The Last to Discover – A Response

Randy Deutsch created a new blog the other day that has begun a conversation on how data, especially big data, will be utilized to improve the AEC industry. In his first entry he asks quite a few interesting questions, one of which I have recently had many conversations about with a number of people in the industry. “Why is the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry the last to discover – and utilize – data, for their benefit?”

Lately the discussion has taken a turn that might cause a little bit, ok maybe quite a bit, of controversy.

The architecture profession is a cyclical profession, a fact that just about everyone involved in the industry the last couple of years can attest to. And although I was not in the profession yet, I understand the eighties were just as bad, if not worse. If as many or more people fled from this profession then as they have this time, it’s no wonder there seems to be a gap in generations at a lot of firms. This gap, in my experience, is what seems to be holding the profession back. I know, I know, I can hear the sighs and the “Oh here we go again” comments already, but hear me out. The more established members of the profession that are now either nearing or contemplating retirement have seen this profession already change from pencil drafting to CAD, with quite e few short lived technologies in between. Why would they even begin to contemplate going through all of that again? Then there seems to be the up and coming emerging professionals, usually in their late 20’s to early 40’s (I know quite a gap there too) that seem to be inherently familiar with, perhaps even addicted to all of the different forms of technology.

In elementary school we had to take a class on basic computer programming, and boy do I mean basic. I remember one of our assignments was to write a “program” that told the computer to write our name continually on sequential lines at various spaces using various colors. I think we had a choice of 16 back then. Not exactly earth shattering stuff, but the point is that we were introduced to computer programming before we were even introduced to typing.

So fast forward ….. a few years, and you have a lot of architectural firms with this generational gap in its employees. On one hand you have the ownership, managerial staff, etc. that have some tried and true ways of producing a very complete and accurate set of documents that any contractor worth their salt could build off of, and make the architects vision come to life. Then on the other hand you have Generation X’ers, Millennial’s, etc. that see the potential of the technology that they have grown up with to be utilized in an ever growing and changing fashion.

That gap I was mentioning before, here is where it comes into play. The bridge between these two generations seems to be missing in our profession. I hear it all the time, “Why would I want to learn this BIM stuff.” or “What’s the point of that Twitter thing anyway?” And typically any type of explanation only leaves both parties more entrenched into their point of view than before.

As a profession, at least for the last few decades, it seems as though we begin to get married to the technology that helps us produce, and forget that the technology world is an ever changing one. I would like to think that as more of my generation, and the ones to follow , become the leaders of firms, professional societies, and the overall profession itself; that we will be more flexible in terms of adjusting to new technologies and methodologies that shape our profession.

Only time will tell.

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