Evolution

imsai8080My first position in an architecture firm was as a part-time runner. Long before the advent of electronic document distribution, my job was to shuttle drawings to and from assorted consultants and job sites. I was only in my first year of college, so doing any real architectural work was out of the question. 

One unexpected benefit was that I got access to the brand-new Apple IIc computer that they had purchased. This architecture firm was large and doing particularly well at the time, so could afford to invest in some of the latest technology. Nobody seemed to know what to do with the computer, so it sat mostly idle. Unlike the toggle switches that controlled an IMSAI 8080 I had played with in a previous job, this computer actually had a keyboard.

I couldn’t believe that none of the other employees were interested in this amazing new machine, but I was happy to have access to it. I spent my free time after school and work, learning how to write programs on it. It had very little memory and storage space, so doing anything fancy was tricky. I did manage to write a program that created and rotated 3D wireframes of some of my school design projects. Very rudimentary stuff, but I was hooked.

When the firm purchased a computer drafting workstation for more than a hundred grand, I was in awe. It was assigned to a darkened room, away from the main office areas. When I saw my first demonstration, I knew that I was seeing the future… and I wanted to be part of it. Sure… it was monochrome, and took minutes to render a single door inserted into a wall, but it was cool!

Because the equipment was so expensive, they decided to run multiple shifts. Nobody wanted the 5:00 a.m. shift, so I was able to convince them to give me a shot at simple drafting projects in the early morning hours, as long as it didn’t interfere with my runner job duties.

That dual role didn’t last long. It turned out that I was very good at computer aided drafting (CAD). I was faster and more accurate than anyone else, by far. They billed out CAD at higher rates than other services, so my time quickly became quite valuable to the company.

Each year they’d get newer and better systems. Each year I would learn them very quickly, and continue to lead the pack. My salary grew to more than that of many of the much older professionals in the firm. And… I was having a great time.

Then rudimentary color screens were introduced. I could still move quickly relative to others, but my speed slowed considerably, as I had to double-check all of my work by reading the object color numbers, rather than simply looking at the rendered lines. With each advance in the number of colors available, things became more challenging for me.

Eventually the software I was most excited about started to appear… 3D modeling. This was the future I had been so looking forward to. Except… well… colors were even more important to the modeling process. Object selection in 3D was greatly enhanced by color differentiation. And material color played an increasingly important role in final rendering.

I could still do stuff, but I couldn’t ignore that I was no longer enjoying CAD as much as before. A task in which I had previously thrived, was becoming increasingly frustrating. By the time the technology matured to the point of being able to do really amazing things, I had lost my passion for it.

Over a period of five years, I went from top of the heap, to being practically useless… at least by my own standard. The technology had evolved so quickly, I couldn’t help but wonder why evolution, with its much longer timeframe, hadn’t managed to weed me out of the gene pool.

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