Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tell me in the comments as well: what would you rather be called than "intern"?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
- Any statement generally falls in one of three categories: True, Partly True, or Not True. All you have to do is address the amount of truth in the comment/statement/criticism--no more, no less. If Patrick has a history with more than one project manager of missing deadlines, then saying "Patrick gets his work done late" is True. If Patrick missed the last couple of deadlines but is usually on time, then saying "Patrick gets his work done late" is Partly True. If Patrick is rarely if ever late with his work, then saying "Patrick never gets his work done on time" is Not True.
- Deal with the problem, not the person. For example, your statements need to be more "when we miss deadlines, it makes us look unprofessional" versus "When you slack off and don't get your crap done, we look stupid."
- Keep your tone of voice even. This can help keep the conversation from getting heated, which is when people take things personally and say things they don't mean (or do mean but aren't meant for anyone else to hear)
- Keep your disagreement in the service of the job (or relationship). You want Patrick to be on time so that the project team has enough time to review everything once more before the work goes out, and that makes your office look good.
- Choose your words carefully. "Always" and "never" are loaded words, so either throw them out or use them sparingly. Very few things happen always and never. The sun always shines during the day, and it's never out at night...unless you live above the Arctic Circle. Also, see the statements in #2 above; words like "crap" and "stupid" have more emotional (and insulting) meanings than "miss deadlines" and "unprofessional." Again, this is a good place to avoid profanity.
- "Given that, we have yet to find any evidence to support/disprove..."
- "In light of this, we have found..."
- "However, it has been my/our experience that..."
- "My/Our experience of this has been different."
- "However, we think/believe...because of...."
- "Regardless, it is our recommendation that we...because...."
- "After reading your email, we felt some additonal research was necessary, so we called the state inspection board/went back through the 2006 IBC/shook our Magic 8-Ball, and found that..."
Friday, May 22, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
- That you're underemployed: Tell someone if you don't have enough to do. While it's okay to ask around to other bosses and let them know that you're available to help, your boss needs to be in the loop as well.
- That you're overemployed: Tell your boss if you have way too much to do. They can help you prioritize or take something off your plate and give it to someone who's underemployed.
- That you're interested in a wider range of tasks: Again, because bosses often forget what they've given you to do, it's good to mention it if you see something that another intern is working on and want to do something like that when the opportunity arises again. Speaking up on this is especially important with regard to gettin gyour IDP hours.
- That you need more direction or don't understand: Sometimes it can be intimidating to "bother" your boss and ask for clarification. You don't want to bug him or her, and you don't want to be thought of us dumb. Remember though that the repercussions are worse when you don't ask and mess something up. Save everyone some time and ask for clarification. The best way to ask questions is to save up several to ask all at once; it reduces interruptions.
- That there's bad news or a reality check due: If you're not being given enough time to do what needs to be done, you've got to tell your boss. If you find a detail or issue that could possibly be a big deal, bring it up. Sure, it might not be a big deal, but if it is a big deal and you never mentioned it, woe is you. Also worth mentioning are the constraints or benefits of whatever software you're using to to the job. For a long time, we used AutoCAD to do lots of schematic presentation images in my office. However, an intern started using Adobe Illustrator to take a PDF from AutoCAD and color and doctor it up. It was much more effective for making presentation-quality images that AutoCAD, but it meant that we had to do things a little differently. This involved giving our boss a reality check when he wanted something in too little time.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
Asking questions is arguably a sign of intelligence, but the questions themselves also matter. There is such a thing as a dumb question (and believe me, you'll ask some), but as long as your intelligent questions outnumber your dumb questions, you'll be fine. The main thing to remember when asking a question is to see if you can answer it yourself first. Did you look through all the existing drawings to see what this building you're remodeling is made of? Did you find some meeting notes in a project folder that you could read through to answer your questions, or to use as a basis of your question? When you try to answer your own question first, it shows your project manager that you are self-sufficient. Self-sufficient interns don't need constant attention, just periodic attention; they're more interested in learning and being productive and useful than in being fed every bit of information and just warming a seat for eight hours. In any case, if you try to answer your own question and cannot, then ask someone. Tell them what you've done to solve the problem so far, and then ask for direction. Your more experienced colleagues are usually glad to help.
The difference between just doing a job and doing it well is providing value. It's easy enough to do some redlines and then print out a drawing as a PDF to be emailed somewhere. The value comes in, again, asking the right questions. Why is this document/drawing being created? Who will see it? This information is crucial because not everyone needs the same information. For example, a PDF of a floor plan sent to a client for their sign-off on an office suite layout needs room names, casework, and plumbing fixtures shown. Extra information that the client might find helpful is to see the names of the suite's occupants on their offices or workstations or locations of artwork on the walls; it tells them that the plan has a seat for every backside, and it will give them something they can pass on to an art consultant (or whoever is going to buy the artwork for the office). However, if a contractor will be using the PDF for some schematic pricing, then they need different information. They won't care whose office is whose, but they'll need to know what the finishes are in each room and if there are any features that exist but wouldn't show up in a simple plan: garbage disposal in the break room sink, wall-mounted toilet instead of a simple floor-mounted model in the office bathroom, a heavy flat-sceen TV mounted to the wall in the conference room.
Additionally, think about what you can do with any task to make it more helpful, clear, or useful in the long run. Staying with the example of the simple PDF floor plan, perhaps some additional furniture, plants, or people in the plan will help the client understand how their office suite might function. If you find out that the client will be using the floor plan in a marketing effort (say, to get someone to rent the office), you might bring the PDF into some kind of rendering software like Adobe Illustrator and put some color blocks and swooshes on the floor and casework to make it look a little more realistic. (Yes, I said "swooshes." That's a grad school word.) Likewise, you might fin that it's easier to take the contractor's plan into Illustrator and use different color blocks in the rooms to indicate finishes: green means carpet and semigloss paint, a purple line along the wall indicates vinyl wallcovering, and so on.
Asking questions when you receive any task, even some with which you're already familiar and have done before, clears up a lot of confusion in the long run. When handed something new, ask about three things:
- Scope: "What all is involved here? What should the final product be/look like? Do you want something quick and dirty or picture-perfect and presentation-ready?"
- Resources: "Where is this document or drawing located on the server? Has anyone worked on it before? Who can I ask questions of if you're not available? Are there other examples of this that I can use for reference?"
- Deadline: "When is this due? Is this a drop-dead date and time or is it malleable, depending on how this proejct is going? When do you want to see a draft version?"
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
When I chat with interns about how thing are going at work, a common lament is “did I get a degree for this?” I ask them what they’re doing every day, and then I ask them what they thought they’d be doing every day. And I sympathize, even empathize. Here are these poor, bored interns, wondering what the hell they’re doing here, spending day after day doing redlines in CAD or Revit or Microstation and looking up product info and fiddling around with flashing details and toilet room clearances. When will they get to meet with clients, work directly with consultants and contractors, visit job sites, do the really cool design stuff to make the insides and outsides of buildings look awesome? Huh? When?
Before I get to that answer, allow me to define the difference between a job and a career. A job consists of your daily, weekly, and sometimes even monthly tasks and responsibilities. A job is viewed in the short term: I’m doing redlines this week, and I’ll be checking these shop drawings next week when they come in. A career, however, is a long term endeavor: I’m an architect, and I design buildings. What some people—not just interns fresh out of school, but even people in their forties—fail to realize is that a career is built on your job(s) and your job performance. Doing a job well over a reasonable period of time allows your supervisor to see that you are competent and are ready for a new challenge of for more responsibility. Doing that next job well over another reasonable period of time allows him or her to give you yet more responsibility, and so on. Doing well the tasks that make up your job allow more and different tasks to be added to your job, and all of these tasks plus the way you carry them out form, over time, your career. What this means is that even when you are working on something that feels minor or pointless, you still need to do it well. Chances are good that minor and pointless tasks are neither and how you do those things say more about you than the task or even the person that assigned the task. If one project manager asks another, “What is Intern A like?”, the second project manager will describe how Intern A does their job, not what she does. Your job is based on what you do; your career is based on how you do it.
I’ve discussed before how architecture work and school differ, and the first couple of years in the workplace can be demoralizing to interns. Even so, it’s important to remember that at this point, it’s a job upon which your career will be built. A career is built upon the knowledge gained through doing many jobs and tasks, and the best way to learn the basics of the profession is through what seems like mindless work—transferring redlined drawings into CAD, doing product research, and looking at/studying/copying details from previous projects. Anyone can do CAD drawings—it’s a two-year degree earned at a technical school. What shows project managers that you know what you’re doing is when, time after time, you pick up all the redlines and ask questions when something doesn’t make sense; for example, the door into a certain room is shown as 3’-6” wide on the plan but 3’-0” on an elevation. Further evidence that you know what you’re doing is revealed when you ask not just what and how but why: why is that door 3’-6” instead of 3’-0” like all the rest? Why is this room so big? Why do we put the insulation on that side of the studs?
Sometimes, part of your job involves doing odd or trifling stuff—you'll be stamping the head architect's stamp on eight 40-page stacks of drawings, you're out taking pictures of an existing building or site, or you're dropping drawings sets by the building department. Remember this first: if it wasn't important, you would not have been given this task. That's not just sweet-talking you to make you feel better either. If your boss or firm wants something done and they give it to an architectural intern, it's important. It may not require lots of special knowledge, but as an architect-in-training you will give the seemingly simple-and-menial task the attention and brain power required to ensure that it's done right. It's not an insult to be asked to do these things. Remember this second: we can guarantee that whatever cheesy taks you're being given right now, we licensed folks have already done it ourselves—and some of us are still doing these things.
If you're working in an office right now, you know all too well that sometimes the work you’re good at or the work you want to do just isn’t available to do right now. Sometimes if you're on another project, you may find out that the work you wanted to do or thought you were going to be doing was given to someone else because you weren’t available to do it. Don’t get offended. Work in an architectural office is cyclical, due in part to the way projects tend to unfold and also due in part to the fact that architecture and construction are on the bleeding edge of the economy. When things get bad or slow in the economy, our industries are two of the first to feel it. Sometimes you’re way busy and sometimes you’re barely busy; try not to let it unnerve you.
So how do you use your job to advance your career, other than doing every job to the best of your ability? A few pointers:
- Ask someone if you're underbusy. If you don't have enough to do, tell your boss or even a colleague of your boss. If you can tell that the work you've been given for the day is only going to last you five hours and you know you need to stay busy for the next sixteen, let someone know. Ask how you can be of more service. Granted, when the economy or office is slow, you might not be able to help much, but at least you're letting folks know that you're willing to be useful.
- Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to use your skills or to learn new ones. If you're a LEED AP, let folks know for future staffing concerns, or do a presentation for your colleagues on some aspect of green design and building. In the first year I was at my office, I got to attend a healthcare architecture seminar at the AIA Convention (it was in my city), and I offered to present what I learned to the rest of the office. Are you really good at computer or hand rendering? Are you really good at writing or editing? Let the managers in your office know so they can use you.
- Let your boss know or remind him/her of things you’d like to do or still need experience in to complete IDP. Your first few years of working should allow you to complete the IDP process, but sometimes you have to be assertive about getting all your hours.
- Find a mentor; they don't have to work with you now but it's usually someone you have worked with at some point, either on another project or at another firm. Mentors can help you work through job and career problems and give you a sounding board.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The question asked in the last post is, "what's the tradeoff between going to school for six years and working for three versus only going to four years of school and working for five? I'm trading school for work, but it's the same amount of time. What's the difference?"
The difference is that you have your entire life to learn how to put a building together, but you only have a few years to learn how to draw, to communicate with lines and form and light and space and color. You only have a few years to learn how to come up with a parti and an overall design for a building, to learn how to think in three dimensions, and to think of more than one way to solve any design problem. That’s what architecture school is for. So the B.Arch and M.Arch illustrate that you have a grasp on design skills, and you’re not just a draftsman who understands flashing details.
This may seem esoteric enough, but the other big difference between all these degrees is that each state sets its own architectural licensing requirements, and more and more states are requiring a professional degree in order to either sit for the exam or gain reciprocity if you’re already licensed in another state.
So, back to the original question: Hey Lulu, should I go to grad school and get my M.Arch? And for that matter, I only have a two-year degree, so should I go back and get at least a regular four-year degree? Back to my original answer: the short answer is yes, but it ultimately depends on your situation. I say yes because more education in architecture (if not
Earning an M.Arch also made financial sense for me. As a good student and a
I encourage interns to go back and get professional degrees (a B.Arch or an M.Arch) to future-proof their careers. I mentioned that
Note: much ado is made about what college or grad school you attend, and I have one word for those people: relax. I know there are schools out there that have reputations for having amazing or elite programs and that there are some programs that are supposed to be a breeze, but I have found that what school you attended for your degree has little bearing on how good you are in the workplace. Some of the best colleagues I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with were from good old state schools, and some of the most annoying and incompetent colleagues I’ve ever wanted to beat unconscious with a spec book have been from so-called “elite” architecture schools. Your education is what you make of it, and there’s more to the workplace than what you learn in school. All that design knowledge only goes so far.
Monday, May 4, 2009
I’ve been asked by a fair amount of interns in the past few years about whether they should go on to grad school and get their M.Arch. My short answer is usually yes, but it really depends on a range of factors. We should first review (very briefly) the options one has for architectural education, and then we should consider the ins and outs of these degrees and what they mean for one’s professional education.
Your options are these four:
- A two-year associate’s degree in an architecture-related field, usually architectural technology or drafting. It’s a quick degree to get and usually pretty inexpensive to boot, as these are usually only available at a technical college. Associate’s degree holders usually need to work and record their time for ten years before they can sit for the ARE. An associate’s degree is considered a nonprofessional degree.
- A four-year bachelor’s of science in architecture. Different schools know the four-year degree by different names: Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Environmental Science, and so on. With a four-year degree, one has to work and record hours for as many as five or six years before sitting for the ARE. A four-year bachelor’s is considered a nonprofessional degree.
- A five-year B.Arch, which is the only degree that can be called a Bachelor of Architecture. With a B.Arch, one has to work and record hours for a minimum of three years before sitting for the ARE. A B.Arch is considered a professional degree.
- A two-year to three-year M.Arch, Master of Architecture. Also with an M.Arch, one has to work and record hours for a minimum of three years before sitting for the ARE. An M.Arch usually takes two years to earn if one already has a four-year bachelor’s in architectural studies (Option 2 above) and three to four years if one’s bachelor’s degree is in something else, like engineering, art history, pre-med, whatever. An M.Arch is considered a professional degree.
- One can also get a Ph.D. in architecture, but it’s not necessary for professional practice. Do it if you’re really into something and want to teach it at the college level.
Speaking of teaching, if you’re really interested in teaching architecture at the college level, then a professional degree is usually your best bet. Some schools will allow you to teach Studio with a B.Arch (or a four-year degree if you’ve been practicing architecture for twenty years), but with an M.Arch you can teach nearly anything. Also of note is that a school can either offer a B.Arch or an M.Arch, but not both. Why that is, me not know.
So what’s the difference? Other than whether you can teach college, there’s not too much difference between the B.Arch and the M.Arch, other than one more year of schooling and doing a full-blown thesis with the M.Arch. My husband has a B.Arch, and I have an M.Arch; both were good degree programs, and we both felt like we got good educations and were as prepared for the workplace as we could be, considering that architectural school is nothing like architectural work. The biggest difference at first blush between the nonprofessional degrees and the professional degrees is the amount of time you have to work in order to sit for the exam. To some extent, it seems as if you’re trading time in school for time in the workplace. Well, hell, isn’t the point of being an architect to do work and design buildings that stand up and keep water out and so on? Why waste the time on school?
Next post: why "wasting" time on more schooling might be useful, and why that school doesn't have to be Harvard GSD.