Friday, April 3, 2009

Okay, nice open letter, but what's the point?

As an architectural intern, I constantly sought good leadership, mentorship, and professional advice.  The results of my efforts were hit and miss--the boss I thought would be easygoing and solid turned out to be an egomaniacal jerk with rage issues, and the anal-retentive stick-in-the-mud turned out to be a pretty good mentor and boss.  After I gained my license in the summer of 2006, six years after I'd gotten a job with my shiny M.Arch degree and nothing else, I realized that the mentorship I sought was not only still missing to a great degree in my workplace, but what little had been there seemed to have receded with the volume of work and busyness of the design staff.  Had we all really gotten too busy to mentor and advise the future of our profession?  I decided it was time to lead the charge (in my office, anyway) on this mentorship.  I found that many interns were coming out of college, even grad school, with very little job and career advice.  Someone needed to fill the gaps for the next generation.  Someone needed to provide the advice they lacked and to help them not make the same mistakes that I made.  I decided that, in my office, that someone was me.

So I started a seminar series called "Intern 101" for everyone with three years' experience or less.  I held forth in the first couple of seminars on job advice: what is okay to complain to your boss about, what not to wear at work, how to handle dating in the office, and so on.  (Disclosure: I met my husband at the office on my first day of work nine years ago; we are both architects, and we're still together after all these years.  Yes, it's a sickness, but I take it one day at a time.)  After I got a couple of higher-ups in the office interested and involved, I got a partner here and there to speak to the interns over a lunch period in our largest conference room about marketing, getting business, how to run a firm, etc.  We were going beyond job advice and getting into career advice as well as pulling back the curtain on this profession in a way that no one-day-a-week professional practice course in college could do.

Then, the bottom dropped out in 2008.  Folks were let go in small waves at first, and I sought to allay the fears of the interns, none of whom had ever seen really bad economic times.  And I tried to ease their anxieties, but sadly, I had never seen an economy this brutal either.  (More disclosure: technically, I had seen an economy this bad, but it was the early 1980s when I was 5 or 6, so I think I get a mulligan on that one.)  Suddenly, my fellow employees were being laid off in droves, the desks emptying around me, the parking lot clearing, and the office getting quieter.  We were left with about half the interns we'd had at the start of 2008.  More than ever, it seemed that the future of our profession needed some advice, some input, some reassurance, or at least some idea that if they were let go anytime past August that it had nothing to do with them. But as things got worse, the upper management at my office got quieter, harder to find during business hours.  

What I saw at my office, a midsized architecture firm here in Colorado, was not an isolated incident.  I believe that when times get tough, it's a good time to invest in and involve your interns in what's going on.  I also believe that when times are prosperous, it's a good time tin invest in and involve your interns in what's going on.  Every day, every project is a chance to mentor, to teach, to coach.  And I hear from interns and architects all over the country that this mentorship is not happening.  Hence, I've started this blog to take my Intern 101 program nationwide.  

I have several goals for this blog:
  • To serve as a clearinghouse for information on getting IDP hours, taking the ARE, and getting licensed.
  • To provide job and career advice for young professionals in the architecture/design profession (including those about to join the profession out of college as well as those who have been in the profession for a few years).
  • To explain how the architectural/design workplace works.
  • To listen to interns and help them in any way I can.
Any questions?  Any comments?  Anything you'd like for me to discuss?  Let me know in the comments or email me at  What will make this blog worthwhile is your comments, contributions, questions, and observations.  Sharing is caring, my people.

(Yet more disclosure: Lulu Brown is a pseudonym to discourage stalkers, outers, and other negative distractions. I am indeed a licensed architect in Colorado working at a midsized firm (usually described as 80-150 employees), but that's about as precise as I'm going to get for now.)


  1. I'm a current M.Arch student who will be gradating in 2012. I realize that it is difficult to take on many commitments outside of school during the academic year, but if you could find the time to do something productive outside of class, what kinds of activities/work experiences would you recommend. In your opinion, what kind of background makes a recent graduate of an m.arch or b.arch program more marketable to architectural employers. I realize this depends on type of architectural office you want to work for, but if you have any general thoughts on the matter, I would love to hear them. Thanks

  2. Excellent post. As someone who's been an architect for 20+ years--and owns his own company--it's very accurate. The profession has always been overworked and underpaid, and this is just worse in the current economy. I remember the days of manual drafting, before fax machines, before Fedex, when it seemed the pace of the projects was much slower. In small firms today (less than 10 employees), there is increasingly less time to produce a project and therefore much less time to train interns. It has truly become a trial by fire.