Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Year's resolutions for yourselves and the profession

I hope everyone's holidays have been going well so far and that you're able to take time to enjoy the season.  As we have just passed the winter solstice, with its least amount of daylight all year, it's a good time to reflect and think about what we want to do with our lives, especially in the coming year.

On the professional front, I will gather all the necessary info and documentation needed to apply for my ACHA accreditation.  I've finally gotten the years of healthcare architecture experience needed to apply, so it's time to add that hard-won honor to my roster of professional achievements. (Since I've confessed this here to all of you, you're my witnesses.  If I don't get this done by 12/31/12, Armageddon notwithstanding, then you all get to heckle me soundly.)  Personally, I also want to start working on a book for interns based on this blog.  I've been asked about it a time or two, and I'm starting to wonder if it might be useful. 

On the personal front, I have to start rationing my energy better.  I'm getting older, and I'm running out of steam faster with my new management responsibilities at my firm, so Shorty needs to find a way to get things done without doing everything herself.  This was also my goal for 2011, by the way--I think I mastered it sometimes and failed miserably other times.

I also would like to see our profession have a goal or resolution of its own: be a Profession.  So often lately, it seems like my beloved profession is more like a cult than a Profession.  It seems sometimes like architecture fails to value itself and its services the way other professions (medicine, law, dentistry, etc.) has done, and it forces its members to live in noble poverty.  It tells its members that we all have to sacrifice to survive and just be grateful that you have a job, and when pressed for specifics on why things are being run the way they are the questioner is thumped (or even smacked) for daring to ask.  Those running the profession seem to lean more and more in the past few years on secrecy and avoidance: secrecy with regard to what it takes to achieve or with what's going on with the firm or profession, and avoidance of big issues like poor performance or why every job seems to be losing money.

I don't imagine that running a business is easy--far from it.  There's a lot to do every day, and it seems like most of it has little to do with Design.  But more and more it seems that our profession is losing its viability and its relevance, from not really valuing and defining the importance of licensure to not really explaining to the public why the world needs architects and why HGTV and Ty Pennington are not the answer (and aren't reality). 

I hope that even if this profession won't embrace this resolution, you will.  I want us all to pull through this dark economic time and bring back our profession in all its relevant, awesome glory.  I want us to show the world that design, codes, and profitability aren't mutually exclusive.  That, my friends, would be an even better gift than a few more letters and credentials after my name.

So what are your goals or resolutions in the coming year?  And what do you hope for architecture?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So how many architects are unemployed in the U.S.?

An October 2010 online article from Architectural Record describes how using certain nationwide indicators of unemployment might preclude the proper reporting of unemployment for architects.  Just as illuminating as the article (if not more) are the comments by folks with 20+ years of experience in the profession.  Some of them are just jaded, but some are particularly sharp and solid in observation, such as two commentators with 45 years and 44 years of experience.  I know the article is a) a year old and b) a little dark for the season, but I know that not all firms are hiring right now, though a few are.  Things are slowly getting better, but it's going to take a while to get better in our profession.

Monday, December 19, 2011

More on getting licensed (or not)

I've received some good feedback on whether to get licensed, and folks have brought up some good points, such as the cost of maintaining an NCARB record and the cost of study materials and the tests themselves.  If you're not making a lot in the first place, and the economy has depressed your already-meh wages, it's pretty daunting to think about taking a test and possibly losing $210 because you had to borrow a study guide from someone who borrowed it from someone else and needs it back on Monday, etc.  I also know that there are some folks who have done really well without ever getting licensed.  For example, a colleague of mine said that there are no rules on calling yourself an "architect" in her home state of New York, so many of her classmates have thriving architectural design careers without a license.  However, here in my adopted home state of Colorado, a designer can be seriously legally reprimanded for calling him/herself an "architect" if s/he is not actually licensed.  (And your company cannot have the word "Architect(s)" in its title unless there are actual architects involved in the company's ownership.)

I received the following comments from an architect who got licensed in the 1980s:

I was determined to get my license as soon as possible after school was completed and after a nice travel break. I had enough experience from working in Architectural and Engineering offices (plus framed houses and did interior trim carpentry) during college to sit for the exam within 3.5 years after I graduated.  I got licensed at 28.  The study and exam combo was brutal for us. It was four days in a row!!  There was no option to spread it out over an extended period like you can now. I studied very hard and passed it all the first time. What a relief!!

...[I]n response to your post on getting licensed versus not, my recommendation is for anyone that wants to make real progress in the profession to get it out of the way as soon as possible. You get more respect amongst your peers and it will allow you to pursue your own practice if you desire. Plus it looks very good on your resume.

Someone once described poverty not as a lack of money but as a lack of options.  What I like most about having a license is that it gives you options.  Not everyone will look down on you if you're not licensed, but no one will look down on you if you are licensed.  You can start a design firm if you're not licensed, but you'll need someone else to stamp and sign your drawings.  If you're not licensed, you may have to be careful about what you call yourself depending on where you do your architectural design or 3D modeling or whatever else you do, but it doesn't matter when you're licensed--you're an architect.

And that's a choice everyone has to make for themselves.  Some firms won't care, some will.  Some states/jurisdictions won't care what you call yourself, some will.  Depending on what you want to do in life, licensure may not be the ultimate or even a necessary goal for you.  But I never want to see any of you work hard and then find yourselves limited in any way, and jumping through those final hoops can open a lot more doors and possibilities for you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The case for (not) getting licensed

A recent issue of Architect Magazine included an article on how many members of our profession aren't getting licensed.  It was a rather intriguing trip into the world of those who manage to thrive professionally without ever being able to truly call themselves "architect".  The architect in me is a little saddened that so many people work so hard for the profession but don't bother with the final little push to take the ARE.  I also get, dare I say it, a little perturbed that I did bother to get licensed but that it seemingly might not matter in terms of professional success.  I know of unlicensed designers who do get paid more than I do because of how they've arranged their careers--changing firms a few times can bump up your pay, and finding the right clients for which to design allows for some good opportunities to further a design career.  Working as an unlicensed designer  is not without its pitfalls--one of my friends who is a fantastic designer (and is also brilliant at construction detailing) was cheated out of the credit for an amazing residence when he and his temperamental client had a falling out.  The credit for my friend's amazing design went to the guy who actually stamped the drawings, and my friend lost getting his name in three different architectural and design publications and also probably lost future commissions.  During the recent recession, he found it hard to gain employment at the age of 40 without his license.  Talk about a double whammy.

I work with some 40-year-old and 50-year-old interns.  I work with some folks who practiced for 15 years and finally got licensed in their 40s.  I work with some interns who blew through their tests and got licensed before they turned 30.  The firm at which I work encourages and supports licensure because the partners value it, but there is still a place in the ranks for those who don't make passing the ARE a priority.  And while I hope the profession takes a moment for self-reflection and assesses just how important a license is (and makes the changes necessary to reflect that importance), I think the bottom line for now is that there is a place for everyone in the profession.  What we need most is conscientious talent: people who can think and design and listen and explain and help their clients and understand the myriad of codes and standards and do flashing details and dream of more interesting and uplifting interiors and exteriors and believe in the positive role of architecture and design in a society.  Licensed or not, we need professionals--at some point, the rest is just labels.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Licensing requirements changing for Colorado: what about your state?

An intern colleague of mine recently mentioned to me that Colorado (my new home state) will soon start requiring that all non-licensed folk in the state must follow IDP in order to get original licensure in Colorado.  Granted, this won't be full law until January 1, 2014, but the byline on the state's webpage reminds the public that some states require IDP already and won't reciprocate licensure without that record.

I realize that IDP can feel like yet another paperwork tangle and NCARB can seem like a bureaucratic nightmare, but they do have their purpose.  IDP was created so that our profession could have a baseline standard for what constitutes an appropriate professional experience, and NCARB helps maintain the clearinghouse for that information, those standards, and all those records.  Yes, that experience can be fudged and flat-out forged; yes, that description of experience may be an incomplete picture of our profession; and yes, plenty of mildly- to severely-incompetent architect complete IDP and pass the ARE.  However, it's all we've got for now, and when done correctly and in the spirit of the process it can be very rewarding and educational.

I encourage you to check NCARB's list of state licensing requirements as well as the specific state-updated pages regarding this information to make sure you're on the best (and quickest) path to licensure, wherever you live or want to live.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thoughts on working from home (or while you're away)

As the holidays crash down upon us (or maybe it's just me), it seems sometimes like both the pace and volume at work is increasing along with the pace and volume of holiday and family activities that are required of us.  Deadlines, projects, travel, parties, family gatherings, and volunteer activities might leave us wondering how we're supposed to get everything done this month?  Something has to give, doesn't it?  Maybe if we were able to work from home or on one of our days of vacation...maybe that would help.  Or would it?

The first thing to know about working from home is that any work you do on a project belongs to the company and is therefore subject to examination if a legal claim were to arise on that project.  This means that if you get CAD or Illustrator installed on your computer at home and work on a project for work while your family is in town, your home computer may have to be turned over to a legal team if a lawsuit arises regarding that project.  Think of it like this: if you're working on a project on any computer in the world, your company "owns" that computer while you're working on that project.

The solution then would be to borrow a company-owned laptop with the necessary software and connections to your company's server while you're away.  Just be sure that, before you take that machine out of the office, you understand how to protect it and what your responsibilities are if someone hacks the machine while you're using a public wifi system to connect back to the office.  Another caveat: be cautious with using the laptop for non-work reasons.  It's one thing to watch a few funny videos on icanhascheezburger.com or buy your parents a fruit bouquet from 1-800-Flowers.com or something, but it's another to shop or surf racy or questionable sites.  If your company's IT staff doesn't clean these laptops after someone returns them (and even if they do), someone else can see what you've been doing on this laptop, whether or not you erase the browser history.

The final thing to remember is that your vacation/personal time off is just that: personal.  Yes, sometimes duty calls, but do your best to get a clean break from work and rest.  You'll be much more productive when January rolls around.

Conflict or concerns at work? Deal with it.

Longtime readers of Intern 101 may have noticed a trend in how I recommend dealing with problems at work.  I suggest going right to the person with whom a reader is having a problem and talking it out with them, briefly but clearly.  This might seem a little like playing hardball for some interns.  We all fully realize that interns are by and large the easiest people to replace at a firm, so they're usually the last ones to confront problems or even stick up for themselves sometimes, especially in a crappy economy.  The fact is though that dealing with problems directly--even with bosses--can do so much to help rather than hurt an intern.

First of all, interns might be easy to fire or lay off, but firing or laying off anyone is generally a pain in the ass.  Confronting bad behavior or sticking up for yourself now and again isn't enough to really make someone want to go through the paperwork hassle that is employee termination.  And frankly, if a firm wants to fire you because you dared stick up for yourself, you really don't want to work there for a long time anyway.

Second and more importantly, there are many ways to confront people without being confrontational and to deal with problems without being a jerk.  There are many books out there on assertive communication, so check some out and find one or two that speak to you.  This one is my favorite and I use the skills constantly.  (Yes, the book is aimed at women but the skills actually work just as well for men.)

Third and most importantly of all, good communication skills and good conflict resolution skills are the kind of skills you need to be a great architect, project manager, and/or firm owner.  You've heard the phrase "dress for the job you want, not the job you have," right?  Well, having and using good communication skills is like speaking for the job you want, not the job you have.  I know plenty of very talented architects and designers who are being held back in their careers because they don't stick up for themselves and get run over all the time or conversely blow up or push people around and scream and shout.  When you model that you know how to handle yourself and can deal with uncomfortable situations, it shows your managers that you're able to handle more than just Revit drafting and looking up flashing details.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What is architecture?, or, if I didn't laugh I'd cry

Someone recently sent me a page from archdaily.com, in which one of their writers defined architecture in a variety of ways, all of them a little cynical and to me quite funny.  A few of the comments on the post/article tried to take on author Jody Brown for his snark, but those comments appear to have been overwhelmed by those who truly find the article funny.  While I can see where the "You're being negative about this profession and you're not as funny as you think with your cynicism" comments are coming from, I think they're missing the point.

Architecture as a profession is a long-ass trail ride.  Projects go on for years, not weeks like they did in school, and when you experience all the steps it takes to get something built in the real world, it can be downright frustrating.  Funding, construction loans, value engineering, bond initiatives, zoning laws, code review/enforcement entities, more value engineering, neighborhood associations...these are just a few of the tings that can make taking a building from paper to bricks-and-mortar reality so painful that you'd rather pull your own arm off, freeze it, and then beat yourself to death with it rather than deal with all this nonsense.  However, the process isn't completely sucky.  I've had user group meetings where we're all laughing so hard that we can barely sit upright, I've been on teams that managed to salvage a great design through two rounds of VE, and I've watched people's faces as they walked through a building I designed and helped bring to life.  There's a lot of reward to go with that pain.

So when I'm in the middle of that pain, I think of things like Jody Brown's article.  And I laugh my ass off.  Then I go design and tweak and work some more to get to the good part of a project.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a holiday, so go celebrate!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I encourage everyone to take the day and even the day after off to rest and be with loved ones.  It gets easy to think, "oh, I could get so much done Thursday morning without the phone ringing", but I beg of you to resist the temptation.  You have to defend your time off and hold your ground, whether it's not checking email during a three-day weekend or not coming in on a holiday just because no one will be in the Revit model but you.  Go enjoy the time off!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: My boss treats me differently now that I'm full time--what gives?

I received a chilling email from C. regarding how her firm's attitude towards her changed after she went from being part time to full time:

I started an internship in June and got glowing reviews.  Now that I have been hired full time still as an intern, I have been making small mistakes and my nice boss has turned a cold shoulder to me.  I realize this is part of the learning process.  But here are some of the examples:  I was doing a quote before it was sent to the client and I had missed a line.  It wasn’t a small quote…but I sent it to the lead designer to look it over to let me know if it was alright and they told me they went and fixed it instead of me fixing it.
This got back to my boss and I have never made a mistake that I did not want to fix…everyone makes them.  I took over some of the duties of a person that was released for lying.  But before that he came in late, talked all the time…but she never talked to him about it or looked down on him.  But for me as the intern I feel slighted and I need some advice on what to do.  This is not a conventional design firm.  Not how I was taught in school.  There are some “personalities” there also who have also marked their territory and the boss have sided with them also.  When others make mistakes even huge ones, it’s okay…..but for me not so much.  I know I need to improve to survive, but what do I do if I am thrown under a bus and made to feel less?

(in a second email to Lulu)  There is some other stuff to say as well. I think I mentioned my boss won't speak to me and they hired 2 girls to replace me. (younger thinner) I was an unpaid intern and things were perfect; then I got hired and people were much meaner including people telling me f*** you and this is MY area and if i didn't like how things were run, get out.  When I found solutions to some problems, they said you have to do it MY way...which until now "this is the way" wasn't presented to me until Monday which I am sure they cleaned it up for the person taking my place.

Oh, C.  Oh oh oh.  There's so much to say here.  Mistakes are part of the learning process.  Being shut down and shut out by your boss and other architects in the office for any error whatsoever isn't part of the learning process. That's being obnoxious at best and bullying at worst.  But I almost don't need more details beyond the ones you provided in our second email exchange: you were treated great when you weren't being paid, but now that you cost them money, they're giving you grief for small mistakes and even hiring younger people with the apparent intent of replacing you.  This. Speaks. Volumes.

It tells me that this firm is bad, bad news.  Not only is it unethical not to pay people who work on billable work, it's also illegal.  Your firm (hopefully soon to be former firm) has no problem breaking the law and disrespecting skilled architectural labor, so why should they also have a problem being generally uncivil?  To me, the problem is clearly the not being paid--as an unpaid intern, your mistakes were only kinda costly, but now they have to pay you and fix the mistakes.  Please leave this firm as soon as you can, and if you're feeling froggy, get in contact with Pimping Architects about your firm.

Let's say for the sake of others out there that both the part time internship and the now-full time internship were paid, and an intern was receiving this sort of suddenly-poor treatment from formerly-warm colleagues. A good way to solve this--as well as almost any other problem in an office--is to approach it politely but directly.  For example, C's example above might warrant someone going to the lead designer who fixed the mistake and saying, "Hi, Vicki, I heard you fixed an error I made in that quote I sent you yesterday, and I wanted to thank you for for doing that.  But y'know, I really do want to do a good job and learn from my mistakes, so please don't hesitate to send something back to me to fix."  (This can also be good as an email in which you can copy your big boss, so you have a paper trail of trying to fix your mistakes.)  You may also decide, especially if you feel like you have nothing else to lose, to confront your boss on the cold-shoulder stuff directly: "Everett, I really appreciate you hiring me on full time; it makes me feel like you like my work and can trust me.  But it feels like something's changed since I came on full time--every small mistake I make gets a major stink-eye from Vicki.  Has something happened that I should be aware of?"  Again, this could be sent as an email just to Everett so you have a trail of an important conversation.

Got a question or topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar!  Thanks, and remember that this blog works best with your feedback and questions!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Center for Emerging Professionals Webinar: Talent and Culture

Mad props once again to the AIA's Center for Emerging Professionals for putting on this series of webinars open to all levels of folks in the architectural profession.  The fourth in the four-part series, is on Talent and Culture, which will be broadcast in December 1st.  It's $15, and I've heard from others on this blog that the seminars are really good and worth it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dress code interpretations, or "wtf is dressy casual?"

Holiday party season is fast approaching, my peeps, and it seems to be a field of landmines sometimes, what with all the various dress codes for parties and open houses and so forth.  Often, the dress codes for these events has some version of casual in them: dressy casual, business casual, festive casual, etc.  Casual may be one of the most abused words in the English language these days.  I want to rescue the word casual and throw a cashmere blanket around its little shoulders and tell the work world to go put on a tie and leave casual alone.  Why must everything be casual?  What's wrong with occasionally putting on a shirt that needs ironing (or at least looks like it would be ironed, if it wasn't made of some wrinkle-free material) and some nice slacks?  What's wrong with looking sharp for our colleagues, thereby showing them a little respect?  I'm not talking about a three-piece suit for even the most mundane office meetings, I just mean not looking like you work as a lifeguard.  But I digress....

I found a great resource online for translations of what various types of "casual" attire means.  This might come in handy if you're asked to be "dressy casual" at an office party or professional organization mixer.  Remember, you work in a field that puts a great deal of thought into aesthetics and assemblies of materials and colors, so put some thought into your own facade when you hit the door at these events.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: I feel like I'm a good designer, but am I wasting my time?

I recently received this email from G., who is probably not the Lone Ranger in terms of what s/he's experiencing right now:

I graduated in May and have been searching for a job (more on this in a bit), but since starting graduate school I have been nursing a slightly growing inkling that perhaps architecture is not the right profession for me. I originally wanted to become an architect because I like most things related to design and drawing and was always being pulled toward the architecture section at the local library. Of course there are several things about architecture that I dislike—mainly the low pay coupled with the long hours. Knowing that perhaps my love of architecture would hopefully outweigh these two negatives, I continued along the linear path that seemed so defined and ready for me. I studied architecture at my undergraduate college on a full ride and graduated summa cum laude and with an AIA medal; I took a gap year between degrees to work for a forensic architecture firm; I was accepted into grad school with a full fellowship and have won several design competitions. I did all that was required and gave it my all, but now I am starting to wonder if I am doing it for reasons that truly appeal to me. Perhaps these feelings are now surfacing because I have not had much “real-life” design experience at a traditional firm?
Which brings me to my question/point. I graduated in May and have been searching for the ideal position that would allow me to have a second chance with Ms. Architecture. I declined a job offer upon graduation because I really wanted something closer to family and friends where I would be able to save money. I did this assuming there would be more offers. One month later I was offered a position with a startup company based in China that was looking to expand to the US. I took the job and absolutely detested it. It was a two person closet-sized office (me and a jaded, older design architect who had next to no experience dealing with interns), and most of my time, including unpaid overtime, was spent working on non-billable work that would not count toward IDP. After two weeks I knew that this experience was completely the opposite of my structured, professional internship with the forensic firm; I quit with the hope that I would find something more suitable. Is this internship experience typical of a design firm? After five months of searching for the right job, I am starting to wonder if I am being too picky and should just settle for some horridly similar CAD jockey position at a less-than-average design firm just so I can get experience. The alternative, to go back to school for an MBA in real estate, might be a possible alternative, but I feel like I just need to get out there and give architecture another shot. After all, I did just spend seven years of my life for this career and I know I could be a great designer.

Wow, G., you've certainly been through it, but the short answer is: yes, you still have a place in architecture.  Now let me give you a longer, more thorough (if also boring) answer.

First of all, I can see how any work experience would be a letdown after having won so many awards and scholarships.  You've been given every indication over and over that your skills and interests are perfect for this profession, so why should it be so hard to find a good firm?  Well, the economy is a huge reason right now.  Like many of your colleagues just getting out of school, there aren't a lot of jobs available right now, so you take what you can get.  The corollary to that fact is that if there are very few places interviewing and hiring, you don't have a chance to compare potential firms against each other or even jump ship in three months when you figure out you've stepped into a firm that's more like Thunderdome with Revit on the workstations and your boss has an Axis II personality disorder.  Furthermore, while starting intern pay is pretty low (as is the starting pay for a lot of college graduates, regardless of their major), it's even more depressed right now because the economy is keeping wages across the board either stagnated or increasing at a lower rate than usual.  No wonder you (and I'm sure many other interns out there) feel so demoralized.

And yet, you had a great experience at the forensic architecture firm that showed you how good it could be--well-structured, respectable and respectful, and educational.  That, my friend, is what a real firm can do for you.  In this economy, I think it's hard to judge the profession on one crappy firm that abused your skills simply because they could.  Yes, there are other crappy firms out there, but there are also so many good and even great firms out there that want to use your skills while also helping you grow as an architect and a professional.  You may have to move away from your family to find those jobs and firms, but it can be so worth it.  It may take you longer than five months to find that job and firm, but it will happen.  (Remember that you're looking for a job during the worst economy since the Great Depression, so it could take some time.)  If you're hankering for that MBA because you can and it's really what you want to do, then do so.  But it sounds to me like you're not done with architecture, and I don't think architecture's done with you.  It needs your badass design skills that won you those awards and fellowships, and there's a good firm out there that needs those skills.  In return, that firm will teach you how to make those amazing designs come to life in real concrete and steel and drywall and glass and aluminum.  And that is so worth it.

Got a question or topic for this blog?  Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reading a job ad, or how to make your cover letter work for you

An article in the Sunday Wall Street Journal section of the 9/18/11 Denver Post on how to read a job ad reminded me of some good tips on answering job ads, especially unusual ones.  The article began with a portion of a company whose help-wanted ad included the sentence "Wanted: Sales agents who are able to stare intently into client eyes while describing what they are looking for."  The point of the ad copy was to help potential job candidates understand that the company needed people who could listen and really understand what the clients needed.  A management consultant suggested that if someone were applying for this job, they should use their cover letter to deal with and respond to this strange comment from the ad.

I've seen cover letters fall a little out of favor these days, but I think even a short cover letter is still handy because it allows you to be conversational with your potential employer.  It also allows you a less-structured way to address the job ad which you're answering.  By writing a cover letter, you can include key words from the job ad and even from a firm's website in your lexicon--as if they were coming from your own mouth--which shows them that you understand what they're looking for.  It's like using active listening, but with the written word instead of the spoken word.

You can also use a cover letter to highlight things that might get lost on your resume.  By calling out in writing a recent award or achievement or successfully-completed project that mirrors and jives with the firm's focuses or interests, you can reinforce that you have what it takes to contribute to a firm and help them achieve their goals.  The cover letter can also be a way to address areas in which you may quite fit the hard requirements from the ad.  For example, if you have eight years of retail architecture experience and the ad asks for a minimum of ten years' worth, you can address that the projects on which you worked were rigorous (international and located on top of a Superfund site!) and would allow you to be a highly-useful and highly-valuable member of their retail architecture team.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I follow my heart and my profession cross country?

I got the following question/conundrum from B.G., who I'm sure isn't the Lone Ranger with this problem:

I am an intern architect with four years of full-time experience, presently employed at locally reputable, 20 person office on the East coast. I am also a LEED AP BD+C and am starting to study for the ARE. My boyfriend moved to the West coast last year to attend a 5 year phd program. We have made it long distance for a year and I am now in the process of the looking for work out West near where my boyfriend goes to school. Previously, I went to grad school out West, but not in the same city so I have no connections. I have been applying to jobs for a month now and am worried I won't find anything (my boyfriend reapplied to schools this year, but was unable to get in anywhere else). Additionally as a young intern architect, I can't financially afford to move out there without a job. Recently, I have been peer reviewing my job application documents with a more experienced colleague which I believe has been an improvement, but overall I am worried and the situation is causing me massive anxiety. Do you have any advice for my job search?

Ah, yes, the moving-cross-country for love and work problem.  In our modern, heavily-mobile society, it's a big problem for folks of all professions and frankly of all ages.  First, let's assess the economy: you had been looking for a job for a month when you wrote me this question back in the summer (and I apologize for not getting back to you sooner).  In this abject economy (and even now), I would have been amazed if you had been able to find something in just one month.  There's a lot of competition for jobs right now, so don't be surprised if you're having a hard time finding something.  Having someone review your resume and help you punch it up a bit is a good thing.  It's always good to have a fresh set of eyes on a document that you've slaved over, and it's especially helpful if those eyes have hired people before--they know what to look for and what can catch someone's eye (or make them drop you into File 13).

Now, let's look at your job search from a couple of different angles.  First off, you lament that you have no connections in your BF's new hometown.  Bummer.  Wait, aren't you working at a firm now?  Do they know of anyone even remotely in that area?  For that matter, would anyone at a local networking event full of architects know someone on the West Coast looking for a sharp soon-to-be-licensed architect?  Here's where you work this the way the social site LinkedIn is supposed to work: you go meet people and talk to people, and they know people who are where you want to be, and they connect you with those people.  Yes, it's a bit of a stretch, but it just might work.  You'll need to get yourself in front of those people, so find the next AIA wine and cheese event being touted, put on a good suit, and get thee to it.

Next, you mention that you cannot move unless you have a job in place.  Fair enough, and it's good planning as well.  But must it be a straight-up architecture job?  I don't mean you should get hired at Starbucks and then move, but perhaps you could work for a contractor or even for an architectural product company.  I recently met a sharp young woman who graduated from school as an electrical engineer just as the economy tanked, so she started working as a product rep/consultant/designer for a lighting fixture company.  The job held her over for a couple of years, and in the course of her job she met dozens of great engineering firms, one of which was eventually able to hire her full time...in the state to which her fiance had just moved.  What I'm saying is that your experience may allow you to branch out to work in more than just straight-up-vanilla architecture for the time being, which could give you the moolah needed to move to be with your sweetie.

(Bear in mind that no matter how you find a potential job out West, chances are good that you'll need to fly there for a face-to face interview, unless they'll settle for some hot Skype-on-Skype action.  Make sure you've budgeted for that trip, or trips if need be.)

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed on Intern 101?  Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Taking the ARE early? Woohoo!

I received an email from Intern 101 reader Joe, who passed along info on taking the ARE early.  Indeed, some states allow you to take some or all portion of the ARE before you have completed the required work hours.  You can find a list of what each state/jurisdiction allows by clicking here.

 NCARB brought itself into alignment with this movement in 2011 and spoke at length about the changes at the 2011 National Convention in New Orleans in May.  To NCARB, all you need is three things: the accredited education, the time spent in an approved work environment, and to pass all seven sections of the test.  Who cares what order you do them in?  While my inner fuddy-duddy harrumphs at this, I overall think it's a good thing. I think of interns in my office who have been hamstrung by the crappy economy and haven't been able to finish their on-site CA credits.  With this rule in effect, they can start taking tests while waiting for a project to make it all the way to construction and finish their credits then.  I also think of interns who have been laid off and unable to find a new job.  With at least some of their credits in place, they can start testing while they have some time to study.

However, I would warn against anyone coming straight out of school and immediately starting into the tests.  Why?  Two reasons.  Number one: While you do need to study for the ARE regardless of how long it's been since you were in college, some of the stuff on the tests makes more sense when you've actually seen or done it on a job.  And number two: you may decide you don't want this.  Yes, that's a weird thought to have, but plenty of gung-ho students realize a couple of years into the profession that they don't want to do this anymore.  That's already a real downer after 4-6 years of schooling, but it's even suckier when you've dropped several hundred dollars on licensing tests that you'll never use.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: Racism in architecture?

Recently, I got the following email from B, who was concerned about:

Lately I've been having a really hard time trying to find internships because of my race. I'm a minority and everywhere I go I have to face racial comments and criticisms. I'm starting to get really discouraged. Do you think that this profession is open to minorites, such as Latinos, Asians, and African Americans? And should I continue to try and find an internship or just give up?

It's a fair question, B, and one that's admittedly a little hard for me to answer.  I'm a white woman in Colorado (where the racial makeup is only about 10% African-American and about 30% Hispanic), and before that I was a white woman in the South (where black and white were about 50-50 when I left in 2000, though Hispanics had been moving into the South for the ten years before I moved out), so my race has never been an issue (and my gender only rarely has been an issue).  

But  that leads me to my first question: where are you looking for jobs?  Are you in Yazoo County, Mississippi, or in the greater Los Angeles area?  I'm only half kidding.  I don't know what is your country of origin (I've withheld your name in this post), so I can't imagine what you look like or what your accent sounds like or any other factors that might lead someone to be biased against you and not hire you.  But I can imagine that if you're looking for a job in a smaller market (say, Witchita KS versus Philadelphia PA), and you're competing for jobs with a bunch of people who look exactly like the people running the firm, and people in that smaller market aren't used to seeing people like you on a regular basis, then I imagine you're going to have a harder time getting a job.  

I'm also trying to imagine where you are that you're actively hearing racist comments and criticisms on a regular basis, even in 2011.  Even in the small town in Georgia where I was raised, people say rude and ignorant things under their breath, but they at least have the good sense not to say them out loud where everyone can hear.  I'm also going to ask a possibly sensitive/emotionally- and politically-charged question:  How's your English?  Do you have a solid grasp of not just vocabulary but also grammar and even slang phrases?  Do you speak with much of an accent?  Accents can be off-putting to some firms, especially if they're in small markets, because they're concerned that you don't know English well enough to understand what a client or consultant (or even your boss) is asking of you.  

The reason I'm asking these questions is that architecture can be very accepting of different minorities, but it can depend on where you are in the country when you're looking for a job.  Hell, it even varies from firm to firm--I know of firms full of white guys in Manhattan, and I know of a small firm in Cody, Wyoming that has people from Colombia and Trinidad working on hospitals all over the West. Even when people aren't actively being racist (i.e., thinking "Man, I would never hire him/her because s/he's black/Asian/Hispanic"), people can be subtly, almost subconsciously or unintentionally racist.  You just don't look like everyone else at the firm or in the area, and something in their head says "no."  Or, they may see and/or hear you and think, "Well, s/he looks perfect for the job, but I don't think my clients will warm to him/her."

I found a great report on interns in architecture that included a dissection of how welcome minorities felt in the profession.  (To find your own copy, Google "AIA Demographic Diversity Final Report".  For some reason, AIA.org no longer has it posted easily on their website, not that I can find anyway.)  The report, compiled in 2005, indicated that of its respondents, about a third of women and minorities reported having experienced some kind of harassment or bias while working, and about a third of respondents felt that there were not equal opportunities for women and minorities.  Having spoken with people from other professions, it would seem that architecture is no better or worse for minorities than any other white collar profession (though architecture school seems to do a better job of leveling the playing field for genders and races). The AIA has initiatives regarding diversity, but your best bet might be the National Organization of Minority Architects.  Your question might be better directed to them, and they may have better resources regarding support for minority architects.

So B., the short answer is this: yes, there is a place for everyone in architecture; sometimes it's a matter of looking for the right fit (and in the right places).

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Drop me a line in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How to handle a colleague doing personal work at work

While I was ill and working (I know, I know, and after all my preaching against presenteeism...), I got the following email from longtime Intern 101 reader Intern Timmy.  Here's his story of dealing with a colleague at his office who was clearly doing outside work at his day job:

My colleague "Laura" and I began noticing that our co-worker Seth was taking a lot of personal phone calls at work.  Our office is small and relatively quiet so it's pretty easy to overhear anything.  (It's a been a long-known fact that he does work on the side, and it's work that our company wouldn't do so it's non-competing and okay for him to be doing on the side.)  The problem we had was it seemed like every day he would be on the phone from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.  All the while he was supposed to be working on actual billable tasks ... and to our knowledge he wasn't putting in any extra time after hours to make up for whatever time he spent on his personal jobs.  Our firm does a lot of government projects, and tracking what you worked on and who you billed is a big deal since our government clients do sometimes audit this information.  If it isn't tracked correctly, our office can be in a A LOT of trouble.

These phone calls had been going on for a while, and we were becoming increasingly upset by it because all of us were busy working on a lot of projects and project-related tasks.  Seth was supposed to be busy too...but he apparently wasn't if he had so much time to do this stuff.  Also frustrating is that now and then between these calls, Seth had helped us out on some projects, and usually any part he worked on required one of us to go back and fix his work (keep in mind, Seth is licensed), so it was frustrating seeing him take these personal calls in between screwing up our projects and causing us extra work.  The more junior staff was pretty ticked off by it, but none of us had said anything.  Finally, Laura and I decided we can keep bitching about this internally or we can do something about it.  We considered going to our manager--but there's a side story there I'll tell you about in a moment--so instead we decided to just go to HR because of the time sheet problems that his "work" were causing.

We met with the HR person and told her our concerns; she agreed with us that it's a problem and suggested we talk to our manager and let him know and that HR needs to be part of this conversation.  So we set up a time to meet and put it out on the table.  HR was very helpful and wanted to see something done, which is good.  Our manager agreed to talk to him and let him know that it cannot occur in that capacity at work without him making up the time.  Before the manager could even talk to Seth, another employee complained to HR as well.  This forced the issue, and finally our manager spoke with Seth.  It took him a week from the initial complaint to when it was handled, which is too long IMHO.

The side story about the manager: our manager is in my opinion someone who probably shouldn't be manager.  It's not that he's not a good guy or bad at architecture (he's good at designing and great at detailing a building).  But he avoids conflict and the fact that HR said something needs to be done and 2 of his staff voiced serious concerns about the issue... you'd think that would make him jump at the problem and solve it quickly.  The fact that a week later nothing had been done and it took another person completely unrelated to the first complaint to force the issue is unacceptable.

Since the complaint/conversation, the phone calls at Seth's desk have declined; I won't say they've ended because we see him leave his desk with his phone and then come back 30 minutes later.  But, at least they've subsided.  He still isn't a very "trusted" member of our group because of all the mistakes he's made and the lackluster way he does complete tasks.  

Intern Timmy, it sounds like you and your colleague did the best thing you could do given the circumstances.  And actually, a week is an unsurprising amount of time between the manager hearing a complaint and finally doing something about it.  He may have been waiting for a good time to talk with Seth.  Since it's a small office, he might have been waiting for Seth to be alone or almost alone before he pulled him into a conference room so that he could speak with him without embarrassing him.  However, I do wonder if it took only a week because of the extra complaint.  It very likely could have taken longer.  The fact is that most managers and bosses hate confrontation and will avoid it at nearly all costs.  Just as we often complain that architects are lacking in business acumen, I find that they often also lack in managerial and communication skills as well.

And that's part of the sad truth about not just architecture but most professions--people advance into managerial positions with incomplete skill sets.  Your manager, like a lot of architects that advance up the ladder in a firm, is a great architect and a so-so manager.  One of the best, most useful skills you can develop as an intern is good communication skills, which include being able to confront people in a respectful way.  It's a skill that most people, regardless of their major, don't have (or don't have much of), so if you can develop this in even a small way, you'll be ahead of the pack.    The fact that you and Laura were able to triage the situation, consider the best plan of attack (i.e., talking to HR before the manager, and to frame the problem as a timesheet/auditing issue), and express your concerns in what was hopefully a respectful manner--those are good skills to have.  Again, it sounds like you did the best you could.  You'll probably not be able to stop the behavior totally, but at least more than one person in the management food chain knows that you know that this person is acting inappropriately, making it harder for management to ignore the behavior in the future if it escalates or morphs into some other unethical activity.

Got a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Drop me a line in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A cold and a deadline? Why, you shouldn't have!

Folks, it’s been one of those weeks…well, one of those months, really.  Not only do I have a 100% CD deadline a week from today, I have a cold/flu/bubonic death funk to beat the band.  And here I was, all excited to get some Redlined Resumes done and posted.  No such luck.

I beg your pardon while I get through this deadline and illness simultaneously.  Meanwhile, I was sent a great website that provides basic references for architects.  ArchToolbox has all kinds of wonderful little bits on it—basic info on spacing sprinkler heads, this difference between all the cuts of lumber (plain, quarter, etc.), different types of locksets, and so on.  (Man, where was this website 11 years ago when I first started working? :-) )  While it’s not complete with every single thing you ever wanted to know about architecture, it can give you a good start on understanding many of the building blocks of design and construction (or in my case, a good refresher course!).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I respond when asked about salary and work hours?

First of all, I cannot thank y'all enough for sending in some great questions lately.  I've got so many topics to blog about that it almost makes me dizzy.  I've also received some great resumes for my long-languishing feature Redlined Resumes, about which I have been gravely remiss and need to get off my ass and post a few.  Meanwhile, here's a great question from A. regarding salary and other details in an interview:

I recently just graduated with my Masters in Architecture and just had my first job interview. I have a lot of questions for you if you wouldn't mind answering them. I feel as though my fellow colleagues may be withholding information from me to keep that competitive edge. During my interview, I was asked about starting salary, benefits, and work hours. Would you mind if I picked your brain and asked you a few questions? My concerns are that I am being taken advantage and would like to know where the profession stands on these topics. 

Wow, A.  You were asked about starting salary in a first job interview, where the interviewer clearly had to know that s/he was interviewing an entry-level person?  That's kinda weird to me, as how are you supposed to know what the market really bears as someone with little to no experience?  Websites like salary.com are only helpful to a point, as I think architecture as a profession holds its cards a little too close to the vest when it comes to what we make (and what we all should make).  That being said, some firms do report what they pay to whom, and those results make it into certain documents, such as the 2008 AIA Compensation Report.  That report showed that in the first quarter of 2008, intern pay averaged $45,400 a year.  But note the asterisks by that figure--that includes interns with a wide range of experience levels as well as (or so it would seem) geographical locations.  If you lump together an intern with one year of experience in Denver (making $32,000) and a six-year intern in New York (making $55,000), the mathematical average is $43,500.  (Regional reports are also available from the AIA, which might be more valuable to the average architect or intern.)  Plus, this report was compiled and released before the Great Recession really kicked in, so those numbers may be skewed even more.  

Having said all that, I've seen and heard of a few interns with 0-2 years experience here in Denver getting paid about $16/hour for their starting salaries.  I think it's unfortunate that our culture--American, not architectural--has a stigma towards money and discussing salaries.  Especially among interns, it's helpful to know what you "should" be asking for or expecting so that you can know if you're being compensated appropriately or if you're being taken for a ride.

Asking you about benefits and work hours might be a way for the interviewer to test your work ethic and sense of entitlement, or at least that's my guess.  S/He wants to see what you "expect" to have in a workplace, both in terms of the "freebies" (which aren't free) and how committed you are to work.  Are you a slacker who just wants to warm a chair for 40 a week, or are you more motivated?  Or are you so desperate that you'll let them abuse you week in and week out for 60 hours at a time?  

If you're new to the job market, I would turn the question back to the interviewer: what would most of the employees here say if I asked them about their workweek and workload?  If I were an intern and were pressed further on the topic, I might say something along the following lines:

  • work hours: "I suppose 40 hours is the norm in the workplace, and I'm fine with that.  However, I understand that sometimes the job takes more or less than that number, and I'm willing to do the work it takes to make our firm look good.  How would the employees here describe their workweek length and tasks?"
  • benefits: "I see working with a firm as a symbiotic relationship--I provide high-quality architectural services that help us gain and keep clients and make a mark on the built world in our market, and in return I gain knowledge about how to do that job even better through the support of the firm.  Sometimes that support is through additional training or continuing education opportunities, and sometimes that support is through time off that allows me to heal from an illness or take a break and recharge.  How does your firm view employee benefits?"
If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to ask, feel free to do so via email in the sidebar or in the comments.  Thanks!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Studying for the ARE: finding study buddies and materials

Recently, a reader asked in the comments on this post I did about ARE study tips:

1. I just finished B.Arch at University of Oregon. And now I'm back in Newcastle, WA where I live and know practically nobody. Can you think of a source to find study buddies? And maybe what the best forum to work with?
2. Books, Visuals. I know you mentioned two sources up there, I'm going to try to look them up, but any other recommendations?
3. How did you go about choosing your order of the exams?

Let's start with the first question.  If you've moved somewhere after finishing your degree, did you move there for a job?  If so, get to know your coworkers and ask them if they or anyone they know are studying for the ARE.  If you've moved home because of a lack of work, check with your nearest AIA chapter about classes or ARE study groups.  AIA Denver (here in my adopted hometown) puts on low-cost classes to help interns prepare for each of the ARE exams.  Also, NCARB's website might have some good info on study groups (either existing ones or on forming your own).  As for forums, areforum.org can be helpful, but by the end of my husband's and my time taking the ARE, we quit visiting it because it seemed like the only people on the site were those with extreme panic disorders.  Read the site, but take the OMG!!!?! THISTESTISSOHARD!1!!! tone of the comments with a grain of salt.  And a large margarita. 

NCARB also may have some resources for helping you study for the ARE; I haven't looked lately, but they've been getting more info on their website lately.  The interns around me are saying good things about both the Kaplan study guides and the Ballast study guides.  I've heard especially good things about the Kaplan ARE Complete Library, which includes 24 months of online access to additional online study supplements.  It's pricey at $1300, but if you go in on it with several friends/study buddies, you can offset the cost somewhat.  (Some folks sell their used study materials to other interns for less that what they paid after they've finished the ARE.)  If nothing else, get the flash cards.  I'd have to say that every test I took had at least three or four questions that came straight from the flashcards.

As for the order of taking the tests, bear in mind that I took them when there were nine tests: six multiple guess and three graphics tests.  My husband and I thought about what sounded easiest to us, i.e., what could we have the best chance of passing, given our work experiences in the last year or two?  For us, Construction Documents and Materials and Methods were the obvious first choices, since we both had a great deal of experience detailing buildings and working with the actual process of getting a project built.  We then reasoned to take the two structures tests together (General Structures and Lateral Forces), as the knowledge of studying one added to and built on the other.  We then took the last two multiple guess tests, which were MEP and Pre-Design.  Finally, we took the three graphics ones, starting with the toughest one (Site Design) and saving Schematic Design for last because it seemed like the easiest of the three.  By taking a couple of "easy" ones first, we were hoping to build our confidence up to take the tougher ones in the middle.  Taking the tough ones in the middle would hopefully give us time to fail a test and wait six months to take it again while taking possibly-easy-ish other tests.  While there are now only seven tests and they all combine multiple guess and graphics, the principle remains the same--start with the topic you think you might know best, then take the toughest ones so you have time to fail them if need be.  (Note: my husband and I didn't fail any of the sections, but it's no shame or crime to fail one or more.  It happens to the best architects.)

Got a question you'd like to ask or a topic you 'd like to see discussed here?  Ask me via email in the sidebar or in the comments, and thanks for all the questions and input!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What makes it "worth it"?

I recently got a comment on the very first post I ever did on Intern 101 that asked a good question.  I noted at the end of that post that I myself nearly left architecture but am glad I stayed and that staying in the profession is worth it.  Reader DRob26 asked:

I really appreciate your insight as I am a new intern. It seems to be a difficult transition from school to practice. I have only been here 4 months, and I have often wanted to quit. You say staying is worth it. What made it worth staying?

First of all, I really feel your pain, DRob26--the shock of going from school to work can make a person curl up in a ball in the bathroom floor sometimes, and even today I have moments where I think Good Lord, did I really spend all that time in school for this?!  (Apparently, yes.)  But the question still stands: why did I say it was worth it even if I find myself now and again wishing I'd gotten a degree in psychology or mortuary science instead of architecture?  (Those who know me personally know that I'd make a great embalmer and funeral home director.  I'm not particularly goth, I just find the whole process of dealing with death interesting.  Every vacation I take eventually involves touring a graveyard.  But I digress....)

One of the reasons I'm glad I stayed in is that I gave myself enough time to experience a wide range of the architectural profession's ups and downs.  No offense to DRob26's four months in a firm, but anything less than two or three years isn't much to base a career (or career change) on. Projects in a firm last too long to make a quick decision about what's good, bad, exciting, or craptastic about the profession you've chosen and for which you've spent volumes of time in school.  In a way, joining a firm is where the rubber really meets the road--it's where things get exciting, and you find out if you really can handle all that's being asked of you.   Furthermore, time spent at one firm also may not be enough experience on which to base a career.  I've spoken with interns whose first firms out of school were everything from bland to Stephen King-esque nightmares; interns either did the same types of plan details over and over for two months straight at the blah firms, while other interns were forced to work 20 hours of unpaid overtime a week or sexually harassed by the firm owner.  All of the interns in these firms I just described have since left those firms and are now much happier and fulfilled at other firms.

I considered leaving architecture while working for a frustrating jerk back in the early 2000s.  He was arrogant and would behave either passive-aggressively or as if he were bipolar--laughing and joking one moment, then fifteen minutes later he was cursing loudly and throwing code books.  Other people at my firm were talking about how great my firm was and how much better it was that where they used to work, and all I could think was Jesus, really?  If it's so great, and I'm so miserable, then clearly I shouldn't be in architecture at all.  However, a few months after I had this feeling/realization, he told his project team that he was leaving our firm and moving out of state to start his own firm closer to his family out east.  It was only after he left and I was able to work with another manager in the office, one that many people refused to work for because he was "strict and overly-serious", that I found out that the problem wasn't the firm or the profession but rather the manager.  I was finally working with someone who was more interested in teaching me how to be a good architect than in eating a whole bowl of crazy every morning before coming to work.  Once I was able to experience that difference, I could settle down and enjoy the profession for real.

The other reason I'm glad I've stayed is that after working my butt off, I'm now reaping some of the fruits of my labors.  I spent years slogging through details and drawings and code books and project after project, and I've finally developed the expertise to know if I can or can't locate a soiled utility room in a certain part of a department or how a room has to be built differently if it has one kind of equipment versus another.  I've developed the ability to look at a corridor in a floor plan and know almost instantly if it meets code (IBC, ADA, or various state and national healthcare guidelines).  By learning constantly and producing good work and retaining knowledge and managing my projects well, I've earned the right to run some of my own projects and have interns help me draw and detail and do code research on those projects.  And because I'm in charge, I finally get to do it my way.  While adjusting to the changes in my workdays and workweeks hasn't always been easy, at least I'm not doing the same thing over and over for eleven years.  And because I learned what I needed to learn and am still learning more and more, architecture is, in some ways, becoming easier.

Architecture can be an addictive profession.  You work so hard for so long for that brief, strange payoff of walking into a building you drew that has been built and indeed has come to life.  For me, it's the payoff of having the users--the people without whose input I couldn't have done the work--run up to me in the new building and proclaim how great it looks, and how well it works, and how wonderful it is.  Those moments are rare and few indeed.  I've done a lot of remodeling jobs lately, one of which was in a very busy clinic in a metropolitan area.  The clinic's project manager, the contractor, and I were all standing in the newly-renovated lobby recently, discussing the open items from the punchlist and wondering how to phase the next part of construction because there had been so many complaints about the temporary walls we'd had to put up for the first phase...and a little old lady came out of nowhere and put her hand on my arm.  She looked up at me and said, "I want you to know that this lobby  looks so nice...it's just so pretty in here, and I just love it!"

That, my friends, was worth it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy belated Labor Day, hopefully without the labor!

I just got back from an extended Labor Day weekend, in which I unplugged and checked no email or voicemail, turned off my cellphone, and didn't watch a lick of TV.  It was unbelievably relaxing, and it was just what I needed.  I actually heard someone lament today at they were annoyed that our IT department shut down the servers over the three-day weekend so they could do some upgrades.  My colleague had wanted to work on a deadline over the weekend, and he was rather piqued that he hadn't been able to use a three-day weekend productively.  I thought to myself, what could be more productive that staying the hell home and getting a little extra sleep and having brunch with a mimosa or twothreeseven?

I've emphasized before on this blog that there are times when you're just going to have to pull long days/nights and weekends, but as the book of Ecclesiastes said, to everything there is a season.  There's a time to work a lot, and there's a time to go home and actually enjoy your three-day weekend.  Here's hoping you all did just that.

I've been emailed some great questions and comments as well as post ideas, and I plan to get to them in the next few weeks here.  I welcome more comments and questions, as always.  In the meantime, please be patient as I get through the pileup in my email inbox from a five-day weekend!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: following up on some comments

I've gotten some new readers recently who posted some good questions on old blog posts.  Being that they were good questions, and being that I'm about to go on vacation and am not feeling particularly motivated to say anything fresh or new, I thought it might be helpful to post responses to these questions.  First, a question from Anthony, on this post about whether or not to go to grad school:

I have a B.Arch already, is there any need to get an M.Arch besides 20% salary boost? Just curious for an outside and well experienced view. Especially from one that has an M.Arch. 

Good question.  The short answer is no, the M.Arch probably isn't worth your time in the eyes of an employer.  If you have a B.Arch, then you already have a professional degree--you'll be required to work for the same number of hours to complete IDP as someone with an M.Arch.  The longer answer is that more than just education gets you a boost in salary.  For example, you and Intern X might work at the same firm with the same amount of experience, but you make a dollar less an hour than Intern X because he has an M.Arch.  But let's say you get licensed a year before Intern X--you keep on top of your IDP hours, make sure you get them, and don't drag your feet when it comes to signing up for and taking the exams.  In general, bam, you get a raise over Intern X.  Let's say you then decide a year or so later that you're ready to move on and you change firms.  Again, in general, bam, you get another raise over Intern X.  Suddenly, you've closed the pay gap and passed Intern X without having to add another degree.  (Also, I think there's a rule against having more than one professional degree in architecture, unless you go from a B.Arch to a Ph.D. Arch.)  Bottom line: there's more than one way to increase your pay in architecture, and an M. Arch is only one of those ways.

Next question is from Drob26, who commented on a post about being underpaid.  When I mentioned that up until about three years of being out of school, interns are mostly interchangeable, Drob26 asked:

Why is it three years of experience? Is that because that's, normally, how long it takes to get licensed or finish the IDP?

Not at all.  Technically, it's supposed to take three years to complete the IDP if all goes according to plan, but it's more about experience.  After three years in a firm, it's highly likely that you've experienced all the phases of a project at least once (or at least have passing knowledge of the phases), know how to act professionally in a firm, and are skillful with multiple types of software.  Three years of experience has given you a chance to figure out where your skills lie--planning, CA, software, rendering, code research, etc.  Also, if you've spent all three of those years at the same firm, it means you have a great deal of firm understanding--you know what the standards are, what typical details the firm uses, how the firm's drawings look, and so on.  Having those skills makes you more valuable, especially when a lot of work needs to be done quickly in a short amount of time--you know what you're doing, and no one has to train you on the majority of typical tasks for the project.

Got a question you'd like to ask or a topic you'd like to see discussed here?  Drop me a line in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!