Envelope #2: Town hall meeting for SEs

Andy Lin
March 24, 2022

Happy Thursday! This is Back of the Envelope – the place you go to for a quick read on all things related to structural engineering.

Today, I will talk about a webcast that happened last week called “For the Betterment of the Structural Engineering Profession.”

I’ll give you a brief overview of what went down and tell you my take.

Let’s dive in. (Estimated read time: 3 minutes and 52 seconds)

Update: When I first wrote this back in early April, the webcast replay wasn't available. It is now on YouTube and you can watch it here.

The “Vision”

So the good people at CASE, NCESEA, and SEI did an hour-long virtual “town hall meeting” to update us on their vision of the profession and what they are doing to get there.

(Don’t know the acronyms? Don’t feel bad; me neither. ‘S’ stands for structural?)

The official “vision” can be viewed here if you are interested (second page). There are quite a few big words in there (which I am sure they’ve put a lot of thought into), but that also means it takes quite a bit of effort to digest.

To save you some time, this is my shortened version of the vision:

Structural engineers are important and more people should acknowledge that.

(Really, I think that's what they are trying to say.)

“Key Initiatives”

Now, with that vision, they came up with ten key initiatives. It’s mostly stuff you’ve heard people talking about, like developing leaders, advancing the profession, encouraging resilience, improving mentoring, etc. (you can read the full list here).

They showed the result of a poll they did recently to see which one people cared about the most (I took a screenshot):

The webcast then went over each one, and the panelist talked about what they are doing for each initiative.

It would be nice if they put that down on a website somewhere, but from what I can remember, a lot of it is “we’ve set up committees who have many things down in the pipeline…etc.” (Sorry I am probably not doing them justice here.)

The last part of the session was a round of Q&As which was interesting-ish.

Someone on Reddit (“ma_clare”) copied down the questions being asked (you can read them here) -- my impression was that the answers to these questions were all pretty general (e.g., “yes we are doing several things related to that” or “the best way for you to help is to get involved”) which are really not that helpful.

All in all, it was an interesting meeting but definitely left a lot to be desired.

My Take

Alright now let me tell you what I think.

First of all, props for these guys for putting this together; you can tell that they’ve spent a lot of time genuinely trying to improve the profession.

However, I see a few issues with the way this is approached:

1. It might be a bit too corporate-ish.

Not sure how to describe this but it feels a lot like a politician telling people, “yes we have committees and initiatives to help us reach our goal.” Basically, a lot of words but not really saying a whole lot. I think some specific milestones or roadmaps could help.

2. Too ambitious and lack of focus

The ex-COO/CFO of Instacart, Ravi Gupta, once said this:

“My advice to people when they are thinking about instituting a new process is to go to a whiteboard and write down the answer to this question: “If you could only get one thing done this year, what would it be?”. 

If that answer is “institute some new process”, go for it. But if it’s something like “increase market share from 30% to 60%” or “launch this new product that will 2x our TAM”, don’t waste your time on anything else. Just take your best person (up to and including the CEO), make them responsible for solving that problem, and give them everything and everyone they need to make it happen.” 

In other words, everyone should concentrate on one singular focus rather than diverting resources to 10 different things.

Kind of like drawing vectors – 10 vectors going in the same direction get you a lot farther than having arrows going in all directions.

3. They either missed, or purposely avoided talking about “money”

It is true that many are in this profession because they love the challenge and the work. But if the money can’t keep up, we will have problems keeping and attracting talents down the road (or even now).

In fact, more money also means more resources for the “key initiatives” and which can get us closer to the “vision.”

But how? I have several ideas -- we shall save them for the future.

And that’s all – thanks for reading! 

PS: Let me know what you think of today's email?

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