A few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying my class on AutoCAD. Working with the program is a perfect mix of computer skills and creativity. I pick up the tools and commands really easily. I like the challenge of looking at an assignment (e.g. a floor plan) and figuring out the best way to approach the drawing in AutoCAD.
I’ve relished working with AutoCAD so much that I’ve been looking into opportunities where computer drafting could be the primary focus of my work. There seem to be two main options: work in-house at a large firm as a dedicated drafter or pick up freelance drafting work.
The Appeal of Freelancing
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about whether or not freelancing would be a good fit for me. I like the idea of being able to set my own hours and work from home (especially with a baby on the way).
And I also think about how freelancing could be a good complement to some of my other career interests. For example, looking at a career in theater management, some of those opportunities — especially on the community theater level — are part-time. Having another skill where I could do freelance work could help me close that salary gap.
Of course there are cons to working as a freelancer:
- No stability or consistent paycheck — another benefit of pairing it with a permanent part-time job.
- No paid benefits — you’re working for yourself!
- More complicated taxes — or at least, there is no one necessarily withholding your taxes, so you’ll see that hit on tax day.
Work as a CAD freelancer can be pretty broad. Since I’m taking my course as part of an interior design program, our projects have focused on floor plans, electrical plans and elevations. However, CAD program can also be used for a vast variety of projects, such as mocking up 3D concept drawings for a new product.
I’ve done a little research on freelance work in the CAD industry, and here are some top skills that will help one be successful:
- Knowledge of multiple CAD software programs: While I’ve been learning AutoCAD (which is definitely one of the most common programs in the interior design field), some firms or clients may rely on other software and want their freelance drafter to work in that same program.
- Familiarity with both 2D and 3D design: In interior design, AutoCAD is mostly used for 2D drawings, such as floor plans or elevations. However, often interior designers need to show their clients 3D models. That’s where it is useful to have experience with software like SketchUp or Revit — both of which I plan on learning.
- Good understanding of math: Mocking up floor plans or other interior drawings involves working with a lot of dimensions and angles. In my assignments, I often have to calculate distances, diameters, etc. Luckily, I was a math whiz in school!
- Speed: With freelance work, you are working on a deadline, and clients won’t be happy if projects aren’t turned in on time.
- Ability to work remotely and independently: This one is a little obvious, but as a freelancer you really are your own taskmaster. You have to be good as setting your own schedule and following through on timelines.
In the immediate future, I need to focus on building up my experience, skills and portfolio.
For experience and portfolio, I’m looking at a few avenues. The next type of internship I want to take on is with an interior design firm or independent designer; often interns help with computer drafting. I’m also taking a space planning class in the fall which will involve drafting up floor plans. And I’m considering offering to draft floor plans for friends and family who may be looking to rearrange their space.
As for beefing up my skills, there are many AutoCAD practice drawings and exercises available online, which will help increase my expertise with the software. And as I mentioned earlier, I also want to learn SketchUp and Revit, two software programs that I see often in job requirements within the interior design field.