Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Working in the coal mine: how soon is too soon?

I recently got an email from a college freshman asking if this summer (after one year of college) would be too soon to start working in an office. The short answer is no; I've had high school students work at my office (for high school class credit, not for pay), and it gives them great insight into what the architectural work world is like (as it's quite different from the architectural school world). Just don't set your sights too high for this early foray into a firm's environment.

Drawing is a task that takes a great deal of an intern's time, and if you come into a firm with little or no CAD, Revit, Microstation, ArchiCAD, or whatever kind of software experience, they may not be interested in getting you up to speed on it if you're only going to be there for a few months during the summer. However, some firms may indeed put the time in to teach you the software (usually by having you learn from another intern) so that you can help out. More than likely, though, your daily tasks will be varied and random--you'll do some filing of large drawings one day, then take a set of drawings and specs down to the city the next day, then build a model for another couple of days, then stamp a set of drawings for one of the owners to sign the next, and so on. No matter what you're asked to do, just do it well and without rolling your eyes and sighing. Someone wouldn't ask you to do it if it wasn't important. If it's not important, it just won't get done. There is something to learn from every task you do.

Keep in mind that if you're trying to get hours out of the way for IDP, you can't count any hours worked before you've been in school for at least three years. (More specific information on this is available here.) There are also rules on NCARB's website detailing how much you can count--for example, if you work fewer than X number of hours for less than Y number of continuous week, the time may not count. However, all is not lost if you work a summer or Christmas break and can't count it. Experience is experience, and firms pay you for experience more so than your education. And yes, they should pay you. Even if you're only working for $12/hour for the summer after a year in school, get paid. When you work for free for a company that's not a nonprofit, you've shown them just what your going rate is; don't sell yourself short, and don't let anyone else shortchange you. I don't care how bad the economy is, at least make sure you break even working the job.


  1. Lulu, love your blog. I place architecture co-op students at Northeastern University in Boston. Your blog gives me great insight and advice to give my students. I often "tweet" some of your blog posts. I hope it gets you more followers. Thank you.

  2. Lynn, thanks for commenting and for reading! I'm always glad to share insight as well as gain insight from others working in the field. How does architecture co-op work? I went to a college that did co-op for all the engineering students but not for architecture--they said it was too hard to do with the studios, etc. Thanks again for reading, and feel free to "tweet" away!

  3. Lulu,

    The co-op works at NU because students get their BS degree in 5 years. Students are required to work two 6 month co-op semesters alternating with their studio work. It is a lot of work for students, but the pay off in the end is invaluable. I would have no idea how architects these days graduate without any practical experience.