From Design to project management.....


Hi guys, long time no chat. OK, so I am halfway through a CM degree and I am loving it. I've learned a lot and feel it's gearing me for an entry level assistant construction management gig. One of the required courses in a course in BIM and through that I really became interested in VDC, virtual design and construction. So on the side I am learning CAD and Revit both architectural and MEP. 

My question is, in order to get into VDC at a construction company would it be wise to do some design work first for a while? I have an in road to designing fire suppression systems (i.e. sprinklers) through a family friend. He said he'd train after I get a few CAD and BIM courses under my belt. 

My only concern is would I get stuck in design and not be able to transition to construction management later? I am really looking to take BIM and design skills into a construction company. I figured I wouldn't be stuck considering my CM degree and I would have experience in design coupled with management education. 

Does this sound feasible or should I just stick to looking for an assistant project/construction manager position and bring in the CAD, Revit skills I pick up along the way? 

The eventual path is construction management anyways, I just thought doing some design work would help with landing something in VDC. 

Please advise....

Dec 2, 17 9:11 pm

A little guitar....but ok, I guess I'll take the ribbing. 

Dec 2, 17 10:21 pm

Excellent! I will. But as far as working in design first for a little while before switching to project management? I've got a possible gig designing/drafting MEP fire sprinklers. Go for it? Or just take design courses and go straight into construction management. The goal is VDC. 

Dec 2, 17 10:39 pm

Sweet! Thanks for the advice, David! Just making sure those skills could then be transferred to a project/construction management gig later, of course coupled with my CM degree. 

Dec 2, 17 10:53 pm
It's questionable that locating fire sprinklers is really 'design' - there's a lot calculating and reading through code books, the latter could be useful but rarely do fire engineers leave the rcp they are handed by the architect. It's also not really necessary to be doing 'design' at all if your end goal is CM and you're already in school for that. A CM only needs to walk through the drawings within the softwares - you're never going to be creating or even editing them. Arguably structural or architectural work would teach you far more about how buildings are put together.

There will be edits in the field, but you'll learn the ropes of that from a contractor you work for much faster than by sitting at a desk in an engineers office. If you want to focus on software that will be useful to a CM there's excel, of course, and blue beam is popular. Revit and cad are useful for looking through arch & engineers drawings. There are others specifically geared toward contractors I don't recall off the top of my head but most job postings will list what they want you to know if anything.

It's rather odd that your friend is offering you a job doing sprinklers as that is typically done by an engineer or e.i.t. Fire engineering is a very specialized field that does not control at all the high level design or construction of the space. It sounds like a waste of your time to be honest and you'll be paid less (and probably bored out of your mind) than if you go the straight CM route.
Dec 3, 17 11:27 am

Ok that makes sense. I’m just a little concerned about getting an assistant CM/PM job right outta school because I lack actual construction experience. That’s why I was gonna jump at the chance to work this fire sprinkler gig. And it’s badically an entry level fire sprinkler design technician. It doesn’t pay much and he said you don’t need a degree. Many just know CAD or Revit MEP. I just figured it would be something since it was basically offered. 
I’m mostly just nervous about the job market and am taking anything I can get. I’m learning blue beam, and MS project and all the software including Revit both architecture and MEP. I already know excel really well from my last job which wasn’t AEC related but management related. 
Basically I really got into VDC and was hoping to bridge the CM and emerging BIM gap at a progressive company. 
As far as the CM side I’ll have that down, at least education wise not experience wise.  I was just hoping going into design for a niche trade would’ve looked good to AEC employers. 

Please, more advice. Thanks you all

Dec 3, 17 2:37 pm

house project? Closest thing I have to that is my father in law runs a small drywall contracting firm. He does both commercial and residential. But good idea! 

Be honest guys, with what I wrote above, knowing CM but not having Experience. Can I land a job entry level as an assistant Tia

Dec 3, 17 3:18 pm

PM not Tia. Lol dang iPhone 

Dec 3, 17 3:19 pm

Guys, this is the end goal. ^  Best way to start? 

Dec 3, 17 6:22 pm
If you or this family friend are ok with the idea of you planning to leave within a year and you're overly concerned with landing a job then go for the sprinkler thing, treat it like an internship and continue to apply/interview aggressively for the roles you actually want. Don't spend all that money on a degree to get stuck in low paid draftsman role. You have 6 months grace on student loans, use that time wisely. You shouldn't be that worried about the jobs - the market is booming right now and you should find a job within 5-6 months tops assuming you're in a mid to large sized metro that has active construction and have attended a decent school.

To your main question though, the sprinkler job is better than twiddling your thumbs or doing something completely outside of AEC but it's not all that terribly useful for your end goals - you'll be working for a consultant not a main player. Consider that option a last resort, you don't owe that friend anything, he/she is probably being nice or desperately needs smart help for a boring low paid role. At least try to go straight into CM, you'll thank yourself later once you see how rather unimportant sprinkler engineers are in the grand scheme of buildings.
Dec 3, 17 10:06 pm

Thanks! `You're right. I really should go for the gold. Fire sprinklers just isn't my thing, and I only wanted to jump on it for fear of not finding a job in CM. I am in Texas (where all the cities are booming with construction) and the school I am in is better known in the Southern California market, but it is an architecture school that teaches CM. I think it's a great school and it's taught me a lot about the field to hit the ground running. My heart is in CM. I had always wanted to be an architect and get involved in designing buildings but found my fit in CM, and now I prefer it. To couple it with BIM to do VDC would be the dream. Getting stuck doing draftsman work would def not be. 

Dec 4, 17 12:27 am

Placing sprinklers in a model won't get you the experience to go into VDC. However, you've said that you're interested in both CM and VDC.

These professions are very, very different and it's rare to find someone that enjoys or excels at both.

If you're in Texas, north/south/east/west you should be able to find a job with ease working for a large commercial/industrial GC. Design-build general contractors will offer the best chance at varied experience and you'd be higher up in the construction food chain. Perhaps you can get on a project site and offer to be the liaison with their VDC team in the office. Someone with an interest in design/design technology who ensures that the design intention is effectively communicated to the field is invaluable on complicated projects that a more seasoned GC would take on. That's where the CM often comes up short and you could carve out your own niche while gaining experience working with the field team and interacting the engineering office staff. Larger GC's will be able to take on staff for niches like this, rather than forcing you to be a "jack of all trades."

Being a VDC specialist is just BIM without an engineering or architecture degree. It's the new "architectural technologist." It's more based on proficiency with software rather than engineering experience. Clash detection, material take-offs, phasing animations/drawings, etc are the primary tasks. Knowing Revit and Navisworks is a good start and there are countless, free tutorials to get you up to speed. Start doing your own projects and work your way up in complexity. 

In terms of pay, the CM is always going to make more and offer much more room for growth. Think about who makes the budget versus who purely job costed. Again it's rare to find someone who is proficient in both fields, but you're new to the profession, so find the opportunity to learn both and pick the one that makes you happy. 

Dec 4, 17 2:13 pm

LITZ4formZ, you hit the nail right on the head. That is exactly what I am trying to do is bridge the gap between CM and BIM design. 

So what you're essentially saying is that I could carve out my own niche by being a liaison between VDC and people in the field?  I figured that was already a major profession in the construction field, especially in design build. I am surprised it's not already considering the growth of BIM. 

I was looking for that marketable touch to add to my resume considering I lack the construction experience. I was hoping to make up for it by bringing something more to the table. 

How much should I learn? I am lucky enough to have more free time than most at the moment but I want to utilize every minute toward my goals. Should I become as proficient as someone in VDC? 

Dec 4, 17 2:40 pm

That's how I got my start. Right after I joined my current company over 5 years, they asked me if I would go work in the field for 6 months on a very complicated project that needed on-site design support. I managed our design model, created and distributed RFIs, tracked the installation, worked on contracts, coordinated activities with the owner/building officials, eventually got to manage certain trades and ended up staying for 16 months. Learned more on that project than 6 years of school. 

Dec 4, 17 7:54 pm

Ok, good. Glad it’s out there to do. 

How proficient should I get in design software? Would you guys just recommend the classes one can find on online sites such as or actually take a course in a CC? I found a couple courses in beginner, intermediate and advanced Revit but it’s expensive. Is it worth the investment or would the free online courses suffice? 

Dec 4, 17 9:18 pm

BTW, should I learn CAD or jump straight into Revit? Or make sure I'm proficient in both?

Dec 5, 17 1:03 am

I can't answer how proficient you should be. You either know the software or you don't. Starting from zero, learn as much as you can, it won't be a detriment to know too much.

Dec 5, 17 10:57 am

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