The Emerging Role of Millennials

image: Ryan Deane
image: Ryan Deane

If your firm looks anything like mine it won’t be hard for you to paint this picture for yourself. A bustling open-office floor plan with large semi-private work stations for senior associates and principals along the windowed perimeter (usually vacant). Cookie cutter cubicles with low walls filled with a production army of 20-30 year olds, rocking headphones while heating up their keyboards, and an inner core of collaboration spaces filled with a mix of employees laboring over the latest design ideas – it won’t be long before these headphones (and their millennial owners) move towards those window seats.

Millennials Can “Just Play”

Back in the 80’s while many of our bosses were likely out at a Journey concert, we started training. Okay okay, at the time we didn’t know it was training, but opening an Atari, Nintendo, or Sega on your birthday was like getting your first PC. Then in the 90’s we sat down for hours on end to the ‘cutting edge’ graphics of “SimCity 2000,” with only a keyboard and mouse to sculpt the landscape before planning a city… On second thought, it really was training! Between hours of playing “Oregon Trail” we wrote our first email from our 4th grade classroom on an Apple IIe. We typed our first book reports and inserted clip art in middle school, and by the time college rolled around we had early versions of AutoCAD, Photoshop, and GIS as part of our daily vocabulary.

Vocabulary is spot on when describing this. The beauty of our generation is that we all know at least two languages; our native tongue, and some capacity of a digital vernacular. Whether it’s word processing, drafting, modeling, graphic design, or writing code and algorithms, we all speak at least one of the dialects. I’m reminded of a scene from Good Will Hunting (1997). If you alter just one small line from this scene, it explains my point perfectly:

Will: Beethoven, okay. He looked at a piano, and it just made sense to him. He could just play.
Skylar: So what are you saying? You play the piano?
Will: No, not a lick. I mean, I look at a piano, I see a bunch of keys, three pedals, and a box of wood. But Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could just play. I couldn’t paint you a picture, I probably can’t hit the ball out of Fenway, and I can’t play the piano.
Skylar: But you can (model a site and spit out a 3D rendering) in under an hour.
Will: Right. Well, I mean when it came to stuff like that… I could always just play.

image: Ryan Deane
image: Ryan Deane

We’re Integral to Success

I’d be willing to place a wager on how many times, every day, a computer savvy production LA is interrupted with a tech question (see open-office plan above). We’re team players so we don’t mind. It’s honestly a little compliment every time this happens. The skills we have from being very versatile make us huge assets to any organization. While it is within every individual’s capabilities to learn different technological skill sets, we are poised to redefine what it means to be a successful landscape architect. This means spreading our knowledge and skill sets to our colleagues to improve the collaborative dialect which ultimately makes our teams and process more efficient.

In 2014 Unity3D, an online realtime rendering platform, published a survey titled “The Future of Visualisation in Architecture.” The survey concluded that 93% of participants believed that 3D visualization and design communication technologies will become more integrated into workflows over the next 10 years. This was confirmed by the 2015 ASLA Digital Technology PPN survey yielding similar results of 77% supporting the growth of 3D visualization. Barring the anomalies of younger Gen-X tech savvy professionals, it is apparent who will be ushering in the change in this delivery process. (See more ASLA Digital Technology survey results below.)

image: Ryan Deane
image: Ryan Deane

The caveat to the current roles in what will be the future of our profession is this – What happens when all the generals retire and we’re left with only grunts?

We’ve Got a Lot to Learn

There are many facets to the field of landscape architecture, so it is very important that millennials not only focus on one. The skills highlighted above are only necessary to efficiently analyze, synthesize, and produce the final product or deliverable. These processes will not hold meaning without due diligence, a solid design, a project manager, proper coordination, regulatory approvals, or even the ability to speak eloquently in front of a client. These are just a handful of the necessary skills needed to become truly successful in our field. To avoid being pigeonholed to a lifelong role as production ninjas, we need to make it a high priority to acquire a comfort level in every sense of being a landscape architect, in addition to what we already know as second nature. Remember, there is no substitute for experience, but know that as soon as millennials get it, they’ll reinvent the process to do it more efficiently.

by Ryan Deane, ASLA, Digital Technology PPN Chair

18 thoughts on “The Emerging Role of Millennials

  1. David Leonard February 4, 2015 / 6:43 pm

    Great article Ryan.

  2. mla2 February 4, 2015 / 6:44 pm

    I think pigeon holing Millennials in this light doesn’t do us any favors. Not all Millennials have Beethoven-like love and skill for software. Expecting us to have all the computer skills before we are even hired (chart 1) is unfair if in light of the fact most of us learn on the job (chart 2).

    • ryandeane7 February 5, 2015 / 12:23 pm

      mla2,
      I understand where you’re coming from in that technology isn’t everyone’s forte. However the results of the survey show that it IS an expectation that the generations coming into the profession will be well versed in technology. This is clearly the path our industry is headed down now and will continue to be technologically progressive.

    • Michael Damico (@chooglincharley) December 16, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      Absolutely; that has occurred a couple of times thus far in my young career. Pigeonholing young professionals into this position is not necessarily good for their professional development

  3. Grant R. Jones February 4, 2015 / 11:15 pm

    What will happen to these landscape architects when electrical power blacks out forever?

      • Jared December 17, 2015 / 12:28 am

        Right? We had our server go down pretty much completely back in maybe 2009 and it took over 24 hours to overhaul. I found it somewhat relieving. There was so much to do on paper. I had concept designs to bust out for others to CAD up later. I had submittals to review…the old fashion way. It went on. I got a lot done and it was very productive. Many between 5 to 10 years younger than me were at a loss.

  4. ryandeane7 February 5, 2015 / 10:26 am

    mla2, I can absolutely see your point here, but these are actual survey results. I think its the expectation is based on where our industry is headed. The expectation to know ALL of the computer skills is unrealistic, however its great job security to know at least one or two unique tech skills that help a practice move forward.

  5. Curtis LaPierre February 5, 2015 / 4:55 pm

    Remember what Norman Mailer said: “That’s not writing – that’s typing”. The same could be said for confusing graphics with thoughtful design.

  6. Donna M. Rodman February 6, 2015 / 1:27 am

    Ryan, I really appreciate the article you have posted and would like to get in touch someday! I am approaching 60 and completely tied into computer technologies from back when AutoCAD was release 10! However, I am also finding that creativity isn’t about technology really or applications of such. And, if you are not in a big, dynamic office what the heck do you do to advance your abilities to perform through technology? Some of us are losing ground for the lack of genuine opportunity. And you still have the heart and mind of a 30 year old but the wisdom of millions of little experiences, set backs, and inspirations? I am probably in better physical condition due to riding my bike for most of my education and career development…than most 45 year olds FYI because I don’t sit in front of my computer all day and make a point of commuting as much as possible or training for long rides. That all said, design is not an ageism thing Ryan – it is a talent, skill and gift developed over years and years…And I firmly believe in combining high touch and high tech, using our physiology and right/left brain creativity and logic to design. I design both manually (on butter trace, because it is cheaper and less time consuming for me) and I design in AutoCAD (that seems to take up more time but it is flexible and adjustable for change). Any way, we need to look at the impact of technology and the use of technology on how we design and design creatively as registered Landscape Architects. Cheers, Donna Rodman, BCSLA, CSLA, Vancouver, B.C., Canada Go forward measured and balanced.

    • ryandeane7 February 6, 2015 / 3:11 pm

      Donna, thank you for your thoughts. I 100% agree that “design is not an ageism thing”. If it wasn’t completely clear in the last paragraph how much knowledge and experience millennials need to gain, I’ll offer this. Since I graduated in 2004 I have worked for the same multidisciplinary firm. I by no means categorize myself as a “designer” but work every day with excellent designers to enhance that skill. I will say that 700 words was not quite enough to get into the aspect of the mind as part of a workflow. The variables for each person reading this may vary by age, firm size, clientele, technical ability, drawing ability, design ability, etc… but its fair to say that the mind as part of a digital workflow is something that cant be ignored a part of the progression of our practice, and the younger generations have been conditioned to do this.

      With that said… Trace is a staple of our profession and everyone should be able to put their ideas on paper, but the skill of imagining something and turning it into a 3D element in a relatively similar amount of time is the level of thinking I’m talking about millennials having. Its the same process as brain to hand to trace paper in 2D, only now its brain to mouse to screen in 3D, and its something more useful later in the process.

      Your point of the firm size in relation to available technology is fair. The point I was making about students entering the profession knowing these is due to the fact that 90% of them are FREE to all in higher education… The issue of software costs and also how we affect the software manufacturers to create more LA tailored technology is a blog post itself… So stay tuned!

  7. flahertylandscape February 8, 2015 / 12:52 pm

    Ok, so what exactly did the most recent generation learn in the $30,000/yr university education?

    Did anyone try to teach you about the relationships between cost, project management, time and buildable designs?

    If the outline structure of decision making is not taught in school and if it does not include those four basics i have just listed–then you likely will not have those window seats in the future. 😉

    • LASparty February 10, 2015 / 1:38 am

      Of course we attended that class! It was right in between LA401: Client Expectations – HQ Renderings without Outsourcing, and LA402: Workflow Efficiency -Streamlining Your Peers to Make Shareholders More Money.

      All due respect flahertylandscape, Universities and Colleges didn’t suddenly do away with teaching this… You and I were taught the basics of the profession. The rest is learned in the field.

      Its easy to teach a young dog old tricks but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

      • ryandeane7 February 10, 2015 / 4:43 pm

        I’m just happy to be here…

  8. tmharrison2015 February 13, 2015 / 4:54 pm

    Great article! The diversity of methods we use to create and add to the overall beauty of our profession and end products.

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