Monday, June 28, 2010

Advice is like dirt: there's plenty of it out there, but not all of it is worth something

Anonymous commented on a recent post (among many things) about taking advice as it relates to your job and your career. In his/her words below, the first of four points:

First comment. Intern architects need to beware of following the advice from someone outside of the firm and state that the intern is working. Its seems like every firm has a different attitude regarding the IDP.

I worked at a small firm that supported the IDP program and helped interns find opportunities to gain experience in most of the training areas.

Then, I made the mistake of following advice from an NCARB document that recommends interns move around to different firms early in their career in order to gain better experience. So I followed this advice, and decided to change firms after working at the small firm for a few years. This time I went to work for a large firm about a year before the recession started. Guess who was first to be laid off. Me. This was a terrible career move. I should have stayed at the small firm.

At the large firm, I had the unfortunate situation where I found myself working under a manager who was not an architect and never did IDP. This person was one of those short-sighted managers you are talking about.

This large firm did not support my goals of completing the IDP requirements at all. In fact, I mentioned at a performance review that one of my goals was to complete the IDP. The vice president, the short-sighted manager I was working under, and the human resource manager of the company all told me that finishing the IDP was not a legitimate goal to have. (I had 630 training units complete at this time and 11/16 training areas complete.) When I asked for opportunities for experience in the IDP training areas that I had not completed up to that point they yelled NO!! at me. This was even after I worked about 12 weekends for that firm that year and the forth of July. The firm as a whole saw NO value in helping me find experience in the few training areas that I was lacking.

Well said, Anonymous. This is a good point--not all advice is good advice. It is in that very spirit that I include the following words in the "About Me" section in the sidebar at the top of this page: While I don't know everything, and this blog is just one architect's opinion and experience in the profession, I'd like to share what I've learned and also find out what interns are dealing with and wondering about from day to day and overall. Everything that I say here is indeed from my point of view, my perspective, my experience. Not everything I say will be applicable or even useful to some or all or any of my readers. I include the part about wanting to find out what interns are dealing with so that I can hear from folks who had terrible experiences like Anon's, and to find out what's going on with all of you in this day and age. After all, I've been doing this for ten years and I've been licensed for four, so though I'm sorta close in age to interns (I'm 34), I've also been removed from the intern experience a bit.

Advice is everywhere, and we all--including me--have to be specious about giving and taking it. When I was first ready to take the ARE, one of the middle-aged managers in the office advised me to just take every one of the nine sections a week apart, pass the ones I was going to pass without studying, then study the ones I failed. At that time, the tests were cheaper than they are now, but still around $100-$150 each. This manager took the test back when you did take it all at one time, over the course of four days, and you indeed passed whatever it was that you were going to pass. While that advice sounded good in his head, based on his experience, it sounded like a colossal waste of time and money and energy to me. I'd rather study well for each test, budget out the cost of the tests over nine or ten months, and pass them one by one. The advice I gave myself worked for me--I passed each test the first time, and I think that's because I gave myself the time to study. Here's another weird example: I know a woman who has worked in a design-related field for twenty years, and I greatly respect and admire her. But whenever I ask her for advice, I generally do the opposite of whatever she recommends. I've found that her advice is way too conservative and cautious. And guess what? I get stunning, fantastic results every time I do the opposite of what she advises. (Perhaps I can be that person for one or more of you out there--do the opposite of what Lulu says, and get great results! And if that's the case, who cares? As long as your job and your career--and your life--are satisfying and rewarding to you, who cares if you follow my advice?)

Speaking of bad advice from others, Anon, I would love for you to send me that NCARB document or website (if it's still available and/or you can get our hands on it) that advises you to change firms early on in your career. That sounds almost unconscionable to tell someone, and if they indeed say that, then I have a bone to pick with NCARB. Changing firms is helpful if you feel stuck where you are or are being treated unfairly, but just for the experience? I suppose it depends. In the nationwide survey of interns that my colleague and I did for our presentation at the AIA Convention this year, we did find that most interns wanted professional development (i.e., wanted to learn the business side of running a firm) and would be willing to leave a firm to get that experience. Still, though, the quality of experience an intern gets is not necessarily based on variety of firm environments--it's based on quality of whatever environment s/he is in. If you're in a good place, like Anon was at his/her first firm, the small firm, then that can be good enough. Any hours lacking could be picked up through a mentor outside of the firm (which is what Anon is doing now, a creative solution to the problem).

We do have to be careful with the advice we receive and give. I don't post anything here that I feel is irresponsible, but I also know that m advice is hardly one-size-fits-all. Tell me in the comments--what's the best advice you didn't take?

I want to address Anon's last paragraph there in the next post.... In the meantime, let me know if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here, either in the comments or via email from the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. SIDE NOTE - The NCARB e-EVR site is CRAWLING today. My employment hours are in, but I have some stray volunteer hours that I was slogging along in getting in there before the six month rule goes into effect Wednesday. It's taken me over two hours of click and wait, server time outs, etc to just submit one chunk of hours. Plan ahead if you haven't submitted and think you're going to just hop on and do this on Wednesday. Especially if you have more than one employer to submit for. I'm guessing it is only going to get worse over the next couple of days