Gregory Ronczewski leads the design of the TeamFit platform – view his profile on TeamFit
Top image: Hotel “Pod Orlem” (The Eagle) in Bydgoszcz, around 1910, fotopolska.eu

 

I remember well my first real job. I felt so misplaced, under educated and just totally lost. The position I took was of a junior architect. Probably it was closer to being a draft person then architect. There was no interview – I got in because a few of my friends from school started working for this guy a few months before. The firm was located in the basement of a large villa. There was a kitchen, a small office where the owner was working (when he was in, which turned out to be almost never) and two large rooms practically covered by drafting tables. Everything was done by hand, and I was told to work fast generating at least two large papers per day. Throughout my studies, especially after my final project received a high score, I thought I could draw fast. I was so mistaken. Nobody spoke. There was a radio tuned to a local news station filling the room with a constant stream of excitement. The guys just work–the only time they would leave the desk was to get another glass of tea.

The project was The Eagle Hotel in Bydgoszcz. A structure that started its life between 1894 and 1896. Designed by Józef Święcicki, the building presented a huge sculpture of an eagle with spread wings at the top of its front. Święcicki’s design was based on similar projects from Berlin and Munich. As a signature, Święcicki hid his self-portrait among the row of allegorical heads adorning the façade. When completed, it became the largest and most modern hotel in Bydgoszcz. The structure survived the War but never regain its former glory. In 1987, a significant overhaul of the building was planned out and the firm where I was just starting my work got a contract to collaborate on bringing the hotel back to its original appearance. By 1993, the project was awarded by the Minister of Culture as one of the best-restored building in Poland.

My first assignment was to prepare detailed, technical drawings of large windows for the main lobby. I had no idea what to do. How to start, or where to start to be exact. The job had nothing to do with what I have been studying for the last five years – architecture. My technical skill did not prepare me for what I was expected to do. Nobody was interested in any philosophical considerations that we spend so much discussing at the school. All I had was a set of old German styling guides from before the War showing how to design a wooden profile for a large window.

To make things even more interesting, I think on the second day I found a piece of paper on my desk with an arrow indicating a point of view with a handwritten note from our boss asking me to draw a perspective view of the hotel lobby from the position indicated by the arrow. There was no question if I can do this, or know how to do it. He assumed I had the skills. I had no idea what to do. And yet, after being yelled at when the perspective that I came up with was not looking good, and the window that I designed lacked the strength required (it was supposed to be over 3 m tall), I somehow managed to stay and work for few months before moving on.

How to construct a perspective view: From Architectural Graphics by Frank Ching, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1975.

 

This all happened a long time ago, but the lack of understanding skills remains a problem. We all have skills, and we all have skill gaps. Some skills can be obtained quickly. An online course or the right mentor will put you on a fast track to gaining a new competency. Other skills take time to develop. There is no simple method to acquire them. Time and experience is the only way to become an expert. There are, however, exciting insights that Skill Management helps to uncover. For instance, why do so many of the best Product Designers or Service Designers hold a degree in Architecture? Why are people who play music are better at solving tough problems? Is there a link between cooking and design? When I think about skills, I often think of archeology. Every experience, work-related or personal, leaves a residue. A layer that contains a combination of skills, knowledge, people and roles. Some layers are thin, almost non-existent, while some layers are thick and strong. Nothing disappears in the world of skills. It only gets less visible as new skills and experiences are layered on top of the past.

Going back to my first job, I wish we had been using TeamFit or some other skill management system. I wish I knew what skills my teammates had. It would be so much simpler to understand who I should talk to when I could not figure out how to manually construct a perspective view. Instead, I had to rely on my gut feeling. In the end, it turned out ok, and a guy just across the table was super helpful but only when I managed to find a system on how to use the old architecture manuals. I suppose it was a combination of associated and complementary skills that got me through those winter months.

I quit right after I got an offer to teach at The Higher State School of Fine Arts which is now the Academy of Fine Arts. Quitting was far more difficult than getting in. Apparently, I had to finish several designs before I could leave. Again, the school did not prepare me for any of this. People skills and business skills did not exist in my portfolio, but I do remember a sense of being “wiser” when I finally packed my stuff and left the basement.

People leave and start new jobs every day. Going through this process without experiencing any skill gaps is rare. Every project, a team or a company operate under their own set of rules and skills play a vital role in their business planning. Understanding strengths or weaknesses is critical to everyone on a personal or company level.