4 free ways to build your digital skills

Author: Ashley Kacha

Date published

6 May 2021

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4 free ways to build your digital skills

Blog
Date published

6 May 2021

Author

Ashley Kacha

Author

Ashley Kacha

With the boom in technology in the construction industry, new specialisms within engineering are emerging. What's the cheapest way to improve your own digital skills? Ashley Kacha investigates...

Even within the structural engineering profession, data analysis, machine learning, robotics, automation and even general programming skills are becoming all the more important.

For many of us who studied engineering at University, these topics often seemed as if they were on the periphery of the profession, if not outright disconnected. We are however, now seeing a surge in demand for skills which couldn’t be fit into an already densely packed engineering course. This is completely reasonable for undergraduates however, studying robotics over hydrostatics in a civil or structural engineering degree is hardly a reasonable thing to consider given the exposure to these things in the real world.

This leaves us with a serious predicament in the industry. Those who specialise in technology driven courses are seldom attracted to the construction industry, greener pastures (and often better salaries) await them in the financial sector, and the construction industry isn’t known for fostering tech start-ups like many other sectors.

It is therefore up to us, as engineers to begin taking on the role of stimulating the technological development for our own industry. The question is; where to get started? Few of us can afford to do a part time degree over the next few years; but there are high quality materials available all over the internet for those wishing to push their career in the direction of digital engineering. Here are just a few of those resource platforms and relevant courses:

 

edX – massive open online courses

Emerging out of the MIT OpenCourseware initiative; edX provides hundreds, if not thousands of free courses. For those who wish to have their participation verified, edX offers certificates for a small fee, but this is entirely optional.

Institutions such as MIT, Imperial College London and Harvard, as well as companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM offer courses that can boost your digital skills in engineering and design. A highlight includes the HarvardX CS50 Courses in the basics of computer science. With them, you’ll learn the fundamentals of how computers work and how to build robust scripts and programs.

In addition, there are more ‘traditional’ engineering courses available on mechanics, dynamics and FEA if you feel you need to refresh something you’ve learnt before.

 

Youtube (and other video hosting sites)

Unsurprisingly, there are a plethora of options on youtube for technology content. Probably more surprising is that there is an astonishing amount of high quality and comprehensive automation, data science and programming tutorials which will allow you to build your own applications or scripts in short order.

In this space, a personal highlight would be the series of 9 videos on Digital Parametric Engineering from Imperial College London which teach the various modes of working and the various data structures in Rhino and Grasshopper, as well as Digital Workflows and Computational Design Panel member Paul Jeffries’ Salamander plugin for GSA. Not forgetting, Danil Nagy’s Rhino and Grasshopper tutorials.

 

CodeAcademy - step by step interactive tutorials

CodeAcademy takes a different approach to learning how to program, with its interactive editor and tutorials, there are a wide range of programming skills to learn. While more programming language based than overall theory or high level concepts, it is nonetheless highly intuitive and almost game-like in the way it teaches you how to program. As with edX, there are more formal, verified routes that can be paid for, but the fundamental tutorials are all free to access.

 

Forums and message boards

Finally, perhaps the most traditional method of learning – reading. Message boards such as stackoverflow and the Grasshopper forums are invaluable resources. The former is more of a general website, covering everything from programming to engineering topics, whereas the grasshopper forums tend towards more specific computational design methods and techniques.
 
With these resources at your fingertips, and available free, you’ll soon be ready to begin automating tasks and on the way to becoming your firm’s digital engineering expert.