2006-12-12

How I Ended Up Working in CAD

Grrr. Stupid crashing firefox 2.0... just lost a great deal of work here. Grr.

When I was at AU2006 I had the pleasure of attending a mixer for Facilities Management professionals by the Autodesk FMDesktop team. It was between the last Wednesday class and the Industry Mixer (we were in with the BSD on the Industry Mixer), but, they managed to squeeze it in there just for us, so that was truly appreciated.

It was really fabulous for me to be able to hang around and speak with others who have so much experience and knowledge in CAD, Asset, Space and Facility Systems Management. FM was never so much as mentioned back in college, so I have had to primarily learn on the job and appreciate being able to glean anything I can from people who are experts in our field.

While munching on some fabulous appetizers, I was chatting with Victoria Shipley, A.I.A and Denise Cahill (I think Bob and Dave might have been at the table then as well). I was soaking up as much as I could while trying desperately not to sound too stupid, and found myself relating some story of how I ended up in this field. They encouraged me to share that story with you, faithful reader, so I hope they were right in that some others might want to hear it, so here goes:

I never liked school.

There, lets get that right out in the open. I never enjoyed it, I never did well in it, it just wasn't for me. That's not to say that I didn't (or don't) enjoy learning, quite the opposite, but, lectures... ~snoooore~ I much prefer learning where I can get hands-on or just read by myself.

I didn't have a whole lot of goals during school... I had dreams of growing up to be a Marine Biologist... but, golly, that would require too much math, so my love of boats and sea creatures would have to be experienced via books and the discovery channel. It was sort of assumed and joked within the family that I'd end up waiting tables somewhere (poor assumption given how surly I can be at times).

Unknown to me until fairly recently, my Dad had been an Electrical Engineer in his 20's. I have had my Great-Grandfather's drafting tools since he passed away in my early childhood... he was a Civil Engineer. My Grandfather worked out at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), and when he got his first home computer in the late 80's, I saw AutoCAD for the first time. I remember a lot of those thin black disks being involved. My other Grandfather, living so near Hollywood, did electronics and appliance repairs for the rich and famous. (And somehow... some silly people thought *I* would end up in a service industry instead of a technical field. They all realize now that I never had a chance to be anything but what I am now.)

So, I took my required classes and wasn't sure what to do for my electives. I took accounting, because my Grandmother did accounting work and I watched her and even worked as a fill in during the summer when half the office was on vacation. I still didn't like math.

There was this boy...

Alright, alright.

Anyway, back in high school, there was this boy I liked, but, we weren't at the same level in any of our classes, so when he told me he was taking Drafting in the fall, I signed up for the course, too.
Then he moved during the summer and here I was in this class by myself. :-/ Yup.

I liked to draw. But, blech, look at the math involved!

I remember my first drafting teacher, Scott Touchette, was a nice, quiet guy... left-handed (always nice to meet someone else in their right mind), who really encouraged the bits of work that I did well. I was like, hey, this isn't so bad after all. I was happy with my little t-square and ruler, drawing screw after screw (erm, Mr. Touchette... this is 12 years later and I still haven't ever had to draw a screw, what was the point of all that? ;-p)

Then... we used AutoCAD. It was release 10. I was smitten. The nice black screen with the straight white lines, way better than the crud I came out with in my sketchbook. ~eraser smudge, wipe wipe~

So, the following year I decided to take another class. There was a new instructor, Pete Tucker. Sometimes loud, sometimes a bit dramatic... sometimes acted a bit sexist. I bristled. He sort of implied that women didn't really belong in this field (yeah, so I was gotten by reverse psychology, so what!?!?), so I took every class in tech design he offered.

We moved up to Release 12, then R13 (I liked 13, OK, I thought it was better than 12!). Then, in the design course, while the other kids were doing basic html, another girl and I got to use 3d Studio Viz. That program just gave me a headache, honestly. I did take a 3d Studio Max class in college and while I made it through the classes, it just wasn't as natural for me because it wasn't as predictable to me. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I took the CAD classes, did a bit of paper drawing, picked out a lot from a local real estate office and drew a house for it, built a kite, measured the tech ed wing and redrew it in CAD, got to see blueprints from the design of the TWA/Edward Jones Dome and the new Triad High School. SWEET stuff.

Meanwhile, I also took all of the accounting courses that I could. For my class grades and aptitude tests had shown that I was good with numbers, so the guidance counselor said I would be well suited to a career in... accounting.

Now, why it was accounting and not engineering? I don't know, I can only assume it was a gender thing.

I applied to McKendree College, and with the help of a couple of grants and an inexplicably good interview which got me an additional scholarship despite my less than stellar grades during the first three years of high school (the last year was primarily all accounting, design, drafting and English courses, the stuff I WANTED to learn about, so, surprise, I did well and made it on the Honor Roll for the first time ever), I was in!

Well, I also had this thing... where I had to eat and buy gas and clothing. So, I worked about three jobs and ended up sleeping through most of my classes. I decided I'd never make it through four years of lectures (especially with Ben Stein's evil twin as my first hour College Algebra teacher), and my Pell grant was only good for the first year...

So. What to do?

Well, Spring break of my first year of college, I had three days off of all of my jobs and school and need a break BADLY, so my best friend, Brandi, and I had the bright idea to head out of town because there was some bad weather forecast.

Well... the forecast was wrong, the bad weather missed home, but, hit us on our way to Kentucky. We never even made it across the border out of Illinois when the roads slicked over and we wrecked my car. Luckily it was near a hotel and we got in out of the weather. We met some guys there and hung out chatting for quite awhile. One of the guys was an Engineer. His buddy made some train jokes, and then the guy showed me a picture of a bridge. He was very proud, it was the first bridge he'd ever built.

That impressed me.

Being able to design and build something that thousands of people would use, and would likely outlast your own lifetime. Wow, to be able to make a mark like that on the world!

That fall I enrolled in the Associates program in Drafting at the Community College. Partway through I also started an Associates in Engineering, but, fell half a dozen classes short of completion when I moved to Missouri and started a family. (it's OK, I've realized that I don't want to be an Engineer anyway... I want to complete a Bachelor's one day, but, am still undecided on a major)

So, I started taking the classes, I still remember that the Director of the Technology Department wouldn't let me test out of Basic CAD because I hadn't used R14 (they were using 2000 by that time). Well, you know what, Mr. Jacobs... it's 7 years later and I STILL haven't used Release 14. Yeah, I'm a little bitter, I paid for my classes out of pocket and that was a waste of my time and money. Since I'd done some drafting competitions at the college while I was still in high school, he did allow me to test out of intro to drafting.

So, the classes were a lot better for me to handle than lecture courses. I did have one total sexist pig who treated the girls in the class like dirt when he even bothered to acknowledge them at all, but, for the most part, the instructors were great. They worked in the field during the day, and taught at night and could tell which of us were there for an education and which were there to warm a seat.

Two semesters in, there was a job posting for a few people for the DOT, but, unfortunately, I am dyslexic. I thought the app was due on the 31st, so was disappointed to discover on the 20th, that it was actually due the 13th. A few guys from my class were hired by them, and I continued bussing tables and stocking shelves.

Not long after that, my friend's Dad asked me if I knew CAD. Yep. He said he had someone he wanted me to talk to. His boss. I said, don't you work in a hospital? What would they need a CAD person for?
(oh, if I had only known... I might have had the wisdom to run away screaming)

So, on my 20th birthday, two semesters into my drafting degree, I went to the Hospital to be interviewed by the Engineering Manager. He said there was a backlog, so he wanted to hire me for three months to do basic catch up. Cool, that would pay for college fall and spring, so I agreed, even though I was petrified and didn't know what to expect.

I still remember the first time I was shown the archive room (AFTER I was hired, sneaky guys). I asked who would be able to explain the filing system (dating back to 1912) to me?
Well... after the laughter died down... I sort of got the hint that there wasn't one.


I stayed there the three months, then, when a contractor tried to hire me, I was added full time.

So, I learned about the history of the campus, learned how to read MEPFP and Structural blueprints, learned Microsoft Access to start a document database, learned how to repair our copy machine and plotter, learned how to deal with a crummy PC and Microsoft windows...
The next thing I know, it's my one year anniversary! Turns out, that was the first annual review ever done on someone in my position, because they never stayed longer than 6 months.

I can't blame them. The place was a mess, there was no filing for CAD documents either, they were just dumped on the server. There were no CAD standards in place for all of the contractors who did work for the campus. 15-20% of that campus is under renovation at any one time.

So, here I am, nearly 7 years later, at what I thought was going to be a summer gig. I finished my Associates in Applied Science of Drafting Technology. I have a certificate in 2D Drafting, 3D Drafting and Surveying. I have specialty training in MS Access, MS Excel, AutoCAD, MAP and now, a little bit of training for FM Desktop.

I am thankful for my friend's Dad (well, my friend joined the military and I rarely speak to him, but, his Dad has become one of my closest friends) for referring me, and for my boss who took the chance to hire someone with no experience and very little knowledge on the chance that that would buy some loyalty, and it did.

Every time I hear one of my contractors say, 'Wow, that was fast and exactly the information we needed, I wish such and such client were as organized as you', I feel like their confidence in me was justified.

In this time I have also reviewed every CAFM program I could find and dream of the day that we'll finally enter this century. I have become very passionate about CAD and FM and BIM. This is a GREAT time to be working in any field related to design, with so many exciting changes happening all around us. FM Desktop is my most recent thing to be excited about. Being able to link to spaces and rooms in ADT and Revit speaks to me of the future of being able to link the building systems as well. Intelligent design! I can see it on the horizon!

I wonder in what ways my life would have been different had I become an accountant (and no, the AUGI Salary Survey doesn't count as accounting... why? because I don't get paid for it, so it isn't a part of my career)?
I wouldn't have seen Vegas and Orlando and San Rafael. I wouldn't have met all of the great, brilliant and quirky friends I have now. And I wouldn't have met my husband. Networking to the Nth degree. Yay AUGI and Autodesk University. It was good to be back in Vegas, in the town where Mike and I first met in person at AU2004 at the MGM Grand.

Working in Facilities is tough and frustrating day in and day out, fighting the same fires you've been fighting for years. Working in a Technology field is sometimes tough being young and female, but, we got used to that back in college with the other students and some of the teachers. We love what we do, and so we do it. We believe in the greater good of what we do, and so we do it. We see the promise of breakthroughs in the future, and so we do it.

I'm glad I'm a CAD Geek. I'm in my element, it has even lead me to my first and only love... writing. Somewhere in my heart, I always wanted to write, and never thought I'd get paid for it. Okay, so, 99% of what I've written and edited hasn't earned me a paycheck, but, it is what I love to do (evident in the length of this post), and so I do it.


I am still working on my interview series 'Women in Design', if you would like to participate, or know someone who would, please drop me a line, I'll be posting the interviews early in the new year, after I've cleaned a few large jobs off of my plate.
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