My apologies for the long layoff between posts. March was an extremely busy month for me, including three very trying and tiring workweeks bookended by a great ski vacation in Colorado and the purchase of a new home in suburban Chicago. Amid all of that I’ve been contemplating how much knowledge is required to thrive in today’s fast-paced world.

I had forgotten how stressful it is to purchase a home. In the competitive Chicago market, just making it to an open house before the home goes under contract can be considered a victory. Just when we were about to give up on our home search, we found the perfect place. We knew we had to act fast and made an offer two days before the open house hoping to beat the crowds. Would they sellers accept our offer? Not at first… stressing out… Finally we had an agreement.

Then the work began. Sign up the lawyer to review the contract. Arrange for the home inspection. Oh, the roof needs to be replaced… get a quote from a roofer. Find a homeowner;s insurance company. Assemble the financial documentation needed for the mortgage application. Fortunately, we’re working with some real professionals, but there are still many decision to be made. And one home-buying experience 8 years ago hardly makes an expert.

Unfortunately, work hasn’t been a reprieve from difficult decision making. As I outlined back in February this job is hard since a recent promotion and my large project started construction. I’ve also recently taken on other projects outside my comfort zone, including one that required extensive research into water-proofing systems from the 1980s. Another project required a co-worker and myself to research seismic detailing for light gauge steel braces.

The breadth of knowledge required of my colleagues and I prompted us to create a skill set checklist. We could use this to identify who to staff on certain projects and where to find help with particular issues. We tried not to list any of the common lessons taught in university courses. In less than an hour of contemplation, I identified almost 100 topics. Here’s my unabridged and certainly incomplete list:

Steel: composite steel framing, composite columns, crane rails, castellated beams, girder slab, base plates, uniform force method, cover plating, embed plates, pre-engineered buildings, space frames, AESS, torsion, bracing for stability, fracture. Concrete: slender columns, flat slab, waffle slab, shearwalls, link beams, industrial SOG, PT, external post tensioning, precast tees, hollow-core plank, precast shearwalls, tilt-up, concrete anchors, structural plain concrete, FRP. Wood: joist framing, glulam, LVL, sheathing, decking, stud walls, wood shearwalls, rafters, wood truss, bowstring truss, dowel connectors, shear rings, mortis and tenon, SIPs, timber frame construction, CLT. Masonry: steel lintels, precast lintels, slender walls, shearwalls, URM, masonry anchors, brick veneer. Other materials: cold-formed steel, open we joists, aluminum, unistrut, strawbale construction. Archaic systems: clay-tile arch, concrete joists, Cofar, Filigrie, riveted connections, rubble wall, adobe. Foundations: retaining wall, cantilever retaining wall, spread footing, combined footing, caissons, piles, pile caps, mat foundation, timber piles, pole footings. Software: RISA, RAM, ETABS, SAP, SAFE, Enercalc, PCA Column, TEKLA, Revit, Microstation. Loads & Performance: Seismic, Wind ASCE 7 analytical procedure, wind tunnel dynamics, flag pole loading, ASCE 7 snow, ice accumulation, loads for temporary structures, ponding, flood, vibration, fire, second order effects, rebar corrosion and inhibitors, blast.

  • Thanks for commenting, Blaine. I guess I did start getting lazy with the list by the time I got to foundations. But now that I think of it, my foundation design coursework was an elective grad school course. Ditto for concrete design, I learned flat slab, slender columns, and shearwall design in a 500 level course.

    I suppose this is a good argument for the mandatory master’s. However, later today I’ll be posting an essay by Rafael Gomez de Oliveira, a frequent contributor, who has a very different opinion about extending education requirements for licensure.

  • Ken –

    Thanks for the post and good luck with your new home. Home buying just keeps getting more complicated – like the rest of life.
    it is impossible to know everything we need to know because: 1) technology marches forward at a rapid pace, and 2) we encounter projects in practice which have a broad set of elements; we would have to be in school forever if we took every class to cover every possible topic we might encounter. That is why we need to learn continually and avail ourselves of educational opportunities. That is part of what makes our jobs interesting, right? However, I am a bit intrigued by your list of skills sets and you stated intent to exclude anything covered in university courses. Most of the foundation elements you mentioned were covered in my university foundation courses, and some of your concrete items were covered in my concrete design course. Were these courses not available, or were they courses you just weren’t able to fit in your schedule?

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