How I Earned My CDT: A Conversation with Priscilla Lee
The Construction Documents Technology (CDT®) certification provides a comprehensive program of study for anyone seeking to enhance and demonstrate knowledge of writing, interpreting, enforcing, and managing construction documents. It is a valuable resource for project architects, contractors, contract administrators, material suppliers, and manufacturers’ representatives, all of whom are realizing the advantages of being Construction Documents Technologists.
Priscilla Lee of San Francisco was one of the construction industry professionals who put in the time and effort to earn her CDT in 2019. Here she discusses her career in construction and shares her perspectives on what it took to earn this elite certification.
Can you provide an overview of your career, and why you chose to work in this industry?
I've been a technical writer for more than 20 years. I've written about software and hardware - semiconductor test equipment for 7 1/2 years, enterprise management (managing deployments of Oracle databases, network objects, and third-party applications) for 6 1/2 years, and fusion middleware identity and access management for 7 1/2 years. A contracting position came up to write for a certain company’s data center. Working for the company was on my bucket list and enterprise organizations weren’t new to me. I was excited that I was entering new territory.
I have always pushed myself to be versatile in writing. At the data center I was working on projects I’ve never worked on before—training modules for the qualification of electrical technicians, operation procedures, and master specifications and design narratives. My contract ran out after a year and a half, and I went to work on the company's artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant. When the data center wanted me back, I was excited. My manager wanted me to work solely on specifications, which was exactly what I wanted to do. While working on the AI assistant, I had thought that one day soon, there would be a whole new world opening up where buildings would be operated using AI. When that happens, there will be a need for writers who know how to write hardware, software, and API manuals and construction specifications. I am not sure whether there is anyone out there right now who can do both, but I'm working at it.
What prompted you to earn your CDT?
My manager and I were tasked with a special project without much instruction, including just a few words about performance specifications, and 300+ specifications to read through. We had an engineer helping us but it was still a lot of work. During that time my manager and I were also tasked with a Specification Revision project. I joined CSI in the hopes of being able to go through articles, forums, and so on to find the answers. I ended up buying all the CSI books out of pocket. I used all these books when helping my manager add details to his project plan. I learned a lot about CSI from the books and the people on the forum who helped me with my questions. I wrote engineering’s first 01 35 73. A consulting firm used mine as the baseline.
I was very enthusiastic about CSI after learning so much but had to know more in order to work on the Specification Revision project. I had to understand what was in the specifications, what standards they were supposed to follow, how they were related, who used them, and who the other players were in the delivery process. We did not have anyone who could mentor me in our engineering group, so I decided to get a CDT. I paid for the study groups and the exam because it was important for me to learn as much as I can about the industry.
How did you study/prepare for the exam?
I began my studies with watching the CSI CDT Tampa Bay Training Sessions (Youtube) and taking their online Mock Exam. Afterwards, I had a great deal of encouragement from Chip Hayward and that meant a lot to me. I studied one to three hours every day, going over flashcards with someone also taking the CDT, and reading and making flashcards for use on my own for four months. I also went through the internet looking for study material. Sometimes I would be up studying until 3 a.m. I made adaptive learning flashcards in Brainscape out of the following:
Official 2012 CSI flashcards
Official 2018 CSI flashcards
Spec guy's review questions
Oakland/East Bay’s mock test
Certification questions from the Great Lake's old newsletters
AIA A201 review questions from Little Rock old newsletters
Workbook 2018 review questions
Some class slides
Project delivery datapoints
Other flashcard decks from Quizlet, Cram, StudyBlue, flashcardmachine, cueFlash, Slideshare, Slideplayer, ProProfs, and ARE
Glossary term flashcards
I also built a module in Quizlet on all of the AIA A201 provisions with important points underlined. This deck contained commentary and notes on 2007-2017 differences. I also expanded the Tower of Power study sheet, and made cheatsheets/modules/one-pagers (screenshots) from the Project Delivery Guide for basic relationships among the various documents for: Division 01 - General Requirements, Construction Documents, Procurement Requirements, Available Information, Contracting Requirements, Change Orders, Change Directives, Substitution Requests, Substitution of Products, Controlling Variables, Project vs. Facility, Value Analysis, Life Cycle Costs, Tripartite Relationship, Teams, MasterFormat, SectionFormat, Uniformat, Division 01 Listing, Defective and Nonconforming Work, Correction Period and Contractor's Warranty, Special Warranties, Warranties and Insurance, Construction Bonds, Property Insurance, Construction Insurance, Schedule of Values, Substantial Completion, Contract Days by Numbers, and Project Record Documents.
I also made one-pagers for AIA A201 and read various articles or blogs by Kevin O’Beirne, Cherise Lakeside, the American Bar Association, EJCDC, and others. Before the CDT certification exam, I took Tampa Bay's Mock Exam again. This time, I did well, so I felt confident going into the actual exam.
What in particular about the exam process stands out for you?
The wonderful study groups, which allowed me to learn so much in such a short time. The instructors were very thorough and generous. I had the most fun being in Cherise Lakeside’s class. It didn't feel like studying and I didn't mind it took place 6-8 p.m. She also gave me a lot of encouragement so I felt good going into the exam.
How do you feel this will impact your future in the industry and inform the work you do?
My goal is to be one of the hybrid writers (of the future) who can write documentation for buildings and AI that can be easily understood by people in the construction industry, engineers, end-users... I want to be able to help and educate people about their living spaces and help people in building these spaces, whether it is through construction specifications, APIs, or user guides. It is all very exciting.