By Zein Mari Alsaka

Cindy Wood (BEDS’06) had a lot of hobbies and interests as a child. She recalls the days of making buildings out of Lego, never following the instructions because she wanted to design her own structure. Her love for math and art also seemed to point down the road of architecture, but she never could have known where that path would take her.

Wood enrolled in the Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies program at Dal where she learned the fundamentals of hand-drafting and model-making. She began her career in architectural production, working on different phases of design. Wood soon realized that she still had a lot to learn about computerized drafting programs such as AutoCad, which were heavily used in the industry.

From challenge to opportunity

Three months into her first professional position, Wood was placed on a project which required the use of Revit, a program she wasn’t familiar with. She had no training material or standards to go by. Along with her colleague, Wood dove in and learned all she could while still trying to meet project deadlines.

While working as a job captain at HKS Architects, an international firm with 26 global offices, Wood was introduced to various programs and plugins. She became efficient at learning and using new technologies and enjoyed helping coworkers with any questions they had or when a program had crashed.

In 2016, Wood learned that the firm was establishing a Practice Technology (PT) group and that a position had become available for someone to oversee technology-related issues in the six west coast offices of the United States. She jumped at the chance: “Other architects advised me not to go down this route, telling me that I would miss the architecture side of it,” she says, “but I really enjoyed helping those in my office and looked forward to doing that on a bigger scale. I really wanted to get involved in company-wide standards development and implementation.”

Down a new career path

In her new position as practice technology regional leader, Wood provided daily support and helped develop firmwide standards. She also traveled to different offices once or twice a year to provide in-person training. “I felt more satisfied in this position because I knew it let me lean into my strengths and allowed me to become a leader in the firm in a different way than on the architecture side.”

When Covid-19 hit and employees started working from home, a need to train and onboard people differently emerged. Wood found herself very interested in tackling this challenge and developing new teaching methods. Wood is now the practice technology learning and development leader at HKS where she leads all 26 offices through building information modelling (BIM) training and development. Her team offers a range of highly in demand training material and can accommodate both live and virtual, self-paced training.

One of Wood’s main focuses is onboarding new employees in various stages of their careers. She works closely with the Professional and Organizational Development Team at HKS to support fresh graduates through the Emerging Professionals Program. Her team teaches graduates how to effectively use the company’s platforms and properly document all levels of a project. Her team also initiated a program, BIM for Leadership, to target managers who aren’t active users of the BIM software but need to be familiar enough to address contracts, staff projects and communications.

“Halfway into this role, my team overhauled our virtual learning platform and implemented a new communication system for employees. We onboarded over 400 employees across all levels of experience, creating a virtual training environment for what we previously taught in person.” Wood’s team also communicates new standards and learning experiences across the firm. Through blogs, they explain new technology workflows and hold biweekly instructional talks.

Advice for future architects

Wood notes that one of the most important things she learned at Dal is to be open to and grow from constructive criticism. She also learned that people have different strengths which they need to learn how to work with.

“I think the most important thing new graduates must remember is to be open minded about learning something new even if it isn’t part of their plans.” Wood advises, “Don’t go into the profession with the ‘I’m going to do this, and only this’ attitude.” Wood believes that had she taken that attitude and rejected the opportunities she was presented with early on in her career, she wouldn’t be where she is today; doing something that she is very passionate about.

“Many architecture students think they are going to be designers, when that’s really a very small percentage of what the profession is,” she says. “Try to get experience wherever you can, learn from others and ask questions. A lot of opportunities come with an architecture degree and some of those might just surprise you and take you places you’ve never expected. Lean into your skills and passions and they will always lead you right.”