Guest Blogger Willard Williams: Why I’m going to the AEC Hackathon

I have been trying to build something on-top of, inside of, and/or around my favorite VDC/BIM tools for many years now. I have wanted to build this and that, and all of these ideas require some expert level understanding of computer science. Architecture has always been a discipline that is a mixture of various different specialties ranging from physics, aesthetics, sociology, physiology, business, anthropology, biology, and many others. Architects are also very close to computers and in a lot of ways are pushing the limits of technology both in terms of hardware and software. Architects are exploiting 64-bit technology and cloud based solutions for collaboration and have been for years now. We are leveraging technology because we are generating highly complex models that are rich with data. Architects are typically the ones who are using various applications daily to complete their tasks ranging form BIM software, photo manipulation software, poster making software, book making software, word processing software, spread sheet software, video editing software, and a host of others. In today’s day and age our tools are mostly digital, with multiple platforms, written in various programming languages. And if you are an architect, engineer, or contractor on the bleeding edge then you are exploring software like Expresso, Grasshopper, Hummingbird, Cinema 4D, Solibri, CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamic) software, and various other highly complex software to analysis various complex conditions.

With all this, architects, contractors, and engineers aren’t necessarily spending their nights reading up on HTML5 or Ruby on Rails so that they can build some sort of solution that integrates with their platform(s), to make more tools that do more things and solve more problems to ultimately make the built environment better. That is typically the task of our software makers. But what if you are just a little fish dreaming of a bigger pond. Then you might need to stay up late for a few years reading thousands of pages of training materials and basically self teach yourself what you need to know to build something. This would be like a lawyer reading up on how to perform appendix removal in his evenings, so that he could perform a surgery in the future.  It could work.

I have always loved computers, as probably most of you have.  I started using computers in the early 80’s and had one in the house ever since then. I took programming classes in school, and most recently at Udacity, where I also took some other classes like Lean Start-Up, Physics, and Computer Science, to name a few. I love Udacity. I wish there was a course on some of the languages that would most directly relate to my efforts, but I figure learning something similar is better than nothing. Computers are really dumb though. You have to tell them what to do or they won’t do anything (for the time being). I want to tell them to do things and try to exploit as much of the tools that I know to do this.

I have been embedded in the Bay Area for a number of years now, working in San Francisco, and living in Silicon Valley. I have had the geeky, nerd bug for as long as I have been aware. I go to events and I say that I am an “architect” and they ask which software company I work for and I tell them I am an actual architect that designs buildings. But I secretly want to be a software architect too. I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Who doesn’t want to design buildings.

So here I am going to the AEC Hackathon, starting tonight.  I have been brainstorming for the last week pretty rigorously trying to figure out how to make the most out of these next 48 hours or so.

Here are 10 reasons why I am going to the AEC Hackathon (@AECHackathon):

  1. Architects are used to the crucible method for creation. Projects are due on Monday and you are going to work all week/weekend to come up with something in a short amount of time.  This is going to be a crucible of sorts.
  2. I’m going to learn, and expose myself to things I can hardly imagine: from CNC’s, Augmented Reality devices and software, to various other software and hardware solutions that I would have a hard time getting my hands on otherwise.  There are going to be number of lectures given by industry leaders, and people who are on the bleeding edge.
  3. I’m going to meet new people.  Like David Fano (@davidfano), Paul Doherty, AIA ‏ (@pauldohertyaia)
  4. I’m going to speak with people that I am getting to know from the SFDD (San Francisco Digital Design) AIA Group, like Mario Guttman ‏ (@MarioGuttman) who is one of the creators of Hummingbird, and Nancy McClure ‏ (@apertedesign) who is a Revit expert and consultant in the Bay Area, and Mike Long (@mblongii).
  5. I am going even though people/organizations that I would love to see at this event but won’t be able to attend like Kimon Onuma (@KimonOnuma), GRAPHISOFT North America (@BIModel1), Marianne Sims (@ArchiCADGirl), GRAPHISOFT (@GRAPHISOFT), Jared Banks (@shoegnome), or Yanni Alexis (GDL Master).
  6. I am going because I love my BIM tool(s) and want to see if there is more that I can squeeze out of them.
  7. I’m going as a representative for my profession and our industry, to be a voice in the storm.
  8. I’m going to try and build something that will change the industry forever.  Maybe build a few things or at least find people who want to help me build things that I am not able to do on my own (yet).
  9. I’m going because I want to make the world a better place through architecture and technology, and what better place than here, and now.
  10. I know most of you can’t make this event but they are already planning the next one which will take place sometime in March.  If you are going I look forward to meeting you.  I’ll report back next week with a summary of the event.

Keep track of Willard Williams’ adventures by following him on Twitter (@WillardWilliams).

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