Saturday, December 3, 2011


Young architects and engineers:  Are you wondering how you can carve out a satisfying career niche in the AE business?

Are you looking for something unusual that increases the likelihood that your services will be in demand in this turbulent economy?

Why not consider becoming a spec writer? Spec writing is a niche job that very few architects and engineers seem to want to do even occasionally, let alone full time. Why?  Beats me.  I think I’ve got the best, most interesting job in the office.
I’m not suggesting you become your father’s spec writer. Not the irascible old guy with all the red pencils and the six-inch scale in his shirt pocket who talks to himself. 

I suggest that you aspire to something more along the lines of a knowledge manager, as the concept is explained by Robert S. Weygant in his new book BIM Content Development - Standards, Strategies, and Best Practices. A couple of passages from Mr. Weygant’s book, which I recommend highly (emphasis in italics is by me):

“Knowledge management is the supply, maintenance and delivery of graphical and topical information related to a project. With the advent of building information modeling (BIM), there has been a considerable increase in the amount of information and collaboration during the design of the project. Because so much information is being passed between so many different parties, a single responsible party or team should be assigned to manage this information to ensure consistency between the plans, specifications, model, and other supporting documents.”

“As construction documents are created and the project manual is assembled, the knowledge manager can organize information based on its specification section and export the information from the model for use by the specifier. In many cases, the specifier is the individual who makes decisions regarding the performance attributes of certain components. Cases such as this lead me to believe that a seasoned specifier may be the most appropriate individual to take on the role of knowledge management. A seasoned specifier is not an individual who simply understands how to edit a form document, but one who understands the differences between products based on their performance values, when to use certain components, and the appropriate methods for documenting them.”

Why spec writing is already interesting and will get even better:
  • Spec writing is entertaining. As a full-time spec writer, I get to work on many of the projects in our office. The pace of the work and constant deadlines pretty much preclude boredom, and the wide range of project types and sizes in our office mean I have to be constantly researching and learning.
  • The job is way more than just editing master specs. Spec writers help to express the owner’s business objectives in the bidding and construction process.  Owner’s complicated business needs and objectives mean lots of custom writing of bidding requirements, bid forms, and General Requirements.  
  • Ditto for projects using Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).
  • BIM/spec linkage will require parts of spec production  to switch from  word processing to a relational database approach - another opportunity to add to your specifier’s skill set.
How to get started in spec writing/knowledge management:
  • Commit to being a lifelong learner; stay informed and relevant because change is constant and inevitable.
  • Find a mentor, or maybe a few mentors.  Find someone who knows construction detailing. Find someone who knows the bidding process.  Find someone who knows a lot about construction contract administration.  Listen.  Learn.  Repeat.
  • Hook up with a CSI Chapter somewhere.  Listen, learn, volunteer.  You’ll learn a lot about the business and will meet people that will eagerly help you.
  • Take the CSI Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) certification exam as soon as you can.  Professional credentials really matter in this business, not to mention the fact that you’ll learn a lot in the process of studying for the exam.  After you pass the CDT, take the Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) and/or Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) exams.
  • Read everything you can find about BIM-linked specs, because that’s the future of the profession.
  • Tune in to CSI’s free BIM Practice Group, and Specifying Practice Group, monthly webinars, and every other BIM/spec forum you can find.
  • Set up Google Alerts and RSS feeds for BIM and specs to ensure a steady flow of up-to-date information.
  • Find and follow every BIM and spec-related Twitter account. Watch the dialog for a while and then join in.
  • Become the BIM go-to person in your firm.
  • Read Robert S. Weygant’s book BIM Content Development - Standards, Strategies, and Best Practices.
  • Read Randy Deutsch’s new book BIM and Integrated Design - Strategies for Architectural Practice.  I’m reading it now.
  • Jump on the first opportunity you see to work with BIM-linked specs.  Few others will want to follow, and you’ll soon become the go-to person.
  • And if you get lucky, you’ll probably be rewarded with a spec writer/knowledge manager role. 
  • Put it all together and you'll be a very sought-after professional.


  1. I, too, recommend a career as a specifier.

    As a young intern, and then newly-registered architect, I eagerly pursued chances to help with the specs as a way to learn more about the entire process.

    When I went full-time into specifying, many of my colleagues asked me why I was leaving architecture? I never understood the question, since decisions made about materials, project delivery, life-safety, and quality-cost tradeoffs are crucial to successful architecture.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Michael.

    My friends reacted similarly. They thought that becoming a spec writer meant leaving the mainstream of architecture. And I guess I did miss out on the aesthetics and creativity of design, and solving spatial and planning problems.

    But for thirty -eight years as a specifier, I've been right in the middle of the project documentation process. Spec writing requires creativity, but a different kind of creativity.

  3. GREAT post!

    Involvement with your local CSI Chapter is absolutely essential for someone new to specifying. For one reason, CSI is where you'll find your mentors.

    Following CSI national's Practice Group webinars and LinkedIn discussions and Twitter account ( @CSIConstruction )will also help keep you in the loop. It'll keep you informed about the things you need to know, and the things you need to learn about. Following CSI national in this way can also introduce you to other specifiers across the country. This is really important, because there are SO FEW of us.

  4. Thank you so much for the post and your insights. Having been working on a few projects using BIM in a large architectural practice, I realized how crucial it is for the "knowledge management" part. As an architect (not young any more), I found your post very encouraging and influential. I truly believe the success of BIM and IPD lies in the "knowledge management" and the transpiration of that knowledge throughout the design and construction.

    I became a CDT earlier this year and thinking about pursuing the CCS, in a hope to be in a better position to mend the weak link between BIM and spec. practices for our firm. Your post echoed my thoughts and boosted my confidence and outlook.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. The link between specs and drawings, however produced, is only as strong as the will and the collaborative skills of the project team members. It's my hope that BIM will put a few more collaboration tools at our disposal, and that BIM will encourage team members to work together truly as teams.

    Why don't you keep a journal of your BIM/spec experiences and share them with us through a blog?