Old School vs New School

“What happens with old school grading…”


Everyone’s heard the paradigm that Civil 3d is a shift in thinking for civil engineers. Is it really? Haven’t true engineers been working this way for a long time, and we simply adapted to our toolset over time?

Now before people shoot me funny looks or weird comments, let’s define a few things.  A “true engineer” is someone who has received either a PE license or has so much experience should have a license.  One of my first experiences with this type of person was unexpected. He wasn’t licensed and had been a “designer” for longer than i had ben alive. How did he design?


Yes, he drew contours and such for drafters. But, to get those contours, he first created spot shots all over the place. Did he add those sweeping proposed contour tie-ins? Nope. Couldn’t justify it. He would say something to the effect of “why add something to the design that i can’t replicate in my head?”

My young jedi mind was confused. I just figured they used those curves to indicate 2 “soft” surfaces coming together. After much time, i think i came to realize what he meant – i have a 3:1 slope down from a known point, not a 3:1 slope with a 200:1 “elliptical” slope within a foot of tying to existing ground. How would you even stake that out as a surveyor?

Where am i going with all of this. The point was, He was thinking three demensionally all the time. From a macro project level all the way down to individual spot grades along property lines. It’s this vision that forms the basis for design. Yes, i said it – civil engineers DESIGN stuff.  Civil 3D is merely a tool in that design process. Does it do it’s job? For the most part, yes. It fails because of our industry practices and politics; always chasing what this person wants or that agency “needs.”

Stepping out a bit, we see that effect is slowly changing. Primarily because of BIM and the larger architecture community driving the change. Hopefully, some of the larger civil engineering firms will help facilitate this change along with the various vendors like Siteops adding innovation.  To the future!


About Kevin
Hi… I am a husband, father, brother and neighbor. I am employed as a Civil Engineer and have enjoyed playing the drums for the last 30+ years.

One Response to Old School vs New School

  1. skycapitan says:

    Interesting post, Kevin. It’s always interesting to compare computer sided design with how they did it in the “good ol’ days”. While it can be much faster with a computer program, there’s a lot one can learn from some of the older manual methods.

    Also, I’d love to see stronger industry standards in the civil engineering community.


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