A Profession Is People

by Don Friedman on October 1, 2018

1885 Annual Meeting of the ASCE

The articles linked below may only be connected in my head, bit they seem to me to be a themed set.

First, why do people become engineers? For some it’s a family thing, but for many of us it’s based on inspiration when we’re teens. I’ve mentioned before that the story of the Brooklyn Bridge, as told by David McCullough, was an influence on me. Here’s a list of sixteen books and movies that could push someone towards engineering: from PublicBooks.

Second, that list is unfortunately dominated by stories about white men. That leads to three pieces on gender and race – not in structural engineering, because there is limited literature on our profession, but about professionals in adjacent engineering and architecture fields. There is a good argument to be made about gender and race issues being pervasive in our society, but given a limited amount of time and attention, I tend to focus on the issues in engineering, where my efforts may have some influence.

Finally, once we’re talking about a reasonably level playing field, the next issue is how young engineers are dealt with by their bosses – by people like me. That leads to various discussion (again, the articles are about architects but the issues are similar for young engineers) in two pieces on labor practices and career development.

The Intersection of Technology, Architecture, and Office Sociology

July 30, 2018

The modern open-plan office has a long pedigree.  In 1919, Modern Business had this to say on the topic: “There are offices today where everybody, from the president down, is located in one great room. The higher officials are usually separated by railings from the general office. The advantages of such a system are obvious. […]

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Not Just The Boy Scouts

March 16, 2018

Part of the operations management of a city is preparing for crises that never come. Tuesday’s snow storm was, as is visible in this picture, underwhelming. But that’s a salt-spreader truck with a plow, parked almost in front of the Skyscraper Museum, waiting for the call that didn’t happen.

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Someone’s Got To Build It

February 15, 2018

I was fairly surprised to see this article saying that the number of construction workers in the city decreased in 2016. Construction in the city has been at high levels for years, which means construction workers have steady gigs, which traditionally has meant an increase in the number of people in the field. The article […]

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Response to a Manifesto

January 31, 2018

Old Structures is an engineering firm, not an architecture firm; our technical employees are all engineers. That said, we work with architects every day and the two professions are closely related and to some degree mirror images of each other. The Architecture Lobby Manifesto therefore resonates a great deal with me. The text at the […]

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Professional Engineer, but Forever a Student

January 12, 2018

  Sometime during my fall quarter as a freshman engineering student, I learned that there would be a test at the end of all of this, The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam. Back then it seemed like such a ways off, but it registered to me as a personal goal that would ultimately […]

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The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card

January 9, 2018

Every year, the American Society of Civil Engineers puts out a report card on the state of the nation’s infrastructure. That’s last year’s summary above, and the link has the details. What does it mean to say that our infrastructure is somewhere between mediocre and poor? Many of the areas of concern are less important […]

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A Certain Amount of Cloudy Irony

December 16, 2017

We’ve recently completed moving nearly all of our electronic operations to the cloud. Of course, that means it’s time for an Internet outage, and we had one yesterday. The heat map shows service failures for our ISP: My ideas about back-up partially worked. The bad news is that we lost a lot of productive time […]

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Better Demographics

November 17, 2017

I’ve recently read two articles that superficially are on different topics but go together well: Curbed on Tiffany Brown encouraging architectural careers for African-American women, and at the other end of the social spectrum, the Harvard Business Review on the benefits of diversity. The issues in engineering are similar in effect but different in detail from […]

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Privacy and Collaboration

November 10, 2017

It seems like everywhere I turn I’m finding another article on the downside of open office layouts. In one sense this doesn’t matter to us: we’re less than a year into an eight-year lease, so we’re pretty much stuck with what we’ve got, which is a group of semi-private rooms. Despite the lack of a […]

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