Head instead of computer? Part 3

Nancy Anderson
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I promised you that we’d talk about concept thinking for engineering positions and today’s the day. Most of us seasoned professionals (“old guys”) have seen a significant decline in thinking conceptually in our profession. A lot of us blame computers and CAD for this, but when we really carefully think it through . . . we still blame computers and CAD.

Now don’t get us wrong, any one of us would fight tooth and nail if you even thought about yanking our PC’s. We would not be able to tolerate life at all without being able to engage the precision and speed with which these units can perform calculations and tabulate the results. Don’t go there.

In “the old days” we drew with pencils on huge sheets of velum known as drawings. The bigger the job was, the bigger the sheets were. This constantly generated a tactile ownership and overview of the complete job. We needed a relatively developed concept early in the project in order to work our way into the details. We “had a feeling” for the whole project.

Now we don’t. CAD won’t show us a huge 3’ x 5’ drawing at a legible size on our small monitors. These programs make us zoom to work on tiny portions of an overall plan, detail them, and move on to the next tiny piece. The “cut and paste” practice for many details can multiply an intrinsic error at light speed. I have found that many of the young engineers and interns on a project don’t even get a chance to see the entire building layout until the first review printing. This leads to a lack of cross-discipline coordination that is not rectified until well into the project schedule and hourly budget.

Some easy examples of Big Picture Concept Thinking would include:

  • Make it your job to familiarize yourself with the overall plan and engineering systems. Understand these systems, how they are fed and exhausted, and who on the team oversees that portion of the design.

  • When working on a major component, find out what’s in the way. Is that a sprinkler main, or did I just route a 36 x 54 return duct through a concrete column?

  • What is in that space? It may look like a big empty room on your layer, but it’s called “Computer Lab”, think power, network cabling, lighting control, heat contribution, exhaust and make up air controls.

  • When my detail shows a home-run with a break line running off the edge of the screen, is the “home” for that “run” really there?

Sound complicated? It is! That’s why the call us “Professionals”. The more that everyone on the team understands the end product, the higher the quality level will be. Less rework means more PROFITS!

You just can’t help it; the product will be a better job!

You can do this!

By K.B. Elliott

K. B. Elliott is a freelance writer for
Engineer-Jobs.com. Working many related positions in the Detroit area for over 30 years gives him a unique perspective on the process. His networking interests as an entrepreneur connect him with many new venture start-ups in Southeast Michigan. On the chance occurrence of spare time, you will find him building computers and airplanes, or restoring antiques. To read more of his blogs, please go to Engineer-Jobsblog.com, and be sure to check out the postings for jobs in nearly any industry at Nexxt


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