Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Drawing review: measure thrice, issue once - Part 2

So we've talked about having someone review the drawings on a major milestone (like DDs or especially CDs), but what about the specs? Remember, the specs go with, complement, and complete the drawings, so they're important enough to be reviewed. So who reviews them? Well, how about you?

An intern may be the perfect person to review specs, partially because they're rarely the person who does the specs and can therefore look at them with fresh eyes. In some ways, interns will read specs almost like a contractor--you know generally what the project is about, but you don't know every little thing, hence reading the specs will tell you (or not tell you) a lot about the project. Because many interns don't get to look at specs very often, it can be hard to know what you're looking for. Here are a few highlights:
  • Lists or choices that should be made. For example, the metal framing spec section may list a variety of acceptable deflection amounts in brackets, and the architect has to pick one. If the spec section still shows a list that looks something like [L/120] [L/240] [L/360] [Per Drawings], then that deflection criteria still needs to be picked. Make a note of it to let someone know (either by redlining a hard copy or putting it in an email with the spec section number and the outline number (e.g., 054000, Section 2.1.A).
  • Duplicated information. Again in that same metal framing spec, you might see some descriptions of how thick the metal framing should be (e.g., interior studs are 25 gauge, exterior non-load-bearing studs shall be 16 gauge, etc.). But having done the drawings yourself, you might remember that your partition types schedule lists the minimum required stud gauge already. This is another moment to make a note and ask the project manager--do we want to repeat this information? (Probably not.) If not, where would we rather have this information shown--specs or drawings?
  • Unnecessary spec sections or subsections. I noticed in a recent spec section on blinds and louvers that we listed a bunch of info for the louver blinds as well as for roller shades. However, our project had no roller shades, so this section needed to be deleted. While sometimes it may be acceptable to leave in this kind of extraneous information (say, if you're using "typical" specs for a longtime client for whom you do several projects a year), I recommend that it generally come out. If we left those roller shades in the specs, a sub might read the specs, look at the drawings and not find any roller shades, and then get confused about what s/he should be providing. Extraneous, unnecessary information can cause subs to throw extra money into their pricing for a project because they can't find the product in the drawings are are fearful that the drawings are what's bad, not the specs.
  • Missing spec sections. If you don't see certain products listed--maybe the special glass mosaic tile in the Tiling section, or the connectors that hold the art glass against the wall in the Glazing section--bring it to your manager's attention. This is where it's a good idea to pan briefly through the Masterspec table of contents to see if you've accounted for everything in a project.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Technical difficulties and economic abilities

My apologies for not posting more, folks--if it hasn't been my internet or Blogger itself, it's been my laptop. Today is the first time I've been able to get on here decently, and I don't even have part 2 of my last post together. Some professional I am, huh?

However, I do want to get a quick pulse out there. It appears that the economic tides are sloooowly turning here in Colorado, and I'm seeing work come back slowly and in small doses. What is the design and construction climate like for all of you, wherever you are? Tell me via email and the comments, and thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Drawing review: measure thrice, issue once - Part 1

I recently issued a set of construction documents for a major interior renovation project, and the process reminded me of how important checking the drawings really is. If you spend a lot of time producing the construction documents, you need at least one other person, but ideally two other people, to look at the drawings aside from you. Remember how your English professors in college would tell you that you need to let your paper sit for a few days so you can review it with fresh eyes, or that you should turn in a rough draft to him/her for review or have someone else read it? That's because after working on it for so long, you can't see the mistakes in your work. The same thing happens with drawings--fresh eyes can find discrepancies, problems, and unclear or lacking details or plans.

So who should review the CDs? Ideally, the two parties in your office looking at them would be 1) whoever's stamp is going to be on the architectural sheets, and 2) a licensed architect, preferably one who is familiar with the kind of project that you're doing. If that second architect is familiar with the client as well, all the better...but not necessary. What you want is fresh but skilled eyes. You want people who know what should be in a set of CDs and how they should look, but you want someone who hasn't really seen these drawings as much as you have. And while the person stamping the drawings may have some idea what's in the drawings, they won't know them the way you do. Plus, if they're going to put their stamp on some drawings, they should know what they're about to stamp. Remember: if something ever goes terribly wrong with a project, it's the name on the stamp that gets blamed.

Who else might help you benefit from seeing the drawings? Your consultants, for one. It's always good for you and your consultants to trade drawings (usually your sheets in a PDF form if you aren't both working in Revit and have Revit models to trade) so you can see what the other is up to. If you have a contractor on board, a project can benefit from their point of view--after all, they're the end users of the CDs. If anything is unclear, or even if something has been included in a project for which the contractor did not include money in the budget, they can catch it before it becomes an RFI at best or an expensive surprise at worst.

The thing to remember about having someone else review your drawings is making sure they have enough time. Three weeks before the CDs are due, ask your manager who all needs to review the drawings, and make sure every gets at least a week for review. When you send the drawings out (whether in hard copy or PDF form), make sure everyone knows when you need comments back by in order to get everything in the set.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The best piece of interview advice I've ever read or heard

Recently, I've been reading the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman. If you can find it at a bookstore or library, I highly recommend it. It's a great book, well researched and easy to read. One of the chapters deals with persuasion, and in that chapter Wiseman describes what researchers have found can make all the difference in a job interview: likeability. In the book, he quotes a study where interviewers for a particular job said that they generally hire based on qualifications and on work experience. However, when the interviewers completed surveys on their candidates' traits and qualities and whether they'd be hired, the choice ultimately came down to whether the candidate was a pleasant person. Would this person get along with others at the office? Would they be a decent human being to work with?

That's not to say that you can get a job if you have a sparkling personality but you're totally unfit for the position--you do still have to have some of the other traits a company is looking for. But just being pleasant in an interview can make all the difference between you and a slew of other folks vying for the same spot. Being pleasant isn't necessarily smiling all the time; that's a sign of mental illness. But it does mean smiling appropriately, making eye contact, asking the interviewer questions, and even complimenting the other person and their company. It can also include small talk about things that are related to a job ("You just did a project in Chicago? That's a great city--my aunt lives there. Did you get to visit much while working on the project?) as well as things not related to the position or even your career ("Oh, the traffic on Parker Road is terrible in the afternoons. That's why I take Evans Avenue instead--plus it gives me an excuse to stop by this wonderful little pastry shop on the way for a late-day latte and their hazelnut scones!")

Being pleasant, polite, and amicable in your dealings with others doesn't just help you get a position with a company--it can help you get a project with a client, and it can help you get good work out of consultants. Polite chatting can forge connections between people, and it makes you more human. Instead of just looking like an architect going after a project, you look like a real human being who would be fun to work with for the next two years. Talking to and with consultants like you actually care about other people (and you do have to ask sincere questions, like "how was your vacation? where did you go? is it as humid as everyone says it is?", by the way--this cannot be faked) acknowledges the humanity in your colleagues and makes them more likely to respond to your requests in a favorable and timely manner. Pleasantness breeds pleasantness, and a little can go a long way.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How honest is your resume?

My husband sat in on an interview at his architecture firm recently, and he was blown away by the disparity between a candidate's resume and interview. In an effort to be succinct yet excellent-looking on paper, the candidate completely stretched the truth of his actual experience. The candidate's resume has a section titled "Areas of Expertise" in which he listed about a dozen different software types, including Revit. In the interview, my husband asked him "So, what do you know about Revit?" The candidate shrugs, laughs a little, and says, "Practically nothing. I know it has families, and it's different from CAD, but that's really it."

"Expertise" has a dictionary and a cultural meaning that implies you know a lot about something. When this candidate lists Revit under his "Areas of Expertise", then he is implying--nay, proclaiming that he's something of an expert at Revit. Then in the interview, he flatly admits that he's not really at all familiar with the software. While it's good that he admitted it, it's still dishonest to put out there that you are an "expert" at something that you're not good with at all. You're starting off on the wrong foot, and the interviewer no longer knows if they can trust anything else on the resume...or anything else that comes out of your mouth.

Likewise, I sometimes see interns put down that they were a "project manager" on a project. Let me say that no matter how much control you had over a project and how much of the work you did and coordinated on it, you're going to be hard-pressed to convince anyone that you were a "project manager". Maybe a "job captain", but not a project manager. First of all, project managers are almost invariably either a) licensed architects or b) at least 50 years old. While there are a few exceptions to these rules, architectural interviewers have a preconceived understanding and image of what a project manager is (namely, one or both of those two traits I just listed). Bear in mind that a project manager often handles the budget and fee on a project as well as the pay applications sometimes. If the project manager is the only licensed person on the project, s/he might be the one who signs RFIs, PRs, CCDs, etc. "Project manager" is a loaded phrase in architecture, fraught with meaning and responsibility. So when an intern uses "project manager" on his/her looks like a big fat lie.

So what if you did manage nearly all the aspect of a project? First off, find a different description of the role--job captain, project intern, project coordinator, etc. Second, get your own copy of the record drawings (or whatever the last version of the project was that you worked on) and bring it with you to the interview. That way, you can flip through the documents and literally show a potential employer what you can do and how awesome you are. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So let your drawings do the talking for you--they'll say more than you can, and they're irrefutable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Working for a living versus working for a career

On a recent blog post, Intern 101 reader JD made an astute observation:

Obviously, in this economy, employers are in control of the market right now. As a result, you have to be more careful about appearing more concerned "getting your hours" than getting the work done in an interview. I wouldn't say being totally under the radar is good either. It's a tough time right now that creates a lot of "Should haves", "What if", Why?" "ARRRGGGHHH!!!" When it changes? Who knows, but consider it a learning exercise like no other.

Amen, JD. While the overall national unemployment rate is around 9.5%, it's more like 15%-40% for architects, depending on where you practice/live. Anyone looking for a job right now is up against a lot of competition for getting a job at all. While we're seeing a very small increase in work here in Colorado, it's still not enough to start hiring back all the people who were let go in the past 18+ months, so I know that any firm around here certainly has their pick of the litter. There are a few things to keep in mind while looking for an architectural job right now.

First off (and I think I've said this before), it's okay to be a little selective in the jobs you pursue. Don't throw your resume at anything and everything, especially if the firm is looking to fill a position for which you are even remotely unqualified. If it requires more than a year more experience than you have, or if it's asking for a licensed person, don't bother. There are plenty of people out there with those qualifications, and your resume will go straight to File 13 if you're even remotely unqualified. Focus on the positions for which you are qualified, and play up your strengths. Having said that, it's also okay to have a couple of different resumes, depending on if a firm is looking for someone to make lots of nice models versus someone to actually work on projects. Even for someone new or relatively new to the workplace, there are enough types of jobs to do that having more than one resume that plays to different skills can be a good idea.

Being selective regarding the type of work or firm you're doing is a little harder right now. If you've got student loans to pay off and you want to move out of your parents' basement (or out of your crappy apartment with your even-crappier roommate), you might just want any job. And there's something to be said for that. If you can get any job in architecture right now, you can gain experience. Even if your boss ends up being a grand mal jerk and refuses to sign you IDP record, you at least have some experience you can put on a resume with which to get a better job in the near future. (Funny enough, it seems sometimes like it's easiest to get a new job when you already have one.)

When you're interviewing for a job, you do want to find out how if you have a prayer of fulfilling any IDP hours, and the best way to do this is to make sure you frame it as a benefit for the firm. You can approach it something like this: "I'm interested to know what would be the range of project tasks I'd be experiencing at your firm--would I be doing mostly CDs or would I be involved in all phases of a project? I'd like to be able to get a wide range of experiences that involve me in every part of this career path I've chosen because it would make me useful--the more tasks I have experience in is just that many more things I can help you with on a project." If that goes well, then you may want to get a little more specific and ask about how they support IDP and what kind of people (licensed?) would be supervising you. Like commenter JD, I'm suspicious if my questions about the support of IDP begin with "Well..." It should be an unequivocal and solid "Yes, we work towards making sure our interns get their hours."

So what if you get a less-than-acceptable answer to the IDP question, but you still need a job? You can accept the position with eyes wide open, knowing that you may not get the best experiences at that firm, but you'll have a source of income and something to put on a resume. And you may find an architect at that firm who's not your immediate boss who would be willing to sign your forms for you and vouch for you--they may also see the firm's crappiness for what it is and help deflect some of it for you. Working at a bad firm can leave you questioning your abilities and even your sanity, and when the economy is rough and there's nowhere else to go, that pressure and anxiety are multiplied. You may just have to take some deep breaths, take a break, go cry or break some plates somewhere, and know that this will pass and you won't have to work here forever.

I asked earlier and I'll ask again: has anyone out there had a bad architectural job? What was the tipping point that made you realize it was time to go? Tell me in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks, and keep your comments and questions coming!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vent-a-thon 2010!

Finally, I want to address Anonymous' fourth comment, from a previous post:

Fourth comment. Lulu, please help other interns not to experience what I experienced. Are there ways to detect a short-sighted firm in the interview process? What questions should us interns ask the company at the interview regarding their attitude towards the IDP process? I hope none of the interns that follow your advice and ask the company for experience in additional IDP training areas get the answer 'NO' yelled back at them like I did. I even volunteered my time to get the experience. The answer was still 'NO'

I recommend that interns get help from a mentor outside of their firm for completing the difficult IDP requiremnts. Thats what I do now. I won't even mention IDP at another firm that I work at. I will complete the IDP silently.

Some firms don't want you to become more marketable by completing the IDP, it seems like.

Not every firm is intern friendly like yours, Lulu. I just had to vent.

And vent you should, Anon! You've been dealt a horrible hand in your internship, and it's not right. But I should mention that even in the firm at which I work, not every manager is so intern-friendly. Some refuse to work with interns with less than three years' experience. Some view interns as drafting machines with a pulse. And some view interns as solid, capable human beings with a lot to contribute. In these cases, it's all about staffing; when figuring out who will work with/for whom, those in charge of staffing have to figure out who is the best for for what projects and which people. People are not interchangeable parts in an engine--we all all unique, and some work better with others.

It's Anon's fourth comment here that strikes at the heart of why I started this blog in the first place. I hoped that by sharing my experience and observations, perhaps I could help some interns out there with a little direction or a second or third opinion on some job- or career-related matter, or at the very least just spare you some of the pain that I and my colleagues have suffered. Though I have been at the same firm for ten years, it hasn't all been beer and Skittles. I worked for a manager at one point who would throw tantrums and code books when he was angry, and he once threatened to hit me if I didn't fax something to a contractor (like why wouldn't I fax it to the contractor? it was part of my job!). I worked for another manager who seemed to be obsessed with looking at the front of my shirt when he wasn't looking down it. I worked with a colleague who attempted to stalk me via cell phone and email. And I've worked for a manager who was such a micromanager that night after night I would go home and weep into my sofa, wondering if I was cut out for this job and this profession in the first place...and those crying fits were happening after I'd been licensed for three years and had started this blog, mind you.

If I come across as Pollyanna-ish on Intern 101, it's because I've been through some pretty heavy crap and have come out the other side. As the Zen saying goes, this too shall pass. And, seeing as nearly all of those horrible managers and colleagues have been let go from my firm, I think of a saying from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the arc of justice is long, but it's wide.

One of the best ways to learn is from each other. Some of you out there have to have been in horrible situations with bad bosses and wretched firms at one point or another. Looking back on those times, what were the red flags that you missed at the time? What was the signal that told you that it wasn't you, it was them? How did you get out of it? Try to keep it as clean and as civil as you can, but tell me about it! You can email it to me in the sidebar or describe it in the comments below. I'll also poll some of my colleagues and share their experiences here in the coming days.

Remember, this site works best when you contribute and share questions and ideas. I'd like to give a special thanks to Anonymous, for providing the original comments that have spurred the last few posts--good food for thought, indeed!

Friday, July 2, 2010

IDP: how fair or useful is the process?

Anonymous' comment on a recent blog post has given me much excellent food for thought. Two of his/her points from that comment must be considered together:

Second comment. I think the current IDP process is very unfair. An intern in the northeast can work at a firm that doesn't support its goals and the intern will not gain good experience. An intern in the south can work at a firm that supports the goals of the IDP and will gain a career advantage over the intern in the northeast.

Third comment. I think the AIA needs to provide firms with more incentives for helping interns finish the requirements of IDP. Right now, all of the IDP requirements are for the interns. The firms are not required to help interns complete the IDP.

We kind of have to discuss these points together, as they intertwine a bit. The reason that firms aren't required to support IDP is because IDP is a voluntary process that each state's architectural board either does or does not mandate as a requirement for attaining licensure in that state. For example, my state of Colorado does not specifically require that an intern follow IDP in order to be eligible for licensure in that state--as a matter of fact, with enough work experience and the right tests, you can be a licensed architect in the state of Colorado with just a high school diploma.

Furthermore, the AIA is a professional organization, not necessarily a governing body. Membership in AIA is voluntary, so if the AIA provides incentives to firms for supporting IDP, that only affects firms whose owners are members of AIA. If an intern works for a crappy, sweatshop-of-a-firm whose owners aren't members of AIA, than they give less than one-tenth of a hoot about those incentives. It would be more helpful if each state's architectural licensing authority provided some mandate for following IDP and then required that firms support that structure. However, bear in mind that having such a requirement would also mean that interns would all have to join NCARB, which means paying NCARB that $60 a year or $90 a year or whatever it is nowadays to maintain your NCARB record. And I know of a lot of interns who write that check to NCARB with gritted teeth every year, so that might be a hard concept to sell. At the same time, I like the idea of making reciprocity even easier--if everyone's following IDP, then there's no reason to give NCARB a wad of cash each year to maintain your license--you have the record already. (Hmm...this brings on more talk....)

As for the fairness of the IDP process, I'm not sure what an intern's locale has to do with the quality of their internship experience. Two architecture firms across town from each other can have differing levels of support for their interns, and therefore the interns at Firm ABC get a much better experience than the interns at firm XYZ, though they're both located in, say, San Antonio. What would make the IDP unfair is the state-by-state adoption of it, and then the lack of support for it in some states or even some firms. The process in and of itself is neutral--work this amount of time, get these credits, and then you're ready to sit for the exam. What has made IDP unfair in some sense here lately is the economy--interns get laid off and lose valuable time and precious credits while sitting on the sidelines of their profession. (And I've had people ask about whether NCARB gets it or not--I'm getting y'all an answer...) IDP is as fair as it can be on its own, but some other rules could stand to be put in to place to make sure all interns are getting a fair shot at success.

Next post: Venting and Complain-a-thon 2010! Bring it on!