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!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

YAF Mentoring Series: Doing Good Work Webinar

Yet again, the Young Architects Forum (YAF) is sponsoring another webinar (with which you can gain 1.5 LUs!) on doing good work.  I love that the YAF is doing the kind of thing that I encourage firms to do with their interns in my AIA seminars and hopefully on this blog.  If you work at a firm that doesn't yet have any mentorship programs going on, or if you're between firms, this is a good option.  (Though frankly, I think this kind of webinar can be helpful even if you get great mentorship wherever you work.)  You can see a description of the event and register for it here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

101 Things I Didn't Learn in Architecture School

I'm a fan of the little book 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.  It's compact, simply illustrated (and illustrative), honest, and well-done.  However, a colleague of mine recently sent me this link for 101 Things I Didn't Learn in Architecture School.  First of all, how have I lived my life without knowing that ArchDaily existed?  I think I really do live under a rock.  Second, this list is the perfect counterpoint to Matthew Frederick's lovely tome.  This is the realistic side of architecture in a no-nonsense but civil list.  

My personal favorites:
9. It's architecture, not medicine.  You can take a break and no one will die.
12. The industry underpays.  Push for what you are worth.
49. If you are an architect, you should automatically qualify for psychotherapy and medication.
68.  Archi-babble does not make you sound cool.
98. Being good at software does not make you a good architect.

Have a look at the list and tell me in the comments: which ones ring true for you?  What's missing from the list?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Managing Up: Lulu, this is the print button....

As I've moved into a more managerial role in the last 18 months, I've had to rely on my interns more and more to do things that I used to do for myself when I was an intern or new architect.  While I'm answering an onslaught of emails and phone calls about the project, someone else is doing the redlines instead of me.  And that's a weird feeling, handing off something I used to do all the time to someone else, hoping they do it right.  I've gotten more used to the process now, and my interns are good, solid folks.  They know what they're doing and how to do it, and if they don't know, then they ask.  

The same goes for me--if I don't know, I have to ask, and sometimes the people I ask are my interns.  When I began working on a large project in Revit with an intern, I grew frustrated when I would print out a floor plan and find that notes had still not been picked up from my redlines.  I finally confronted him about this, asking him if I wasn't giving him enough time to complete the redlines.  Turns out that I was printing from the wrong plans in Revit--some of the notes he was making were view-dependent, so of course they weren't going to show up on what I printed out if I didn't print the plan he put those notes in.  Fortunately for me, I had a good intern who did two things right away: one, he assumed ignorance and not malice and began problem-solving and troubleshooting; and two, he taught me how to do what I needed in less than five minutes.

The first point is important regardless of who is giving you criticism and regardless of the setting (architecture firm, graphic design, English department, etc.).  While I did try hard to approach my intern with a mindset of that I'm causing the problem (i.e., not giving him enough time to finish the job), it would have been easy for him to jump to a defensive posture: "how dare you question if I'm getting my work done!"  Instead, he approached the situation with a problem-solving mindset: "huh, that's weird, I know I did those, show me how you printed them out and let's see if there's a setting that funky on your computer...."  By troubleshooting the problem instead of taking personal offense, he figured out that I was printing out the wrong plan views.

The second part of my intern's smooth move was to show me what to do instead.  He showed me which plans I should use to print from and what settings to use in order to print the plans correctly.  Moreover, he made that process easier wherever and whenever he could.  I would get an email occasionally that explained briefly how to print something or find something with only one or two mouse clicks.  This was brilliant on his part--now, not only do I not feel quite so stupid, but I also have the knowledge to print something for myself on a late night or weekend, or if he's busy working on something urgent for me and needs to stay focused, not printing random plans.

While not everything might be solved this simply in your office, it's a good lesson overall.  My intern figured out how to manage up, how to explain and make simple for me a quick lesson to help me get what I want, even if he's not available to give it to me.  Just as interns need to learn from architects, the opposite is also true.  Bear in mind that not all of your bosses have worked a lot in Revit or Illustrator and don't always know what to do when they need something.  They don't always know what they're asking you to do; they may not realize that asking you to change how something looks means a laborious three-hour process of practically rewriting the software itself.  Anytime you can teach your boss how to do something or how something works in five minutes or less (ten for really big stuff), you not only help them help themselves, you also decrease your own stress a little.  Plus, the added benefit is that, as weird as this seems, your boss feels kinda cool--suddenly, they know a little more about this complicated, futuristic thing you work with all the time.  Knowledge is power, and giving your boss a little power and actually helps him/herself is, well, empowering.

Got a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to ask?  Feel free to leave it in the comments or ask me via email int he sidebar.  I've gotten some good questions lately on mentoring in a small firm and on looking for jobs long distance, so i'll be getting to those shortly.  Thanks!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Further thoughts on overtime: avoiding the extremes

This week, one of my colleagues became very ill and left work in the middle of the day due to an unbearable headache.  She could barely see, kept throwing up in the women's room, and couldn't stop crying from the pain.  One of our managers followed her to the hospital, where she learned she was having a compound migraine.  The physician on duty in the ED said that it was likely cause by a prolonged lack of rest--not just lack of sleep, but lack of rest.  No one was surprised, in a way--all of us who sat near this colleague knew she had been working a lot on her project, but it turns out that even with being out sick for nearly three days, she still managed to log 51 hours for the week.  Yeowch.

What I also find interesting about this incident is that the colleague in question is not an intern with a couple of years' worth of experience trying to prove herself, but rather a licensed architect with 12 or so years in the business.  But I knew her before she was licensed, and she did the same thing--worked and worked and worked until she nearly couldn't see straight, then accidentally hurt herself in some way, either by cutting her hand while fixing a sandwich or getting into an accident on her bike or in her car or something else along those lines.  My coworkers and I respect our colleague deeply and admire her work ethic and the quality of projects she puts out, but at what cost are these results happening?  Is it worth it?  We've suggested to her that she temper her work schedule a bit, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

When it comes to working overtime, neither extreme is a good one.  If you never work overtime, especially when it's clearly available and needs to be done, you make it clear that work is really not that important to you--not the client, not your colleagues, not the project, nothing.  It will make your colleagues resentful and reluctant to work with you in the future ("Really? S/He can't come in for one weekend day or just stay late or come in early for a couple days this week?  Nothing over 40, really?").  It will also make advancement difficult if not impossible; no one is going to give you more responsibilities or more interesting or complicated work if you have shown that you're barely willing to do the smaller stuff you were given at first.  If doing the minimum at work is what you want, then have at it...but bear in mind that you'll be easy to get rid of if management needs to thin the ranks at some point.

But always working overtime is no better than working none at all really.  It's Bad, but it's a different flavor of Bad from never working overtime.  Sure, you prove yourself worthy of being kept on versus someone who never works overtime, but you run the risk of becoming one of these people (who, by the way, are all personalities that I've personally witnessed in the workplace):

  • The Muck-Up: you work lots of overtime because you mess things up during the 8-to-5 and have to fix them.  You think your dedication to your job and the projects makes you look good--I'll fix my mistakes even if it takes all weekend, because I care!--but what it means is that you're not getting the training or support you need from your project manager and your more experienced colleagues.  Solution: check in with your colleagues and/or managers more often, perhaps even three or four times a day.  Getting regular input can stop a small misunderstanding from being a huge eff-up that robs you of a weekend.
  • The Surfer: you work overtime because you waste time during the 8-to-5: chatting away with colleagues, surfing the internet (hence the moniker "Surfer"), taking long lunches, or constantly running personal errands during work hours.  (Note: while there's room for all of these activities in a workday and workweek to a point, the Surfer does them extensively and very regularly.)   You think your overtime makes you look dedicated, and even gives you a bit of the Martyr flavor (see below)--I just can't get it all done during the day, so I'll work overtime and look good!--but your colleagues know how much time you waste...and maybe you do too.  Solution: Really do a gut check about how much time you spend working, and/or how that time is spent.  I personally used to think that I could get work done while IM'ing my sister, but I realized that the constant interruption was keeping me from focusing.  Know that there is a season for everything--a time for checking out LOLCats, and a time for getting those plan details knocked out with some real attention.
  • The Martyr: you work constantly and complain about how much you work and all the things you have to do, but you don't take the opportunity to solve the problem: get more staff, get your manager to take something off your to-do list, move the deadline out a little (occasionally, this can be done), and so on.  You work the overtime thinking that you're the only one that can do it and that everyone will notice--they'll see what they're doing to me when they look at my timesheet and my haggard expression and wrinkled workclothes!--but it often gets overlooked and frankly taken for granted.  Your boss only know that you're doing the work and it's getting done, but s/he has no idea about the self-flagellating monologue in your head.  Solution: ask for help--there's no way around it.  Your boss will take whatever you'll give him/her, and s/he only knows that you're giving too much when you speak up.  If you're giving too much week in and week out, show him/her what needs to be done and what would be the ideal solution (i.e., another person to help out for a week or two, more time, someone to check the drawings).  Failing that, take a weekend off or only work 40 hours a week now and then.  It's not going to kill you, and you'll probably be more productive when you've had a break.
  • The Go-to Guy: you work overtime constantly because you've been willing and available to do so in the past, so your boss (or other bosses) put you in the position of having to work yet more overtime.  You work the overtime thinking that it makes you look like a keeper--Well, they know they can depend on me and I'm capable...and I can always use the money!--but it's likely that you agree to overtime because of fear.  You're afraid to turn down the work because you think you might get fired for saying no, so you say yes to anything and everything, and you become exhausted and run down...and burned out.  (I've seen the Go-to Guy and the Martyr most during the recession, by the way.)  Solution: I know it's hard, but say no once in a while.  Just like with The Martyr, your boss will take as much as s/he can get out of you, so it's up to you to set and maintain your boundaries with work and your energy.  This can be one of the hardest things to do, but holding a boundary, saying no once in a while, and refusing to let your boss make you feel guilty or frightened because of the occasional no is very empowering.  Also, it ultimately helps you save your energy so that everything you do is of high-quality...which is why they asked you to help in the first place!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: Should I use a headhunter to find a job?

Intern 101 reader C. writes:

Might it be usual/helpful for job-searching intern architects to use headhunters? And do you know if there any that cater towards architecture in the US? (I've only been able to find ones in the UK!)

Good question, C.  The short answers to the two questions posed here are, unfortunately, no and kinda.  Headhunters in general are professionals who find other hard-to-get professionals for companies that have a specific need--a hospital administrator who used to work in Canada, a software designer who has used certain types of software and can speak Chinese, a geologist who has worked in the oil and mining industry, and so on.  Architectural interns in the U.S., especially those with less than four or so years of experience, are not that hard to find--there are literally thousands, if not over 10,000, to choose from.  Therefore a headhunter is of no use to an architecture firm when it comes to finding interns. You're better off looking for jobs through local AIA job boards, looking at firm websites, and asking your friends if they know of anyone who's hiring.

I should confess that I was once called by a headhunter about seven or so years ago when I was an intern with about three-and-a-half or four years under my belt.  The headhunter was looking for someone with a lot of healthcare experience to fill a position at another firm somewhere in the West.  Turns out that this headhunter had received my name from an architect who used to work at my firm, which is the firm at which I'm still working in 2011.  (Guess the architect thought I might be ready to get out of there.  He guessed wrong.)

That leads me to C.'s second question.  Headhunters do exist in the architecture/ engineering/ construction industry.  They mostly look for people with a special skill set, such as experience in certain building types (e.g., healthcare, correctional, stadiums) or with unusual situations and experiences (e.g., have worked on buildings in New York or California or Alaska, have built projects for the BLM or Corps of Engineers).  Since I've been licensed, I've received a couple of calls from headhunters, but the jobs for which they're seeking candidates are usually out of state.  (Those poor guys--it's hard as hell to find someone willing to move out of Colorado.  Once they've lived here for a little over a year, most people don't want to leave.)  I usually send these people along, maybe with a couple of names.  I like where I am and so far don't have a reason to leave.

Since the economy took a dive in 2008, the headhunter's calls have been rarer, to be sure.  Just like with interns, there are now so many architects and engineers in the pool of talent that you don't need a lot of help finding a good candidate.  Your best bets for finding a job in this economy are to peruse job boards, ask your friends, and be willing to move.  Mobility is something many interns have over architects.  You're less likely to have spouses and kids to uproot, so it's easier to get you to move to the next city or state, or even several states (I moved from Florida to Colorado in 2000 for my job, the one I still have today).

Got a question you'd like to ask?  Let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar.  And thanks--remember that this site works best when you contribute!