How I've Watched Us Evolve
Mark Westergard, Chairman of the Board
I try to appreciate history and learn from it but not to dwell on it much. However, observing what is going on at E&A in the last few weeks as we have adapted to the coronavirus outbreak is truly remarkable and something that would only have been science fiction when I started at E&A in 1979! As I write this, we have most people working remotely part-time or full-time, information and files are easily shared and you don’t need to be sitting at your computer to use it. Let me give you a few contrasts between then and now:
- Then we made plan copies with a stinky blue line machine that made the entire office smell like ammonia. Today we have a large document copier – but we don’t use it that much because most documents are saved digitally.
- Then if topographic information was needed, we surveyed it on the ground OR we hired a company to actually go up in an airplane and take photography that was converted into contour information. Today we have a wealth of aerial photography and Lidar topographic information available to us at the touch of a key stroke on our computers OR if we need some more detailed information, we send up our drone (I’m not sure that word existed in 1979!)
- Then verbal communication was only by land line telephone or in person. Call the office, ask for the person and if they are not there, the secretary would write down a message – no voicemail. Today we still have land lines but they are being used less and less. Cell phones have made us all available anytime and anywhere. In most cases this is a blessing but can be a curse.
- Then written communication was predominantly by typewritten letter and I’m talking about a typewriter used by a secretary to produce a letter from a dictation. If you were totally up to speed, your company may have had one of those new-fangled facsimile machines. Today the fax machine sits in the corner, rarely used. Letters are, of course, still written but using Microsoft Word on the computer with your grammar and spelling automatically corrected. Emails and text messages are the way to go, so easy and fast and you don’t even have to type! Just speak what you want to say and your words are converted into text.
- Then plans were produced by hand, ink on mylar with a bunch of parallel bars, triangles, scales and Leroy machines. I doubt if any of today’s young engineers could even tell me what a Leroy machine is! Today advanced CADD systems allow the production of high quality, consistent drawings in a fraction of the time and with much greater accuracy.
In my mind I don’t seem very old but to be able to remember all these things about how engineering work got accomplished years ago with such antiquated methods – I must indeed be old! Like I said, I appreciate history and have learned from it, but the tools we have today that allow us to be productive and communitive without even needing to come in to an office are unbelievable. I’ll just keep 1979 in the rear-view mirror!