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How I Earned My CCS: A Conversation with Tara Mitchell

By CSI HQ posted 02-26-2024 12:38 PM

Professional picture of Tara Mitchell

A bit about Tara:    
A proficient specifier with more than a decade of experience in the field and a Master of Science in Architecture and Construction Visualization. Tara currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), Nashville Chapter. Additionally, Tara chairs ESa’s Quality Management Team, where she plays a pivotal role in orchestrating the meticulous upkeep of ESa’s master specifications, carefully scrutinizing new products and incoming internal standards suggestions and judiciously evaluating their potential applicability to ESa’s project templates. Her discerning eye and unwavering commitment to excellence help ensure that only the most pertinent and advantageous materials find their way into the firm's office standards.

Would you please provide an overview of your career, and why you chose to work in this industry?
First, let me say what I think most of my peers already know: Specifiers are a unique breed. What I mean by that is, that most people do not go into architecture to write specifications full-time, and my origin was no different. My grandfather was a brick mason, and my father an earthwork/excavation contractor, so I was involved with and developed a deep appreciation for the built environment from an early age. During college, however, I soon realized I was not equipped with the stereotypical ego that goes along with most architects. I found myself criticizing my design the further along my documents developed. Yet in my specifications classes, I discovered exactness. Construction specifications were a form of creative precision my analytically inclined mind could better relate to. I had somehow found a cozy spot in the industry where I could be. 

What prompted you to earn your CCS?
The decision to earn my CCS certification was mainly motivated by a desire to obtain industry-recognized credentials. Despite my extensive experience in construction document production, I wanted to ensure that my work followed the most current best practices and standards in both specification writing and office master maintenance.

How did you study/prepare for the CCS exam?
In college, I was notorious for my bundles of flashcards! Thankfully in today’s age, digital flashcards on your phone are easy to create, making studying on the go simple and convenient (and much more productive than “doom-scrolling”).

What in particular about the exam process stands out for you?
The CCS exam challenged me to think critically about various scenarios, deepening my understanding of construction materials, methods, and standards, and their practical applications in the field. I was encouraged by the inclusion of many different facets of construction specifying, ensuring a more thorough awareness of construction contract nuances not normally encountered in my daily workflow.

Were there any surprising, or unexpected methods or preparation that helped you achieve success?
Engaging with fellow professionals in my local Nashville CSI Chapter proved to be an unexpected yet invaluable aspect of my preparation journey. Their invaluable advice and firsthand experiences enriched my knowledge base and significantly helped me discern which exam domains may warrant the need for a few extra flash cards.

How did your professional and personal community support you?
A few years ago I enrolled in a CDT exam preparatory course taught by members of my Nashville CSI Chapter that connected me with local experienced professionals, two of whom became my mentors: Carl Manka, CSI CCS, CDT, and Lynn Jolley, CSI CCS, CCCA, SCIP, NOMA. Between informal post-chapter meeting conversations and in-depth one-on-one discussions over lunch, I was able to tap into a wealth of knowledge gathered from their combined decades of unique experiences, which was instrumental to my success in passing the CCS exam.

How do you feel this will impact your future in the industry and inform the work you do?
Earning my CCS certification has elevated me as a trusted source for specifications and office master management. This achievement has not only unlocked avenues for continued professional advancement but has also empowered me to make substantive contributions to my firm and the broader architectural community. In the short time since earning my certification, I have made significant policy improvements to the way our projects’ specifications are logged, our quality management decisions documented, and our office master kept up-to-date, ensuring the continuous improvement of our specification writing process.

How has CCS certification informed how you approach new projects, especially when writing specifications?
In short: confidence. Not only has gaining the CCS certification equipped me with the knowledge and skills to ensure that our specifications are more accurate, comprehensive, and aligned with industry standards, it has also given me the confidence to make fundamental enhancements to the way we approach the specification writing process as a firm, ultimately enhancing the quality and integrity of our design projects for years to come.

Thinking about taking the CCS exam? Learn more today!




02-28-2024 02:48 PM

Great input! Thank you for sharing your experience. 

02-28-2024 02:13 PM

Great inspiration Tara!