Looking for Info About Design and Production

Not sure if this is the right place for this, but it seemed most appropriate.

I have access to a machine shop with good equipment, various CNC machines, and a finishing shop, normally used for turning steel.

I’m thinking about asking if they would be able/willing to turn some aluminum for me, should I ever get around to designing a throw. Which brings me to my first question:
What software is recommended for this kind of design work?
I don’t have any CAD experience, but I’m familiar with the concept, and good with programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, if there’s any comparison to be made there.

Secondly, I’m curious about the general production process. How much time is spent in design, prototyping(how many?), and finalized production.

I understand that most of the people qualified to answer this may not wish to share certain things, and I completely understand. I’d be more than willing to have a discussion via PM or email if there are things you aren’t comfortable sharing with the world.

Really, I’m just curious about the entire process, and would like to try it out someday, with as little error as possible. Measure twice, cut once and all that.