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.