Monday, June 18, 2012

Specializing and generalizing, Part 1 of 2

I recently celebrated the 12-year anniversary of being at the same architecture firm, where I started as an intern fresh out of grad school in June of 2000. Well, "celebrate" is a strong word--I mostly remarked on it to a few colleagues and my husband.  In that time, I've gone from super-green intern to healthcare planner and project architect.  I started as someone whose job it was to do whatever's needed on a project, and twelve short years later, I've become someone with a more specific set of skills to be employed in certain ways and at certain times.  Some of my skills have increased, some have plateaued, and some have waned.  Examples:

Things I've gotten really good at in 12 years:

  • User group meetings: asking the right questions, settling arguments between users, keeping the discussion on track
  • Space planning and schematic design in healthcare projects
  • Healthcare code/guideline requirements
  • MEP/acoustical requirements and pitfalls in healthcare facilities
  • Writing, producing, and editing marketing materials and interview presentations

Things I've gotten okay/sufficient at in 12 years:

  • Revit (drawing, modeling, building families, drawings details, scheduling...I can do my own CA, but I'm not a fast drafter/modeler like I was when I used CAD for 8+ hours a day)
  • Building code requirements (I have 0% of that book memorized, except that dead-end corridors in a hospital can be no longer than 20 feet)
  • Construction administration (I can do it, but man, do I get impatient and irritated)

Things I haven't gotten good at in 12 years:

  • Exterior detailing
  • Specs (I should be a lot better at this, but I wrote specs on a project recently for the first time in almost four years, and I realized how bad/out of practice I am at it)
  • PhotoShop/Illustrator/Sketchup/InDesign

I really am embarrassed at how bad I am at some of these items.  I've always had the impression--perhaps from school, maybe clients, maybe work--that I should know a lot about everything and good at every aspect of my job and career.  When I get that feeling, I remember the combined words of author Malcolm Gladwell and sports commentator Colin Cowherd.  Gladwell describes (in his book Outliers) the 10,000-hour rule, in which you have to practice something for at least 10,000 hours before you get good at it.  Cowherd uses an analogy of Michael Jordan versus Bill Gates: "Bill Gates will never make a dunk, and Michael Jordan will never program a computer. In order to get really good at one thing, you have to give up something else." 

In order to be the go-to guy or gal for Adobe CreativeSuite stuff...or rendering...or code research and knowledge...or space planning...or exterior detailing...or exterior and site design...or whatever, you need to spend a lot of time working on that thing.  You also have to accept that if you make the choice to excel at some aspect(s) of design or construction, then you're not going to excel at one or more other things.  I've become one of the few go-to people in my office for healthcare space planning and design knowledge, but my phone isn't ringing off the hook with people wanting to know where to put the vapor barrier in an exterior wall.  There are people in my office that know where to put the vapor barrier--they dig that sort of thing, and they know the right questions to ask me about that wall before they give me an answer.

IDP requires that you do a full range of tasks so that you know what it takes to get a project done and what you're required to do and know as an architect.  A side benefit of doing all that IDP requires is that you find out what you really want to do--design, space plan, code research, detailing, marketing, CA, etc.  Do the work, and then decide what you really enjoy and what really fits your skills, and then seek ways to further develop those aspects of your practice.

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