Letter from the President - May 2018


I don’t know how it is in your city, but in Washington, DC (where I’ve lived for 15 years), this is the stereotypical conversation opener. Why do we so quickly reduce people to the single dimension of their employment status? Why isn’t our default go-to question something about hobbies, or interests, or the latest book you’ve read? All right, asking about work is a pretty universal question. Every-one has an answer, even if they don’t have a job, and it’s unlikely to offend anyone or introduce a controversial topic. I still find myself wishing sometimes for more conversational creativity.

Honestly, though, the real reason I’m losing patience with this question is that it’s growing increasingly hard to answer! Or to answer it in a way that makes sense to a member of the general public. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, teachers... they have it easy. Everybody knows what those jobs are.

But when you say “I’m a CAD Manager” or “I’m a BIM Technician” or “I’m a VDC Specialist,” you’re likely to get a blank stare in return. Part of that may be due to the acronyms, but even if you explain the initials, it’s not likely to increase comprehension.

(I’ll pause a minute to offer sympathy to the architects and engineers who, while they have an easily understandable occupation, are more likely to be asked for free professional advice. “Hey, could you design an addition for my house?” “You know, my back porch has been sagging lately...”)

I still meet people today who haven’t heard of the concept of “3D modeling for buildings,” even though they usually know what a blueprint is. If I try to explain that the software we use can automatically generate plans and sections based on 3D elements that represent real-world objects... it works, usually, but it’s just not something that most people encounter in their daily lives. And for some reason, it doesn’t sound as interesting as it really is! (I guess I should work on that part myself.)

Some portions of AEC technology have started to permeate mainstream consciousness more than others. I do find that 3D printing, virtual reality, and even laser scanning get more recognition than BIM. What do you think it will take for the rest of the technology to become part of the public understanding? Will BIM (not just 3D modeling) have to be accessible on a consumer level? Or will it take some kind of public awareness campaign to raise the profile of innovations in design technology? Or is it just a matter of time?

And how do I answer “what do you do”? It depends on who I’m talking to, of course, but on the days that I really don’t feel like explaining, I just say, “I work for a structural engineering firm.” Overly simple? Perhaps—but starting with the most generic description lets me see who’s interested enough to ask their own follow-up question! If the response is just “Oh, that’s nice”... maybe it’s time for a new topic!

As annoying as it can be, I think the “what do you do?” question is likely to be with us for quite some time. And if you have perfected your short-and-sweet response for those outside the design technology industry, I’d love to hear it!

For myself, though, I’m going to try to minimize my use of it. (Except maybe at professional events where the whole point is to talk about our work. Even there, I tend to prefer “What industry are you in?” because that gives more opportunity for follow-up.) When I meet people outside of work, I’m going to use “What do you do for fun?” instead. I think that’ll lead to more interesting answers.

What do you think?

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