Are We There Yet?

It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were kids trapped in the back of the family station wagon on some seemingly endless road trip.  At first, we were excited about our destination – it will be great when we get there!  Pulling out of town, we looked out the window and watched the familiar sites and scenes pass by.  But with time, the trees, buildings and landforms became unfamiliar and blurred into a new landscape.  We played games or read books to distract our minds until they no longer kept our attention.   Then, we’d ask: “Are we there yet?”

Sometimes I think that our life’s profession is just an extension of that road trip in the station wagon.  As adults, we launch with an exciting start – catapulting from the university excited for all things geotechnical and looking forward to the trip.   It will be great when we get there!  We learn our landmarks and master our craft as we continue the journey.  We find ways to distract ourselves – we open a new office, take on additional responsibilities, learn about risk and management.   But as our geotechnical career continues, we begin to silently ask ourselves: “Are we there yet?”

Family road trips and our professional live both offer many adventures and learning experiences along the way.  However, the road trip is all about reaching the final destination.  Whereas, in our professional service, it’s the journey that holds all the value.  At the end of our professional service, we reach retirement, and while retirement might also hold its joys and rewards, there aren’t too many of us who set forth on our geotechnical journey with that as our goal.  Our goal is to unravel the mysteries of the art-as-science embedded in the geotechnical realm and to use our knowledge to the betterment of the people around us.  We want to know all things geotechnical; to understand the earth and its sometimes unexpected responses; and to tame it to the best of one’s ability.  We want to change the world one project site at a time.

As we travel along our professional journey, we have a choice to make.  As the familiar geotechnical landscape blurs and fades, will we embrace this unique new world?  We look out the windows to see new geotechnical landmarks.  We see new ways to build pavements and determine special variability; new techniques for numerical simulations with pre- and post-processing tools at our fingertips; new field investigation programs full of acronyms like MASW and DMT to supplement our tried and true SPT; new tools to catalogue our data through 3D coordinates that flow into 3D BIM maps driven by equally forward-looking planners; and most importantly, at least to some of us, new ground improvement techniques that save you time and money relative to traditional methods for supporting buildings and earth structures.  All of these things are accessible simply by pulling over, opening the door and stepping outside.   “Are we there yet?”  I sure hope not!

Kord J. Wissmann, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE is the President and Chief Engineer for  Geopier Foundation Company. Kord has more than 25 years of geotechnical engineering experience, joining Geopier in 1998. As president and chief engineer, he has led the company to prove multiple innovative ground improvement technologies now deployed worldwide. Kord holds over 17 patents, has authored more than 35 papers, and served recently as President of the GeoInstitute. He earned his Bachelor of Science and Doctorate degrees in civil engineering from Virginia Tech, and a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

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