my files. I’ve got long lists of stuff that I’ll get to, backburner projects I think every Maker has. And he goes, okay, I’m gonna make a light saber. I’ve got all the dimensions. I found ’em online. I’m gonna make a light saber. And I made Luke’s lightsaber from Return of the Jedi, and it took me a year to make — a few hours every weekend.

But at the very end, I’m like, oh, I have the thing, I have the prop. And I learned so much about using a lathe, using a mill, threading, internal threading, all of this really good detail. Purely because I came at this project with interest and excitement to it. And so if you try and teach someone a new tool, CAD, and you just give them a pulley, they switch off. 

They recognize it’s important. They go, okay, I could use this in my 3D printing, my CNC mill, my CNC router. I could, design cabinets. Before I actually make it in real life, I could run through all the issues. So they recognize it’s important, but they have zero drive whatsoever. 

Dale: So you’re getting at what motivates you to learn and overcome the obstacles along the way. It’s probably not unlike musical instrument or something. It’s grueling when you don’t have the muscle memory. You don’t know what the musical notation means. You are trying to pick up several different things to play something that in the beginning sounds quite awful.

Josh: I love that analogy. That’s such a good analogy. Like you pick up a guitar, like I’ve picked up and put guitars down multiple times and I always started with, I would like to play this song. 

Dale: That’s when the magic hits a bit. You can play something that you really like and not just doing practice scales and things like that, which is the pulley equivalent, I think. 

Hey, Jacob you had a background as a woodworker before you got into CAD? Is that, yeah. 

Jake: Yeah. A long time. 

Dale: So that’s an interesting audience in ways. Lots of woodworker probably out there that don’t know CAD. They do the things mentally, I think that you end up doing in CAD. . How would you talk to that person that says, oh, I, I could never do this on a computer, but I can do it in my shop.

Jake: So I would say that it is, something that happens when you become a maker. Woodworking in, in, uh, specific, specific, just because there are so many wooden products in the world. If you go to ikea, you can start to look at cabinets, a bed, a desk, and without even thinking about it, you deconstruct and you know exactly how you would make it in real life.

If you see a bookcase, as soon as I look at it, I look at these two sides that have got dados routed in it so I could slide in shelves, nose, were all cut on a table saw. So it is second nature to just deconstruct it. And when I was learning CAD for the first time in a classroom, essentially we were making like this boring flange.

And I was looking around and everyone was following the guide in the books step by step. And they were struggl. And I was, and I had the idea, I’m gonna approach this like a woodworking project cause that’s how my mind works. And in, in woodworking, other than someone who’s interested in 3D printing, we work destructively or subtractively.

 I think of stuff as a big block of wood. I’m drilling a hole, I’m cutting it off. I’m chiseling this, I’m routing and fillets on the edge and it just clicked. It became so much easier to start to do CAD when I think of it in this kind of tangible sense. Just below my laptop, I’ve got a caliper stand.

Anytime I’m doing CAD, I’m always going, all right, two millimeters and I’m going, yeah that’s about right. And so it is, so having some kind of real world tangibility is unbelievably useful in CAD, and especially woodworking because I’ve been in projects where I have accidentally I’ve measured once and then cut once and screwed up once.

And if I’d only made it in CAD, then I would know, hey, I need to cut it to this length. And I’m not gonna be out another 50 bucks and have to buy a new sheet of plywood. You can run through the problems beforehand in CAD before you even touch it in real life, which can be super, super helpful. And that only becomes more helpful with the complexity of your project. 

Josh: That’s an awesome answer. I think similarly in terms of those projects, but I think the other way to approach it is if you’re a hobbyist that deconstructive approach, saving money, saving time, working out the kinks, that’s really useful.

But if you’re a professional, then you really have a motivation. The likelihood that you’re a woodworker for 50 years is relatively low because it’s hard work; it’s dusty; it’s not easy. It’s not an easy world to compete in. I think one of the things that’s so fascinating about CAD is that it opens up a whole new world of machinery. You’re not just making a model that has to exist on your computer screen. You’re making a process. 

Woodworkers tend to be highly process oriented. You go, how can I make every single step more efficient so I’m not wasting my time and effort and going to bed completely slam tired every night, right? Like you have a big motivation to do that. And I think with CAD, it opens up this new world of what if I got the help of a machine?

And then what part of the woodworking process do I enjoy most? And which part would I prefer somebody else do or maybe I can pass off my plans; maybe I can hire another worker; maybe I can offload some of this stress that is I am making everything all the time.

So for the professional woodworker, I think it’s an essential skill, both for collaboration with other people, maybe in your studio or in your shop, but also with collaboration with machines, which is a funny way to think about it. 

Dale: I like what Jake said the deconstruction as a way of thinking about something.

Even your pirate ship, we tend to think of the whole finished good at the end that we want and not the stages that you go to get there, like the sub-assemblies or whatever you want to call it. Whether you do it on paper, you do it in your head, you do it in a CAD program, what are the parts, right?

Jake: I would say that the skill of being able to deconstruct something and actually look at all the components, that is a chapter in your education within that one field. If you are just getting into woodworking, you are learning all the tools, you’ve got all the safety down, you’re making some projects, and the second that you then apply those steps to some products in the real world and you can start to deconstruct it and actually go, Oh, I would make it in a different way. I would make it more efficiently. That is a huge chapter in the education of the maker. And that is not just once, that’s for every single genre. As soon as you go into welding, you then start to look at big, chunky tables and infrastructure.

I had students where I would teach them a whole six week course in welding. And after they got really good and say, Hey, now we’re able to identify what a good weld looks like. I would say, okay, we’ll meet back here next week. Your homework is to look at welds in real life and see how they look.

And people come back and they go, Jake, everything is welded so poorly. The same thing with woodwork. And they go, oh my God, I would make it so much better. And I’m like, yeah, I know. I know. 

Dale: That’s very nice insight. 

I have this observation that there’s a lot of things you can learn procedurally, especially software, like it’s on this menu. You open this up, you do this and you follow this set of steps. But often you don’t understand what you’re doing. You don’t have the conceptual understanding and kind of what you’re talking about with deconstruction is a form of conceptual understanding of the problem you have, and that you can apply that concept to lots of things.

Whereas the procedure is very specific to doing things that one way and you almost have to go down both path. You have to know where things are on the menu and to be able to follow that and adjust that and make this change, but at the same time, you have to leap over to that other track and I don’t care whether it’s cooking or other things, it’s like, how do I know what I’m doing?

And it’s this, I think in interesting dialogue, almost in between two halves of yourself. It’s like you have to move forward and do what you can do, like moving things around. And the other hand has to be questioning, why am I doing it this way and how could it be better? How does it actually, what happens if I don’t do it that the way that it’s prescribed, 

Josh: Yeah. I love that analogy. I I think it’s similar for learning languages. I like to think CAD modeling is like you’re learning a new language. Yeah. And that language is three-dimensional communication on a two-dimensional screen. It’s a strange idea, but it’s like you’re learning to communicate your objects in three dimensions via a computer screen.

And that is very similar to learning a language. In some ways you go, why did I say it that way? At what point does grammar and syntax come into play? Where if you’re just walking to the restaurant, maybe that’s where you start is you go I’d like to be able to order my food today in the language that I’m trying to learn.

And so you start by learning that. Then you work backwards through some of the grammar and the syntax, and then you come back to learning more words. And I, the interplay between them I love. 

Dale: I just passed the ham radio license, and

Josh: Oh yeah. 

Dale: These intensive classes for you to take it. It’s good at teaching you to the test basically. And I just reconcile something in my head that there’s two different things going on. One is you just gotta memorize a bunch of stuff and learn this to do the test. The understanding takes longer, and they’re not necessarily connected. The basic facts, you just take that in, but then understanding that in the sense that you have a framework for doing things, is part of that sort of conceptual understanding that helps you then do what you want to do with it. But I think there’s that struggle in CAD I think is similar in that you can just follow those instructions and get the pulley. 

That you’ve been asked to do, but you struggle and say, am I ever gonna understand what, how I would build something that I didn’t, that isn’t as rep clearly represented as a pulley.

Jake: I think it comes down to the idea that anything can be a rabbit hole.. You can go down as deep as you want into any subject you want. And it’s up to the teacher to say, Hey, don’t go too far, because then you won’t learn that much. But I still want you to just chase a little bit down the rabbit hole so you actually have a deeper understanding.

One of the projects that Josh made for the for Urban Workshop. We had a whole class on how to design or how to make a Bluetooth speaker from scratch. As he was designing it, we were working out all the math for what is the, the volume of air inside because that’s really important. So I left and then came back the next day and Josh said, oh my God, I did so much research into the volume of air inside a speaker. And I’m like, oh, really? And he. Dude, I got down to the quantum physics of speakers. You went too far. You went too far. 

Dale: It’s just that rabbit hole uh, uh, full of technical information and people and things is ultimately really fascinating. It satisfies our curiosity to be asking those questions and learning and we’re amazed that there’s so much there to learn and it’s very satisfying.

Josh: Completely, it’s humbling. There’s no way I can know. I end up going to the ultimate conclusion, which is I don’t know anything about anything. I really don’t. 

Dale: This is a key thing about learning. You can’t wait till you understand everything. You, that’s what I was really trying to get with is — you just have to do it, even sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing. Like your muscles learn what you’re doing sometimes the way your brain doesn’t understand it.

Sometimes you have a feel for doing certain things because you’ve done them a lot. And you want to. You want to trust that, and at the same time get you into to new areas.

So let’s talk about some of the specifics of your class, because I think, again, I just run into a lot of people that that CAD is their obstacle. CAD is what keeps them from really taking part in the full glory of making, right? So talk about your class now. 

Jake: The kind of antithesis of CAD class kind of came around with, okay, we are going to teach you a little bit of everything within Fusion360. As the name implies, Fusion is a combination, a fusion of lots and lots of different types of software that includes not just design, but also rendering simulations, animations, engineering drawings to make blueprints. And what we found is, hey, within our first three weeks of our 12 week course, most people go, oh, great I now know everything that I need to know to make my projects.

And then from that point onwards, we are now giving them all of these different projects and just exposing them to the kind of giganticness of this program. Just to say, Hey, you may not think that you’ll need, or that you’ll need the skillset to be able to make a photorealistic render. But stay with me and you may find it.

And what we find from all of our students is they go, oh no. I could actually, I could totally use this. If I’m making up my own product and I want to sell it before I actually make it. And I’m, and I get pretty good at photorealistic rendering. I can fool people into thinking that it actually exists. I can sell it before I make it. 

Dale: That’s Kickstarter. 

Jake: It’s Microsoft. 

Josh: I think too, like the, sort of the basis of our program and some of the inspiring ideas, one Jake mentioned earlier was build projects that we wan to build. That was the start. Let’s make things that we want to make, and then when we do that, let’s make sure that we introduce people at the right level, and then also focus on the primary skill, which most makers come to CAD because they want to learn how to draw and turn those drawings into three dimensional models. Or maybe sculpt and go the other way around. But we focused on it mainly from the drawing. So let’s make sure that every single project isn’t something that you actually just pull into the canvas and then add joints to.

Let’s model it. Because the fundamental skill of CAD that most people are gonna want to leave with is the ability to model a project they actually want to make, or to be able to model a project. So they want to show to somebody like a client who, who may want the thing made and they can make the revisions there.

So I think it was, start at the basics. Assume basically no knowledge. Build projects that people actually want to spend time making because they’re fun and you can make them in the real life and do so at increasing difficulty with, say, three to six new tips and tricks in every single video. You’re never gonna get to the stage where you go, I’ve already done every single thing in this video. Why did I repeat this process and make a square blob instead of a round blob? You’re gonna go I may not use the rendering functionality, but I learned 3, 4, 5 different little ways about going about design that will impact the way that I approach future designs, and that’s what our students have told us over and over again. They’ve said that’s probably the most useful thing. They’ll reflect at week 10, back on week one and they’ll say, wow, now I see why you did it this way. Now I see how I could do it this way. And I know from here forward the difference in approaches between the two.

Dale: That gets to how long a class is this ? You said week 10. So this is not something you’re doing in a single session? 

Josh: So we structured it. We didn’t want it to be overwhelming. We wanted people to be able to do it after work. So a couple of hours a week for 12 weeks was the original idea. And the weeks thing is arbitrary. If you wanted to sit down and learn our CAD program, you could and go through every project that we do. And you had a lot of times on your time, on your hand for one week, you could get through the entire program. , and you would know something substantial. But 

Dale: it this way, is it self-paced or? Or instructor-led 

Josh: kind of thing?

Both. Okay. So there’s a self-pacing option you can go in? We certainly don’t like, the idea is we never wanted to be in somebody’s way. I think one of the things that’s really difficult with college courses is sometimes you get in there and the class is far is way too fast. And you’re struggling to keep up.

Sometimes you go in there and you think, this is too slow. I wish I could just go through this faster. So we never wanted to be in somebody’s way. We never wanted to hold them back. But at the same time, we recognize that part of what makes CAD difficult is that when you get stuck and you don’t know why you’re stuck and you don’t even know how to ask a question.

It’s really valuable if you can. Somebody who’s working on that project or us at the time that you get stuck that question. So we’ll, we will meet with cohorts of students once a week in the program, or you have the option to completely do it on your own. So there’s like a. Do it yourself, do it together, or, the, at the highest end of the spectrum would be Hey, can you just be with me and only me once a week?

And so we would do it one-on-one with you. So there’s a variety of different options and the hope is that it’s, it won’t leave anybody behind you. You have more help if you need it. 

Jake: What we found just from our students that go through our cohort where they do week by week, is they find that there’s this kind of sense of accountability with it where they go, oh, I need to get this project done before my meeting cause I don’t want to, I don’t want to look like I’m behind.

I don’t want to have to go to CAD detention. And so it, it ended up feeling a little bit like school in, in, in a really nice way. So we have these weekly meetings with. And it starts over. Then hey who’s having trouble with what? And we can go through the projects and then at the very end people go, Hey, I’m working on my own projects.

Can I get some input from the crowd? And they’ll share their screen. They’ll say, Hey, I’m working on this. It’s gonna be 3D printed, or it’s gonna be laser printed. And so just has this really lovely community. I think between all makers that we all it doesn’t matter if you’re in woodworking or welding or 3D printing.

All makers of similar and we all yeah, we all talk each other’s language. Yeah. I think 

Dale: that sometimes they’re not aware though, of how when you’re with other people, you learn from them as well. The challenge of just watching YouTube videos is you’re, you’re trying to learn from it, but if you are in a room with five other people trying to learn at the same time, you’ll be learning from what they’re doing and seeing their mistakes or their corrections or other things like that.

So I think it really it helps. I love that. , I think that would really help people get beyond intermediate level is is that thing of being able to talk about what the problems they’re facing or what they don’t understand, and still being able to keep going.

Josh: And I think the opposite framing too, right? So when I’m stuck and when I have problems side of things. But there’s also the opposite frame, which. What else might I be inspired by? Which is, I think back to the Makerspace idea, right? What makes a makerspace so powerful is you never know what you might run into and who knows what and what you can possibly learn from them.

So you go in and you almost feel it’s like Candy Land. Oh, what am I gonna spoken about? What on earth could be possible. And so that’s what we find too, is like when our students make their own projects and then send photos of those projects, and then maybe talk through some of those , . Everybody else goes, oh, —.

Fun, funny little anecdote. One of our students, he’s got a 10 year old boy and his 10 year old boy wanted to solve a problem and this problem absolutely cracks me up. He was sitting in the backseat of the car with his Chick-fil-A sauce. And he didn’t have a holder for it, so he told his dad, who he knew was taking this CAD class, I want to make a holder for my Chick-fil-A sauce.

And dad said, okay let’s do it. He makes this little holder that goes in the, you know, where you put your hands to open the actual door. It like sits down in there and then the Chick-fil-A sauce goes in it. But he wasn’t satisfied. He said, no, I think I need to make an articulating arm that pulls out over me so I can enjoy.

It’s like what an absurd, inspiring project that both the dad that’s taking it is inspired. The kid is inspired. The problem is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard, and yet it’s exciting and it does make you want to well, 

Dale: I think that goes back to Jake’s thing, no matter how ridiculous it is, the thing that you want to make, it’s your thing, yeah. And that’s what makes it really, really terrific. 

Jake: One thing that I did note from from traditional learning of CAD that I really didn’t like was that it seemed to be very one way. Like when people try and learn CAD from a book or forums or YouTube video, it’s yeah, I can get all this information, but as soon as I run into a roadblock, you are stuck.

You are alone. And going on a CAD forum is formed these terrible because everyone there for some reason has this idea they need to prove just how much they know. And so soon as you go onto a forum and you go, Hey, I’m a beginner. I’ve got this very simple problem. Yeah, I know it’s simple. I know it’s one button. Can someone help me? And it’s fantastically not useful. And so by building up lots of different avenues to communicate between our students and ourselves, it’s just made for so much more of a nice environment to learn CAD. 

Dale: So maybe the last question is, I think this is really true about making in general, but let’s bring it down to CAD. This isn’t about having some set of capabilities that make you good at doing this. Anybody can learn to do this, right? And you can apply it in your own way, but it’s not you have to be this kind of person to be good at CAD, right? 

Josh: Absolutely. Anybody can learn this stuff. Even on the application side of things, it’s like everybody goes into it for a very different reason.

Yeah. And yet what comes out is, and what’s always excited me about it is it’s a way to express your creativity. If you’ve ever tried to explain your project idea to somebody else, which anybody with an idea has tried to do, you fail.

Dale: I think the fundamental idea of making is to turn an idea into something real that you can share with other people and words aren’t enough. 

Josh: Neither are gestures.

Dale: That’s the magic when you do prototyping is you get that idea in a shape that someone else can apprehend it and comment on it and talk about it. And it’s not in your head anymore. It’s right in front of you.

Listen, I encourage people to check out CAD Class. I may have to drop by sometime. And I think, also interested in, continue to talk to you guys about how do you get this to available to more people is what we’re seeing.

I think one of the things. Maybe hindering the growth of Makerspace is that people go in there and they aren’t acquiring the skillset to be able to do the things that are in their head and CAD is one of those things. 

Josh: And really what it comes down to, I think is I know what Jake and I would love to do as teachers and students of the world ourselves, is empower other teachers to not have to do everything themselves. So if we could get CAD Class inside of schools that have little maker spaces. If you’ve got a 3D printer at your school, if you’ve got a laser cutter at your school, if you’ve got instructors that feel overwhelmed by teaching this CAD Class, we’ve got a way that we can give you access, you can give your students access.

Like I would love to scale this program and go, Hey, at least start here. And we’ll take the heavy lifting off of teaching CAD. A lot of people don’t know it that well, so it’s hard to find instructors to teach it. The people who do know it are probably busy doing other things. A lot of them aren’t actually in classrooms teaching. So if we could find a way to support some teachers and say, Hey, just use this, start here and make this a part of your curriculum, we would love to do that. And I think that to your point, would go into the makerspace world as well.

Cause essentially what happened over the past 30 years is we lost our ability to make things. by shops being pulled out of high schools and what happens at the makerspace level is people are coming back in to learn those things, now feeling like they’re really behind and also not having full-time to dedicate to actually doing it.

Dale: But the biggest problem we have is people buy equipment. They don’t know how to use it, right? It happens at home, it happens in the makerspace, it happens in school maker spaces where they have plenty of 3D printers. But, other than turning ’em on, 

Josh: Cause everyone likes to buy a toy. 

Dale: Yeah, they do.

Josh: We’re all gear. Yeah. Oh, man. That’s a whole other podcast issue, but that’s a, yeah, it’s absolutely a hundred percent agree with you there.

Dale: Let’s wrap here. Thanks uh, Jake and Josh I really love talking to you today and I look, I wish you best of luck with CAD Class.

Jake: Thanks so much for having us. 

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty


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