Start 'Em Young (feat. Amy Northcutt)

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On today’s episode, Trimble’s very own Amy Northcutt. Amy is the Senior Education Program Manager which means she gets to help schools implement classes and training that translate well to the field.

We get to talk with her about a lot of the programs offered to educate students to become future industry leaders. Her goal is to serve not only students but educators through Trimble’s grant program for both primary and secondary education which allows for schools to have easier access to Sketch-Up and Tekla.

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Tyler: Welcome to the Construction Brothers Podcast. I'm your host, Tyler Campbell, and with me like he is every week: The birthday boy, Eddie Campbell. 

Eddie: Thank you. What's up, Tyler? 

Tyler: Not much, Eddie. This week, we're talking education with Trimble products. 


Interview: (11:04)

Eddie: All right, Amy, thanks for joining us today. Why don't you tell us who you are and what you do?

Amy Northcutt: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. So my name is Amy Northcutt. I am currently a senior education program manager at Trimble. Trimble's a construction technology company, as you might know it. And what that really boils down to is, I work to bridge the gap between the commercial world Trimble and the university world, education world.

Tyler: Very nice. Well, so we're familiar with Trimble. 

Eddie: Been using that a while. 

Tyler: Yeah. We've been using that a while. We talk about it occasionally, too. So we love the product, but yeah, we really wanted to pick your brain about the education side of things too. So now you had mentioned earlier kind of in the pre-recording that you guys work with universities and things like that. So what are you guys doing with universities that's kind of special and educating? 

Amy Northcutt: So we have a number of different programs and they really span from really intense deep programs to more accessible, free offerings. But at the deepest level of engagement, our highest level of engagement is our Trimble Technology Lab program. And that's actually the program that I manage on a day-to-day basis, along with my coworker Erson and our manager, Allyson McDuffie, the director of education at Trimble.

Eddie: So what exactly does the Trimble Technology Lab function as? What does it do?

Amy Northcutt: It's a bespoke agreement between universities. And so really we develop a partnership based upon what their curriculum is and what their needs are. And through that partnership, we provide the university with a wealth of hardware and software tools so that they can provide those to their students in their curriculums or in their research.

Eddie: Idea being, when we're getting out of school, we know these products and we are viable for the workforce.

Amy Northcutt: Yeah, absolutely. The goal is really to empower the next gen workforce to transform the construction industry, right when they graduate from college. One of the things that we hear the most from industry is that the students who come in who have technology skills, who know 3D modeling or who know programming or something, they can jump in and they can be immediately productive on day one. Because there's this kind of translation in your education that happens between this theoretical idea of practicing and doing this work to the real intricacies of doing this work. That transition, that takes a little bit of time and that takes students or graduates a little while to work into. But if they have learned this technology in school, they can take some red lines from someone who's more experienced and they can start working on that in hour one, hour two after orientation.

Tyler: I love that. So you're also bringing in some people from the industry as well, to stand in front of these kids and teach them a little bit more about the profession. So my question is, why are we not involved with that?

Amy Northcutt: Well, I think probably because we have not spoken about that yet.

Eddie: Maybe—this is called the visiting professionals program, right? Maybe you whiff on the professional thing. 

Tyler: This is true. This is true. 

Eddie: So what is that, like visiting professionals? You're bringing people from the engineering industries from the fabrication industry, people that are players, right? So people that are using this every day and you're putting in front of students?

Amy Northcutt: My colleague, Chris Brashar manages the visiting professionals program. And through that program, we really act as a matchmaker between the folks who use our tools on a day to day basis and the universities and the students who want to learn about how people utilize the tools and apply those in their jobs. Pre-COVID world, we actually would pay to send professionals to campus to be onsite in person with students. But obviously now we've transitioned that to a bit more of a virtual program.

Tyler: Everything has a tendency to be going that way right now, for sure. So let's hop into the software side of things, too. ‘Cause you're not only bringing in AEC professionals and talking about certain projects and things, too, but you're also educating people on Tekla and SketchUp. Mainly Tekla. I think, Eddie, you've got a pretty interesting story with your son, with Tekla Campus, right? 

Eddie: Yeah, Gabe. And this goes back, Gabe’s 11 now, but back a few years now he's asked to play Tekla. He doesn’t say “I'd like to use Tekla” or “I'd like to learn Tekla” or anything, he wants to play Tekla. And Tekla Campus is something that we learned about through the Tekla conference and some of the road shows that were being done. And so you know, I kinda thought, well, what an opportunity for me to put my son in front of this, at our house and our home computer and let him mess around with it. And so for him, building the structures and putting things in, it's amazing. I mean, at eight, he's putting in beams and columns and footings and grids and things like that. Obviously I'm helping him out, but you know, he's reaching for something and he actually shows me how something works because it's that intuitive to him. 

Tyler: Yeah, when the ribbon scrolled that one time, you lost your mind. 

Eddie: Yeah, because that was when they first introduced the ribbon. And I didn't know it scrolled. And he just like reached up there and pull the mouse wheel. And we're talking like 2016, like when it first came in. And I went, “Oh, wait, wait, wait, what do you do?” You know, I’m asking my eight year old for instruction. I had only been using the software for, I don't know, 12 years at that point or something. So anyway. 

Amy Northcutt: That is so funny. 

Eddie: Tekla Campus is a really cool thing. So what are you guys doing there?

Amy Northcutt: Yeah. So Tekla Campus is the free online academy for students and educators where they can access Tekla for their structural engineering and design curriculum

Eddie: And Tekla, just for people that don't know, is an engineering and structural modeling software. This is a BIM software. And we argue you can do a lot more than people even think that it can do, because we leverage it into other areas, but predominantly structural BIM, right? Some of the largest structures in the world are being modeled in the software.

Amy Northcutt: As you both know, my previous role at Trimble was working as a technical specialist for Tekla Structures. So absolutely. I mean, I would go as far as to say probably most of the really large buildings in the world have been in Tekla in some way, shape, or form, for some trade.

Tyler: The Burj Khalifa, wasn't that one in Tekla structures as well? I mean, that's a pretty decent resume in itself, that’s a pretty sweet building. 

Eddie: When you look, there's a kind of a desktop image that you can grab for Tekla, and you look at the cityscape that’s put together for all of the buildings across the world that have been done in Tekla. You realize just how far reaching the software really is. And as such, very important that the next generation of builders are adept at using that. If there's anything that we kind of hear an indictment of college students on, it's that you learn all these theories and you sit there and all these classes, but when you come out, you don't really know how to do anything. So you guys are really working to bridge that gap, right?

Amy Northcutt: The hope is that, day one, you're able to hit the ground running; and even more than that, we want the next generation of the workforce to be compelling the industry to move forward. Not just sort of learning what they're doing and falling in line. 

Tyler: Isn't there a way for people to build resumes on Campus as well?

Amy Northcutt: Yeah. Good point. At the end, once you complete the campus learning path, you do receive a certificate kind of certifying your completion of that learning path as a Certified Learner.

Eddie: Well, what about SketchUp? That's something that, actually, we’ve used to model the renovation of our office, and we use it for different things around here. What about the SketchUp for schools program that you have?

Amy Northcutt: SketchUp for schools is a free web-based version of SketchUp that's available to students and educators at all K-12 institutions. And so it's a bit of a lighter version of SketchUp rather than the SketchUp Pro, which is available through our licensed grant program.

Tyler: The Pro is more for universities, right? You're kind of graduating them into that next tier of SketchUp’s, I guess, abilities.

Amy Northcutt: Yeah, absolutely. I would certainly say that the SketchUp Pro tool has more professional features.

Eddie: When you see students that have these softwares put in their hands, what kind of reactions are you getting out of the students? Like what kind of things just really make this fun for you?

Amy Northcutt: It's really fun when students get the opportunity to use SketchUp and make all sorts of impressive 3D models. I mean, they'll just, once someone gets into it, they really just grab on. And I mean, if you kind of have this tendency towards 3D modeling, right, SketchUp is definitely the tool for you. And it's so easy to get into that, I think within a few minutes. Students, especially young students, can really just jump in and go crazy and make insane, massive models of things we've never thought of. It's like the Lincoln Logs of today. 

Eddie: I want to key up a little more on, I mean, you're talking about watching kids get lit up by the use of the software and making a model. I remember when I was learning it, and I'm in my early twenties learning the software and just thinking it's so cool that I am making a building. That was fun. Now that's been some years ago. And this is now becoming more commonplace, but now handing that to my son and watching him put a model together, there was almost like there was some pride there, you know, like, wow, kids getting it. That's really cool, I didn't even know he's putting a building together. And then an instantaneous desire in my heart to kind of instruct, like, oh, well, we put that piece of concrete underneath that, and we call that a footing, and what the footing does... It's like all of a sudden you start teaching into that. Are the professors and teachers that have these things in their hands, like, do you think that this is enabling them to better prepare people for the realities of construction, too, because now they've got like this virtual thing they can point at?

Amy Northcutt: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the reality is that these tools are being actively used on site and in engineering and contractor's offices every day, all day. I mean, we wouldn't be providing them to universities if we weren't also selling them. And so, you know, absolutely the professors that we talked to, through enabling their students with technology during their education, they really provide more well-rounded graduates to the industry. And I think that a lot of professors are really excited about that.

Tyler: Even kind of speaking generationally, too, like having some of those tools that I can show my daughter as she's growing up, coming in and showing her SketchUp and saying, hey, you can model a house. Like, I mean, I remember when I was a kid, I loved drawing houses. I would grab graph paper and sit there and just sketch for hours on end. I love doing that. But giving her some of these other tools to really visualize things and teach her how to use the tools of tomorrow—that, as a parent, that makes me really happy that I can reach out there and grab some of these different systems and start teaching that into the builders of tomorrow.

Amy Northcutt: Absolutely. That's so fun. And I mean, I get it too, right? I joined a Trimble business because I used Tekla in practice as a structural engineer before, and I loved using the software. I mean, I had fun modeling structures and that's why I wanted to keep working with it.

Eddie: I love that SketchUp has such a low threshold of entry, too. That's one of the beauties of that software is that you can legitimately hand that to a kid and they can say go nuts. Like have fun. It’s like a sandbox. And I mean, you think about the games that are out there that kids are gravitating to, like Roblox and Minecraft, these games that have gotten really big. I look at those and I'm like, yeah, knock yourself out. That's building, that's 3D building software just kind of maybe with a little tweak. Very cool. 

Amy Northcutt: More cartoon graphics. 

Eddie: Yeah. Well, and it's just cool being able to get SketchUp into people's hands and know that there are ramifications for that later. What is the SketchUp grant program?

Amy Northcutt: The SketchUp grant program provides free licenses also to K-12 schools, but this is of the SketchUp Pro product. And so this is really aimed at providing that professional tool to K-12 students. And a lot of these are either folks who cannot access the SketchUp for schools product, because it is online only, and it's through a couple Google for schools and Microsoft for schools platforms. So if they can't access that, they can utilize the SketchUp grant program to get access to SketchUp. And then also any schools who are utilizing SketchUp Pro and looking to take advantage of some of those more professional features that are not available within SketchUp for schools, this is a great opportunity for those folks, maybe someone like your son, who is already kind of taking to this. It sounds like he could go into some of those more professional features right away and utilize those.

Tyler: I don't know if we should tell him that though. I feel like he’d get a big head. We don't want that. 

Eddie: Yeah. I love, too, I mean, I'm doing that with Gabe and then it's like right around the same time, Sarah, she did exactly the same thing that you talked about doing. She starts sketching out her house, like the house that she wants, and maybe bending it a little more with an artistic flair. And I like that. I mean, these softwares, they take on a lot of different complexions of what you can do with them. I mean, from a very basic structural offering to, I mean, creating things that are a little more abstract, creating things that are a little more artistic, like this can bend a lot of different ways. So this isn't just for the analytical engineering student, this is for a lot more than that.

Amy Northcutt: Oh yeah. I definitely agree. The SketchUp tool definitely spans from the maker side of things, right. The tinkerers all the way through architects and artists and I mean, on and on, right? It can really go be applied in a number of different ways.

Tyler: Well, even just access to the warehouse in general is incredible, because you have all of these different little couches and chairs and tables and lights and things that you can throw into your space and really iterate a design quickly. That was part of why we used it here in our office space. I could do a “show me” sort of model for Eddie, show that to him and say, “Hey, what do you think, brother?” And then he would say, “I don't like that. I don't like that. I don't like that. Just how about you delete the whole thing and start over again.” And then I would throw up my hands and then I would model it again because hey, it was really fast. 

Eddie: Well, that's you being a little more of a creative bend. 

Tyler: Exactly. 

Eddie: And me being a little more analytical bend. 

Tyler: I call that the dream killer, but okay. 

Eddie: Pragmatist, you know, what have you. You keep insulting me today and I don’t like it. 

Tyler: I'm sorry. 

Eddie: But it was a helpful translation tool. And so I think that was a good application, a good use for it, but I'm excited as somebody who has used Trimble products and is somebody that really, I mean, has for a number of years made a living off of Tekla, having more candidates out there because we could use a lot more people that are adept at the software. We really could.

Amy Northcutt: You know, to be honest, that's one of my driving passions is creating more Tekla users. And that's what I've been working on for the last five years at Trimble, right? Educating the structural engineers around the country, I would say. And now I'm working to get Tekla and other Trimble solutions into universities so that these graduates come out with that knowledge, because I fully understand and agree that there are not nearly as many users as we would like out there in the marketplace. So those of you who are there are very sought after.

Eddie: How many universities are you guys in right now?

Amy Northcutt: So with the Trimble Technology Lab program, we have 17 established around the world across 11 countries at the moment, and we have 26 more in progress around the world.

Tyler: That's awesome. That's good news for us, for sure, as people who look for technical users often. Well, I think this is awesome information for everybody, and it's good to just know some of the resources that are out there for people just to grow out and grow your own career. So I mean, we're definitely, we'll throw all this stuff in the show notes for sure, so you can easily get at it. But I think now is a great time to move over to our megaphone questions. So if we give you a megaphone that the whole industry could hear for 60 seconds, what would you say?

Amy Northcutt: Hmm. My megaphone is very short and sweet, and it is that you cannot have progress without change. I think a lot of folks are just really change averse, and there's a lot of progress and a lot of positive movement that can happen throughout a change. 

Eddie: Very nice. Well Amy, thanks for joining us today. It's been a pleasure. 

Amy Northcutt: Yeah, likewise. Thanks so much for having me. 


Tyler: Hey guys, thanks for joining us today. I wanted to take a second and point you at a couple of things before you go. Number one, make sure that you go check out our website is We're constantly posting new blog updates on there and thoughts of things that we're seeing in the industry. And then also, make sure while you're there, go check us out on social media. We are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. We're constantly asking questions there, trying to get people involved and engaged and learn more about what's happening in the industry so we can keep bringing stuff to you that’s relevant. And also, share it with somebody. If there's something in here that you thought was valuable, forward it over to your friend, let them know about the show. Again, that's going to help us out a lot. And finally, please leave a review. If you found this interesting or helpful at all, you could help us out in a big way by just hitting a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. So thank you so much for joining us this week. Have a good one.