Monday, December 28, 2009

End of the Year wrap-up/discussion, Part 2

I talked recently about habits and skills that are useful to have in both architecture school and architecture work. It got me thinking about things I've learned in the past almost-ten years since I got out of grad school and started working. Granted, this whole blog is me talking about stuff I've learned and suggestions to pass on to those starting out in architecture, but some of the topics I've discussed this year have really synthesized with my own personal experiences, especially lately. Humorist Garrison Keillor once said, "Intelligence is like four-wheel drive; it just gets you stuck in more remote places." The concept behind Keillor's observation holds true, in a sense, in architectural training. The more I learn and the better I get at my job, the more complicated my personal and professional concerns and issues become.

I've worked with some managers this year who, naturally, have been architects much longer than I have. They have seen things, solved problems, and worked on projects that I have not. I learn a great deal from them on a regular basis. One thing that I have learned this year is that in some ways, I'm just as good at what I do as they are, regardless of how many years we've been licensed. For example, one manager insists on seeing the emails I send out to the project team before I send them. Previously, when I was an intern, I could understand this; he wanted to make sure that I had all the information correct, and he wanted to check that I wasn't being rude or unprofessional. Now that I've been licensed for almost four years, he'll reply to my email with either no changes or with stylistic changes--rearranging dependent clauses in a sentence or changing a few words. All the facts are correct, the information and intent are clear, and the tone is polite and professional...but he just had to put his mark on it.

You may find yourself working for people like this. Perhaps the manager has an even worse degree of this sort of behavior--changes his/her mind frequently, refuses to accept (or fights accepting) new information that can improve a process or project, or they aren't around when you need them and then get mad when you have to wing something or ask another architect in the office. This sort of behavior will drive anyone to self-medicate because it violates the basic principle of respect. How do you expect me to do my job when you're looking over my shoulder like I'm fresh out of college? How am I supposed to know what you want me to do if you're inaccessible when I have a question? How am I supposed to take initiative if my every suggestion on ways to save money and tie are met with an immediate "that won't work"?

My suggestion is first to put down the bottle of codeine (you too, Li'l Wayne) and take a deep breath. Then, remember this:

It is not your job to make your boss happy.

I realize that sounds a bit strange coming from me. After all, I'm sure I've used some form of "make your boss happy" somewhere else on this blog, either implicitly or explicitly. Let me clarify the statement: It is your job to do your job, not please and cater to the whims of another or to ingratiate yourself and be a yes-man (or yes-woman) as if your boss is a petulant five-year-old with semi-automatic weapons. You answer, as it were, to a higher authority: you are accountable to the project, and therefore to the firm. When you make decisions and take actions that are in the service of the job or the project, you are doing your best and operating in the best interest of the project through whatever conduit you have been given (doing product research, checking a plan for code violations, drawing details, etc.).

Your boss (or bosses) may have certain ways that s/he wants things done, and following those procedures keeps conflict to a minimum and helps you learn the ins and outs of a complex profession. However, try not to let the learning process (and the feeling of oh-crap-please-don't-lay-me-off-not-in-this-economy) bully you into not making suggestions, solving problems, and working for the best outcome on your projects. If you must ever answer for your actions, you can do so with conviction and a clean conscience and without ego, spite, or malice, knowing that you have done so in the service of your job and your employer.

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