Monday, December 20, 2010

And now, for a break...

I managed to get two weeks off here at the end of the year. It occurred to me that I really needed a break, and as all my projects got nice and quiet at the end of the year, I figured it was as good a time as any to not be in the office. I also realized that I hadn't taken a lot of time off in the previous eleven months, which I why I had so much time left to burn. And I needed to take it now mostly because I was so burned out.

Recent studies have shown that taking vacations are good for you, even if the positive effects are short-lived afterwards. Part of what helps you, some researchers surmise, is that people get positive benefits from anticipating the vacation as well as going on the vacation itself. Therefore, it's better to take smaller, more frequent vacations than one or two big vacations. I did take a couple of vacations this year, but each of them involved work in some way, like a presentation or teaching gig. I needed was to completely get away, which I'm about to do.

The next two weeks will be spent doing anything but architecture, which will be refreshing and I think will actually amp me up to come back and do architecture again in January. So posting will be pretty light for the next two weeks, but I hope you all find some time to take a break and rest this holiday season. Cheers and see you in 2011!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: Is becoming an architect worth it?

Today's question comes from B in Australia (wow!):

I am currently studying architecture in Melbourne, Australia and have just completed my first year, with another four to go :(.
I feel that you might have the best advice for me. I'm starting to consider a drafting course as I have been hearing that it is a 3 year course and obviously less stressfull than archtiecture.
My question is, is becoming an architect worth another 4 years of hard work? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Or are the long hours even worse in the work force?

Alas, B, this is the million-dollar question: is any profession worth the effort and schooling and stress and time? I have friends who went into architecture and, after having been laid off a couple of times, are now pursuing other jobs and even other careers: government work, teaching architecture, not teaching architecture, managing a small business, construction management, and so on. Others have stayed as close to architecture as possible, even if they weren't able to actively work in the field. After spending six years in school and ten and a half years in the profession, I can honestly say that I really like architecture and enjoy practicing it, though there are some aspects of it that annoy and sometimes even infuriate me.

I'm sure that the 3-year drafting degree will lead you to a job that is less stressful than architecture, but will it be as satisfying and interesting as the career and jobs you get with the five-year degree? It depends first on why you started the architectural program in the first place. Do you have a passion for design, for thinking creatively, for making and shaping space, for having a positive effect on people and the built environment? If so, then stay with the 5-year program. If you just want to draw buildings, then maybe the drafting program is the way to go. Neither approach is "right" or "wrong"--it's about what your ultimate goal is, whether you want to just row the boat, or if you'd like to help steer it as well. Some people are totally happy to just row, and that's excellent. Some people want to help steer, and that's great, too. I know plenty of people who went through the trouble of architecture school, and they have become glorified drafters and refuse to get licensed, even thought they're pushing fifty years old. But the position they have makes them happy, and who am I to tell them their choices are bad?

And that brings me to a third option, B: with the five-year degree, you can be an architect or a really well-educated draftsperson who can think beyond the average drafter, but if you just get the three-year degree, then a drafter is all you'll ever be. That three-year degree may make it harder to move up and ahead into architecture, if you ever decide that you want to do so. (Now, granted, I'm giving you all of this from an American point of view. Here in the U.S., there are very, very few architectural drafters--we architects do our own drafting. Engineers (mechanical, electrical, etc.) are more likely to hire drafters, people who simply put into software what an engineer has hand sketched for them.) With a five-year degree, the extra years of training can open more employment doors and opportunities for you.

And that can be good news. When you get out of school in four more years, the economy will very, very likely have rebounded and recovered, and there will be more jobs for you to do and places for you to work, both in Australia and here in the U.S. if you'd like to move. If architects are using pure drafters, they're going to use people in India or China, not in Australia or the U.S. Having the extra two years of thinking will only help.

I realize I'm handing you advice without really corresponding with you on this, B, but that's my superficial two cents' worth. If you (or any of the readers) have more questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comments here or send me another email.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I make my engineers do their jobs?!

I got a great question from C, who writes:

When I started here (at my firm) I was told to start compiling Navisworks clash reports and models so we could coordinate the models on this project. Simple enough – combine the models – run the clash – sort through 30,000 clashes to find the legit clashes – export viewpoints – export report – email off. Rinse and repeat on a weekly basis and track the progress of the clash numbers.

This starts simple enough – any time I’ve done this in the past on other projects, that’s all we had to do – give the engineers a Navis model and let them work through their clashes on their own, help them with the difficult ones and assist them when they clash with architectural. Which is what I’ve done. Am I crazy to assume that they should be able to be grown professionals and work through their own clashes on their own (ie. Pipe hits duct, someone please move something)?

Well, fast forward to today – we're 2 weeks from the finish and clashes still exists – roughly 100 or so legit ones. I’ve gone as far in recent weeks as to take a set of drawings and literally highlight and redline where the clash is and who it involves. Scanned those in and sent those off to them, basically providing a roadmap to the clash. They don’t even need to open the Navis model for this – yet still they ignore the clashes. We hold bi-weekly BIM meetings where I walk through clashes with them – they’re in the same room together they can talk through the clash – and they always say “ok, I’ll move X to here and you move that to there and boom we're good” - next week come along and that same clash STILL EXISTS!

I’ve literally drawn them a picture and walked them through the fix. Short of going to their office and holding their hands and fixing it for them I’m not sure what to do. I shouldn’t have to be the one that fixes their clashes for them – considering MEP is all in the same office they should be able to walk to the other cubicle and talk it out like grown adults.

I’m at wits end dude. I’ve done everything I know to aid in the clash resolution process just to be ignored essentially for 5 months by the MEP guys.

C, the short answer is this: if your manager is aware of this constant struggle on your part, then you've done all you can. If you're at the point with a consultant that you're having to go over to their office, put your hand on their mouse hand, and do the clicking for them, then the problem is pretty much theirs. It's time to get the managers involved, or at least aware: email the engineers and copy your boss(es) and their boss(es) and ask what's going on: "I've sent you the Navis report on X/XX/2010 and I gave you a marked up plan locating the clashes on X/XX/2010, and I see in the latest model that over 100 clashes still have not been picked up. I'm concerned that we're about to issue a project that has unresolved clashes that could adversely affect this project's construction. We really need to get these clashes resolved--what do you need from me/us to make that happen?"

Working with consultants is usually an enjoyable and educational experience, but that experience goes sour fast when basic issues go unresolved. You can't make people do their jobs per se, but if all of your efforts to gain compliance and cooperation go ignored, then it's time to let managers know what's going on.

Monday, December 6, 2010

'Tis the season to (still) act professionally

December heralds the season of Christmas trees, singing carols, fake snow, Secret Santas...and holiday office parties. These parties elicit a number of reactions from employees, ranging from joy at free food and adult beverages being offered to dread and annoyance at the notion of spending an evening with your effing boss and your effing coworkers. In my opinion, office parties are generally worth going to as long as you keep a few things in mind:

  1. You're still at work. No matter what everyone's wearing, no matter how much alcohol is being served, no matter if your boss is dancing around with a lampshade on his/her head, remember: it's still a work function. Resist the urge to overimbibe at the open bar or freakdance with the cute new hire--you're still going to have to be on your best behavior (or at least on your work behavior). If anyone in charge sees you acting a fool at the office party on Saturday night, it will be remembered on Monday morning.
  2. Take the opportunity to talk to people in a non-structured environment. While you are still kinda at work, you're not on the clock. So an office party is a good time to chat with your colleagues about non-work stuff: what do they like to do on the weekends? What are their kids into? Where did they go on vacation this year? What are they doing for the holidays? You likely already know that office parties are a good time to chat up the boss, but it's a good time to chat up other managers in the office, as you never know when you may end up working with them. Further, chatting with coworkers--whether you work with them or not--is a great chance just to get to know them better and develop a better working relationship with them.
  3. Have fun or go home. Having zero fun at a party is just about as bad as having way too much fun--they're both inappropriate reactions to the festivities. If your office party has a ridiculous theme--hey everybody, we're doing Hee Haw!--don't feel like you have to play it to the hilt. Just wear a nice outfit that's not formal but doesn't involve khakis. If you don't really want to go but feel like you need to make an appearance, get there right at the beginning, not fashionably late. Stay for a couple of hours and chat up a few people that you really like, then use whatever excuse you feel comfortable with in order to leave--I'm double-booked for parties, I have a migraine, the cat's having kittens, whatever. Say some pleasant goodbyes, go home, and relax, knowing that you're not going to have a hangover tomorrow.