Why Being Proficient is Not Sufficient

proficBetween doing design technology searches and helping out my university students, I look at – and make suggestions for improvements on – a couple hundred resumes and CVs each year.

Students shouldn’t place education on top. They need to start seeing things from the employer’s perspective. Anything even vaguely work-related needs to move up.

Students also make the rookie mistake of listing every piece of software they know. Photoshop. InDesign. Microsoft Office.

While mastering these tools is in itself a minor achievement, if not miracle, listing them on your resume says more about you than you may intend.

To the prospective employer, these tools are the air you breathe. Putting them on your resume is like saying “in my spare time I drink water.”

Somewhere over the past couple years the technology bar has been raised. You are now expected to know more and do more. And, more and more, you’re expected to learn these tools in your spare time.

What exactly are you supposed to know? I’ll get to that in a moment.

In a recent conversation with the Head of University of Minnesota School of Architecture, Renée Cheng, she admitted that learning BIM is no longer part of their curriculum. Revit classes have been sequestered to the architectural archipelago of Saturdays.

At the University of Illinois School of Architecture where I teach – Revit and other software lessons are covered sporadically in the evenings. I personally try to teach BIM and building science as inseparable subjects, and work in the topic of BIM as often as I can for my 134 undergrad and 90 grad students, and students are encouraged to learn Revit for extra credit outside classroom time.

It is as though I now have to teach each class twice. I teach the material that, according to the accreditation body, students need to know to succeed in a career in architecture. Then I put on my BIM hat, walk to the white board on the side, and inform them of the implications of that topic in terms of BIM and integrated design.

But back to learning software. In off-hours my TAs provide live software tutorials, and students are expected to practice outside of class on their own. We make sure students know they have free access to Lynda.com and other online tutorials, and answer questions in and out of class as they arise.

In a few weeks Paul F. Aubin will be stopping by my Anatomy of Buildings lecture class to wow my students with his family editor magic. A couple of the students may recognize him from the Lynda.com tutorials or from his Mastering Revit Architecture book series, but by and large the students see him not as the Revit rock star and rocket scientist rolled in one that he is, but simply as a guest lecturer. Paying attention is voluntary.

On your resume, your ticket to talk is prior experience with Revit and skill with learning new software. So why, then, isn’t being proficient in software sufficient?

It’s not so much about what you learned in 4-6 years (OK, seven) of school, but your willingness, openness and ability to learn software – including tools that haven’t been invented yet. In college, what we try to do is teach you not for your first year out of school but for your tenth, fifteenth, twentieth.

Firms want employees to be self-motivated, to mess around with software on their own. For example, to develop their own expertise in advanced Revit features.

More and more of these firms are all-Revit – or All-in Revit. They’re Revit firms.

Like ArchiCAD instead? See if Papageorge Haymes (Chicago, IL) is hiring. Or Jared Banks (Newton, MA) or Ashen+Allen, BAR Architects (both SF, CA) or CJMW (Winston Salem, NC) or Kirksey Architecture (Houston, TX) or Woods Bagot or check out this list to see if any are hiring.

But back to reality.

When – under the skills category – you place the words “AutoCAD” or “Revit” on your resume, it is to start a conversation.

If they ask you how well you know Revit and you say that you did an extra credit assignment for Professor Deutsch or watched a tutorial 4 years ago but haven’t actually used it, it will be a short, and not particularly sweet, conversation.

If they ask you how well you know Revit and you say that you are proficient in AutoCAD, 3D Studio Max, Rhino, Revit and that you’ve messed around in your spare time scripting in MaxScript, what the prospective employer hears is not the litany of software you’ve burned through but “Holy cow, they mess around with software in their spare time.”

A few might wonder why you have any spare time (i.e. what’s wrong with you?)

If they ask you what is your experience working with the scripting language in Autodesk’s 3ds max, VIZ 3D, and gmax applications, call their bluff. They probably were coached by IT to ask you this, but the senior person who is interviewing you probably has little idea what it is they are asking. Whatever you do, don’t make them feel stupid. Just answer the question as accurately, and as briefly, as you can. They will be relieved by whatever you answer, happy to move on to the next question or show you around the office.

Oh, and if you want a job offer, when they ask you if you have any questions, don’t ask them about software. Ask them if you can see a set of their documents. Employers are never so happy as when someone asks to see their documents. It’s as though you asked to see pictures of their children. It’s as though you asked if you could raise their children. They’ll be that proud to share them with you. That is one thing that hasn’t changed.

Firms are looking for do-ers, but also for strategists: employees who take software matters into their own hands, who might recommend that the firm look into a certain software over the one they’re married to, or invest in a particular software because that is where the competition or industry is headed.

So, while it is important that you know Photoshop, InDesign and the Microsoft Office suite, it is also important that you breathe and drink 8 glasses of water daily. Important, yes. But not sufficient.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Why Being Proficient is Not Sufficient

  1. The segregation of Revit and CAD learning to Saturday or evening classes makes me wonder what can be taught (vs. self-taught) or not. If CAD can be learned independently, why stop there and not skip traditional schooling altogether? ;-)

  2. Nice article! As one who often interviews new employees entering our field of architecture and design. The students that attended universities where Revit or AutoCad software was learned at their leisure, didn’t last past their internship if we were at the time looking for designers with good construction document completion skills. If they did, they spent a lot more time in the design library researching products for designers. A student that possess a combination of both design skills and the ability to think beyond the streamlined design documentation process while utilizing Revit or some other BIM software have proven to be the best candidates for employers. A student that can simultaneously produce various design options with an understanding and great concern on how to build it, sees the benefit of tools like Revit and proves to be more valuable to firm. Students good at communicating and completing the design phases and the supporting CD’s with little error seem to be the best candidate for firms of all sizes.

    Johnny Mullins
    BIM Manager/Consultant
    Architecture•Design•Animation

  3. Richard Buxton

    Inbuilding.org are running a free online Q&A on BIM and Autodesk Revit.

    Why not have a look

  4. Pingback: The 7 Convergences in Contemporary Practice | BIM + Integrated Design

  5. Pingback: The 7 Convergences in Contemporary Practice | data-driven design and construction

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