PLACE Designers | Tools of the Trade

A piece of advice that I would give to someone in any profession is: don’t confuse yourself with the tool.  Another way to say this is “do not commoditize yourself.”

It is easy to want to do this, especially if you are good or fast.  Early on in my career, I was very good and very fast using AutoCAD to draft.  I had a lot of experience, I knew a lot of keyboard shortcuts, and my interest in geometry and math let me use the most efficient drafting methods while doing calculations in my head.  I was quite proud of this, and it was thought that I was one of the top two AutoCAD drafters in my class at the University of Texas at Austin (I think I was the best.)

Even though I had got a few jobs because of this skill and gotten perhaps a few dollars per hour more by being fast and accurate, I noticed that at the University of Texas at that time there was absolutely no formal training on computer drafting and modeling programs.  We did learn from each other in the lab, but it raised the question: why did UT not think it important to teach us the very programs that our future employers expected us to use?

The answer became evident in my second year after school, working for a large firm.  The new graduates were skillful at a new program called Sketchup.  This was all the buzz, and I realized right then and there if my value and identity were tied up in being a good tool user, I would lose my value very quickly.  The younger employees were always going to have the technological advantage.  However, if I understood how to design a project, how to solve problems, how to put buildings together, how to think, I would always have value.  There is always someone to draw or draft, but the person who comes up with the design is not a commodity.  The person who comes up with the design is where the true value is created.

Being the best with a hammer is fine if you always want to swing a hammer.  But there comes a time when someone younger and more energetic can swing a hammer faster than you do.  When that happens, you want to have paid attention so that you can direct their efforts by directing them which nails to hit.  If you know how to build the house, it doesn’t matter if the tool being used is a hammer or a nail gun or something else altogether, you will always have value.

More to come soon.  If you want to get in touch please let me know!  Thanks for reading!

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