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RE: Engineering Education Reply to Bill P.

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To some of us it is "new technology." To others, it is "old hat."

I happened to attend engineering school right at the time when we were
converting from mainframes and punch cards to "microcomputers" as they were
called then. My first such "microcomputer" was a Zenith Z-90 with a Zylog
Z80 8-bit processor running CP/M.

Of course, compared to today's technology it wasn't much. But (1) it had a
FORTRAN compiler, (2) there was a version of SAP that ran on it for doing
structural analysis, (3) the time it took to run programs was commensurate
with the time it took to put a card deck in the card reader at the computer
center, process the program, wait for the printout to be retrieved from the
bins in the "sanctum sanctorum" of the sysop's lair and made available to
you at the service window, and (4) it was far less expensive per user for
the C.E. department than the fees charged by the University Computer Center.

Not long after this, when I was in grad school at the same University, we
had 16-bit computers running MS-DOS with graphics capabilities sufficient to
run AutoCad. So I was actually using AutoCad in my late-20s, when the system
was NOT very "user friendly."

And full-blown, dedicated CAD such as Intergraph was available at the same
time where I worked. Expensive to maintain, train operators, and expand, the
system was still considered the key to future productivity. I saw it in a
fabrication environment, and later on, in an engineering design
(construction drawing) environment.

By the early 1990s, Autocad was mature enough and inexpensive enough to use
as a production system in an engineering office. We're talking over TEN
YEARS LATER. Now, twenty years' worth of this technology, with the
incredible evolutionary pace in both hardware and software that has occurred
over that time, means it is no longer "new." It is "old hat" even for
someone like me, in his "later forties."

I know there are plenty of older engineers who still consider it "new." But
I suspect the MAJORITY of those who have graduated with a degree in civil or
structural or architectural engineering are my age or younger, and this
technology is very familiar to them. These are the people who I have in mind
when I make these statements, because THEY are the ones who are using the
technology for design and drafting, either on their own (like me) or working
for firms large and small. In a multi-professional engineering firm of any
significant size (more than two or three engineers), it is far more likely
that the younger personnel are the ones getting this production work done.

To them, it is NOT "new." It likely existed when they were born, or shortly
thereafter. A thirty year old engineer today was EIGHT YEARS OLD when I was
using my Zenith Z-90 to run FORTRAN programs!

And engineering grads today, even though they may not have had any formal
CAD training in college, can readily learn even a system as complex as
Autocad or Microstation in a short time, especially as they have long since
incorporated the common "Windows" interface.

What they NEED, then, is a thorough grounding in the use of such a tool in
DESIGN. I do my own drafting, of course, being a one-man firm. And I daresay
that I am at least as familiar as the average CAD "operator" in terms of use
of the software (maybe even more so, since I actually use "model space" and
"paper space" in constructing of drawings, finding that system to be of
immense productive benefit).

But I think I know how to present the information needed on a construction
drawing. That's what I concentrate on when I produce drawings. Very rarely
do I find myself trying to learn some new CAD trick, and even on those
occasions it is to help make the drawing presentation more clear.

I think that "CAD training" historically has eschewed the development of
drafting skills in favor of learning the bells and whistles of the software.
I don't think that is the fault of the software at all. It is a holdover
from the "gee whiz" era of CAD adoption, when the cost of equipment and
training was ponderous, and took all the focus away from the production.

William L. Polhemus, Jr. P.E.
Polhemus Engineering Company
Katy, Texas USA

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Wish [mailto:dennis.wish(--nospam--at)] 
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2003 9:05 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: RE: Engineering Education Reply to Bill P.

I think you take this for granted - the majority of our profession is
computer illiterate and believe that they can get through their years in
the profession without having to learn the new technology. 

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