Engineer Combines Tech Knowledge with People Skills to Become a CAD Leader

Navigating the world of CAD can be complex, and not just in the sense of operating the software. Companies buy each other out, platforms change, startups emerge and on any given day the world of CAD can change. This is why education in CAD has become so valuable over the years—and it could be argued that teaching the best way to teach CAD also ranks as a highly valuable skillset.

Stephen Petrock has not only earned a place amongst valuable CAD trainers, but now finds himself helping to teach the best ways to train CAD users.

Petrock started his engineering journey from a young age, as a LEGO aficionado who quickly developed into a kid that simply wanted to figure out how things worked. As you might expect, that led to studying engineering in college and eventually getting an internship with the Department of Defense.

While getting hands-on experience with mechanical engineering over every summer and winter break, he also gave walking tours of Washington, D.C. “I had this day job that was incredibly technical and hands-on—equations, calculations, figuring stuff out, building it, just making stuff right—but, it wasn’t enough to pay the bills. So, I gave the walking tours. That was my kind of entrance into public speaking.”

When the contract for the project Petrock had been interning on was coming to an end, he had to start looking for a new job. With his experience in both engineering and public speaking, he wanted to find a profession where he could combine both.

That’s when his work at a SOLIDWORKS partner started. “I went from being a hands-on engineer into full-time learning SOLIDWORKS,” he says.

His previous experience had been with a different CAD software, so he began learning SOLIDWORKS and getting all the certifications. That quickly transitioned into not only giving software demos and presentations, but he also began creating marketing content and educational collateral.

Petrock films a SOLIDWORKS Simulation video presentation while in Peru. (Image courtesy of Stephen Petrock.)

Petrock explained that creating the needed educational content isn’t always straightforward. We live in the age of Google, so you can look anything up and there is most likely some sort of information out there. The difference with learning something like CAD is that you might know the function but without knowing the software, you might not know how to even ask for what you need.

“You don’t need to know everything, but you need to know how to figure it out,” he says. One of the first times he realized this had to do with an icon on top of his mouse. He didn’t know what it was and in turn, didn’t know how to look it up. “I didn’t know how to describe it to someone over the phone or how to type it into Google. How do I look this up? You don’t even know what to search for to get the answer to the question. Your question is, ‘What is this thing?’ Well, you have to first learn how to describe the thing. Understanding that there is a process, there are resources out there, but just having that right mindset and figuring it out is a huge part of creating content in this space.”

While Petrock isn’t fresh out of college anymore, he still has insight with younger emerging engineers, and he’s seen how things have changed since the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.

“There’s been a transition lately with the additive manufacturing space, that I think what used to be problems are no longer problems, which is really cool. What used to be a problem was that a more seasoned or salty machinist would say, ‘These engineers always make stuff that I can’t manufacture. I can’t make this.’ Well with additive, we can make whatever you want. I think what’s really good is the younger people, they’re not as stubborn or set in their ways.”

The mindset that Petrock sees in younger engineers can be a double-edged sword, as he’s seen in his time working with SOLIDWORKS users. The barrier of entry has been lowered (significantly) for CAD, which means more users—many of which have no engineering or manufacturing experience at all.

CAD is highly technical, and these days its users can be anyone from a PhD working on a research project, DIYers who are in their garage tinkering, or a professional engineer that doesn’t care about all the features because they just want to get the job done. Developing a way for these various groups to learn CAD can be a major hurdle, as they all learn differently and require different skillsets. Petrock has worked to make content and presentations that are relevant for everybody in the CAD space.

“I think [the engineering community] is poised for good future growth in terms of agility and a mindset that is going to help enable that. The people that get it are the ones that aren’t scared of breaking it. They know they can click around and just figure it out.”

These days, Petrock finds himself in Miami, Florida as he works with 2Win! helping leading technology organizations deliver better demos and presentations of their products. Beyond engineering, he spends time with his wife and their dog. His wife’s family is from Peru, so much of his leisure time is spent learning Spanish and enjoying Peruvian culinary experiences.

“Before I met my wife, I didn’t know anything about Peru, and now I know that they make the best food. It’s amazing, and I definitely recommend everyone trying to find a Peruvian restaurant.”

From mechanical engineering grad to teaching technology companies the best ways to demo their products, Petrock foresees electronics organizations—specifically, electro-mechanical systems—and the adjacent markets being the biggest places of engineering growth. That means potentially new features in CAD, and more opportunities for every engineer to learn more about their craft.

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