Is there anything more fun than a high school or college graduation? Fortunately, my wife and I were lucky to sit through what I hope will be the last two college graduations in our family for a while. The unbridled enthusiasm these kids show, and the shear relief that they don’t have to sit for another exam, pales in comparison to the relief dad feels being off the hook for tuition, for now at least.
How can you sit through a graduation and not recall your own experience? Perhaps remembering a really good teacher you had. No one easily remembers the names of the mediocre teachers, but you remember the ones that pushed you, and who actually made learning fun. Thankfully for me, exceptional teachers like Mr. Speers and Mrs. Raymond were plentiful – and I still use some of what they taught me these many years later. It’s amazing.
Getting an architecture degree was equally insightful. There wasn’t a lot of nuts and bolts taught, only general design. We didn’t learn to size mechanical ductwork, only that a space obviously needed to be conditioned, and how many light fixtures could be wired off a single circuit. We certainly didn’t learn about mullion deflection, glass strength, or sealant movement capacity. One of the only things I learned in school, though, that can be applied directly to my current job was about structure, which comes in handy today for curtainwalls.
My epiphany about what it takes to be a good architect (which was my intent when I started in college) came when I realized that design is an evolving process. Initially, I though what I first put down was supposed to be good enough to pass muster. It didn’t, and fortunately Kent Keegan (one of the good ones) showed me how to explore other possible solutions to the question at hand, and critique it for both the good and bad—then take what was good, and let it evolve further until reaching a point where the solution was the best one possible.
Too late to change my major, I was in the middle of my senior year when I realized I didn’t have the design skills of some of my peers, so I changed to a construction emphasis, and then found myself in the glass and glazing world strictly by chance. But random chances are what our lives are made from, right?
What I didn’t realize then, but soon picked up from my first boss, was that it would take them five years to teach me what I needed to know about the curtainwall / window / glass business, and another five years to make sure I could correctly apply what I had learned.
Over the years as I’ve watched my children grow into their own careers, and the same thing is probably true for a lot of professions. College teaches you to think like a _____________ (fill in your major).
What you learn (and what they didn’t tell you in college) is that OJT (on the job training) completes your education, wherein you have to to take the theoretical taught in college and apply them to the practical, every-day situations you find yourself in.
And that OJT takes time, and time is the one commodity none of us control. Experience applying past lessons comes simply, inevitably, only one day at a time. And experience is a cruel master: it arrives usually right after you needed it.
Granted, some pick “it” up faster than others and learn to apply lessons sooner, but some are slower learners and might take the full 10 years to get to a point where they’re considered experts.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? When dealing with architects: cut them some slack. None of them learned the glazing biz while in school, at least not to the extent and level of detail you have, with so many years dealing with different window experiences. At least in this country, the architectural profession doesn’t allow them to specialize, not like a doctor or a tax accountant. So much of what we do in this profession is teaching architects what makes good curtainwall / window construction. Some of those folks are in their first five years. Given the time for maturing in their profession, they’ll pick it up.
PS: On a personal note: Happy birthday, Chelsea!