Saturday, August 25, 2012

Interns as the Great Reminders

I talked with an intern recently who expressed frustration with the process of getting a mid-year raise for passing the ARE. He mentioned at his end of year review that he was only one test away from finishing, and he did end up passing his last test in February. He mentioned the possibility of getting a mid-year raise to his manager. The manager brought it up in a management meeting in March, and he told the intern-now-architect that there was "strong support" for a mid-year raise. But alas, that was March, and it's now nearly fall. The new architect said to me, "I don't wanna toot my own horn or nag, but what am I supposed to do?"

Well, personally, I'd recommend tooting your own horn and nagging.

Part of managing up to your managers is reminding them of what you've discussed: you'll be off next Thursday and Friday, there's a conference call at 1 pm, s/he needs to look at the plan you printed out for them, yes it's on their desk. But sometimes you have to remind your bosses of what you've been promised: a mid-year raise, flex time, reimbursement for a test or some other professional expense. It's easy for well-meaning managers to forget sand for not-well-meaning managers to ignore. Reminding them lets them know that they need to deal with this issue, like it or not.

It's easy and natural to feel like you're being a jerk or a braggart when you remind your boss of a request. These reminders are necessary in a modern architecture firm when people get busy. A gentle reminder is okay and sometimes even welcome ("hey Carl, what did the principals say when you discussed my mid-year raise with them? Do you need anything from me to make that conversation go anywhere?").

Monday, August 20, 2012

A note to my loyal and inspiring readers

Folks, I've received a lot of email recently from you, and the messages simultaneously dishearten and inspire me.  So many of the emails include tales of workplaces and bosses that range from schmucky to horrible to downright abusive and hostile (so much that a few of you might have some legal recourse, if you were so inclined).  I read at least once a week about someone working tons of thankless overtime or being shouted at in meetings due to minor infractions, and it makes me weep that my profession dares to behave this way, as if somehow passing the ARE entitles one to acting like a jackass and treating others like dirt.

But I'm also inspired that in each of these emails is the same grain of hope: "It can't be like this always, right?"  "I know it gets better, so what should I do?"  "How can I solve this problem with my boss/client/coworker?"  Each email contains a sense of positive reality--knowing that the situation in which the writer finds him/herself isn't "just the way things are" and knowing that it's supposed to be better.  The fact that time and again this hope and knowledge reveals itself tells me that the architectural workplace is undergoing a slow sea change.

Now and again I read some headline that's meant to alarm me: "Millennials will take over the workplace by [insert year here]!!!1!!"  My first thought is no, they're not going to "take over", it's just that they will be the majority of the workforce but not necessarily in charge.  And then my second thought is good--I'd like to see the workplace get taken over by a group of people who work hard but also have a realistic sense of work/life boundaries and insist on being treated like human beings.  My hope is that enough of you do recognize that humane treatment of employees and coworkers and good pay is a right, not a perk...and you'll flock to the firms that support these initiatives and desert those that don't. 

But in the meantime, the questions and situations still come.  The resumes ripe for redlining are sitting on my desk, waiting to be looked over and eager for some face time with a red pen.  And in my day-to-day life, my dream project--a rural greenfield hospital with a medical office building--has just kicked off with a vengeance and a fast schedule.  Furthermore, some recent changes in my health have me realizing that I need to incorporate a little more down time into a schedule that is fast getting more and more packed.

So I beg your patience in addressing the questions and resumes that are coming in.  Every email I get is read and considered, and I don't want to fire off a half-wit, half-ass response on this blog when I'm being asked some pretty important and serious questions. If you have emailed me a question or situation, feel free to email and remind me, or even add more details, or update me on how things are going. 

Many, many thanks again to everyone who has read, commented, or submitted a question or resume to Intern 101.  I appreciate your patience and involvement.  I'm not going anywhere; it's just taking me longer to get back to everyone.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: burned out and micro-managed

The lament in R's email is probably familiar to some of you.  Oh, how I wish it wasn't:

I feel like my work life has completely consumed my personal life.  I have been working for a large firm (500 + employees) for over two years and workload is unrelenting, unappreciated, and micro managed.  My work load has average 70+ hours, consisting of a  6 or 7 day work week over the course of two years.  My skill set varies from advanced computational design, rendering, and being able to complete several project types of construction documents with minimal oversight.   I've graduated in the past five years and completed several parts of the ARE, but my work load prohibits me from being able to successfully study to gain my professional license.

It's not the unrelenting hours and unappreciated part that upsets me, but being micro managed to the point that I feel completely incompetent in the most menial tasks.  My senior designer is one of those "personalities" that can not consider something complete until his fingerprint has been cemented in every facet of the design.    It  has gotten to the point that normal dialog becomes combative just on the premise of winning the argument, not about right or wrong or even design.  I feel completely helpless and taken advantage of in my current situation.  Is their a way to address this without being too aggressive?  Or is time just to cut and run?

Your question deserves multiple posts, R., but for now my super-short answer to you is to either ask to work for someone else in your company (since it's so large), and if that fails or doesn't seem to be an option, it's time to look elsewhere.  Super-high workload + micromanaging = burnout.  No proper, sane company of ANY KIND, architectural or otherwise, can refute that essential truth of humankind.  The unrelenting hours and lack of appreciation should upset you, though.  If someone has been able to keep you busy for 60 hours a week for 2 years straight, then they had the workload to hire another person.  If they didn't have the cash to hire another person with that kind of workload, then they're shitty businesspeople, and they deserve to lose talent.

As for the micromanaging, there are certain things you can do to try to stem the flow that behavior, but it sounds like you might not care to have that dialogue any more, and with good reason. The reason you feel taken advantage of is because YOU ARE BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.  You have no personal life and no way to finish taking the ARE because you spend all your time working. If you like the company otherwise, I would recommend going to HR or whoever is in charge of making the teams and asking to be put on a different teams (and explain why in a professional manner).  If you've tried this with no avail or you're just done, then polish up your resume and start looking.

I would like to address your concerns in some future posts in more depth, but for now, please take care of yourself and keep me posted on how things progress.

All the best,

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: I'm doing everything I can to get a job but nothing works--what now?!

I got a letter from M in Boston who has a dilemma that's likely familiar to many of you:

I am writing to you today because I feel very frustrated, demotivated and anxious about how my career path lately. A quick run down of my background :

Bachelor of Architecture, 2005 - Virginia Tech
Master of Architecture , 2007 - Virginia Tech
2007-2009 Architectural Designer job in a firm
2009-2010 Visiting Lecturer Position in Architecture at an international university for a year long contract.
2010 - 2011 : Hard time finding full time positions , upon returning from my international contract, so got back in to school.
2011: Associate in Construction Management - local community college.
2012 : Move to Boston and seeking full time position again, not only as Architectural Designer, but also as entry level construction manger, project coordinator or anything that will help  pursue my recent diversification towards construction management.

I am very interested in finishing my IDP and taking my AREs as soon possible. However, I am finding it very difficult to land a position in Boston as an Architectural Designer with my experience level. I have taken Revit classes and I know AutoCAD very well. I am great with Adobe CS - Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Sometimes, most job postings make it seem like knowing Revit is the only prerequisite of getting a job as an entry level and it feels as if my education is not worth anything, even as a starter.

I have been very frustrated lately because of the lack of response I have been receiving from the firms around here. I doubt NYC will be any better for me because of the fierce competition and relocation issues. Friends and family know of my financial situation with colege loans piling up and now high costs of Boston living and they suggest branching out to "something else that will pay your bills for now". I get scared of moving away from architecture since I am already falling behind my regular Intern path towards registration. Is it going to be harder for me obtain positions because of the gaps I will have in my resume?

Please suggest how I may change things for myself so that I can still use my degrees and pursue my passion for architecture. I use Archinect, Indeed and Boston Society of Architect's job boards for my job search and am willing to relocate to NYC, Washington DC for positions as well. I have started studying for my AREs even if my IDP hours are not done because Massachusetts allows taking the exams before finishing hours.

Good question, M. I shared your email with a few colleagues that are professors/instructors and architects to get some additional input.  The sum total of my advice to you is this:

  1. Welcome to the club--you're in good company.
  2. Be willing to move to more than just Boston, New York, or DC.
  3. Whatever you decide will be okay.
Regarding item #1: Architecture is still taking a pounding in the economic recovery.  As a field in general, we haven't recovered as much as many other fields (insert any other profession here).  There are a lot of qualified, solid graduates and young professionals that can't find work in their field.  That's especially true of architects, who are waiting for developers and owners to release the capital to start designing and building; and of teachers and professors, who are seeing their positions and benefits and salaries get cut due to a lack of local, state, and federal revenue.  But some places are indeed growing and seeing some action, which leads me to Item #2. 

Item #2 is in your favor.  The fact that you've been willing to teach outside the U.S. tells me that you're not particularly having to live at home with your parents or other family members in order to get by, which is good.  You clearly have the guts to go out, see new places, and make things happen for yourself.  But I'll tell you that the two coasts--East and West--are mighty crowded right now with people trying to find jobs in areas with high costs of living.  If you're willing to live somewhere other than the three very large, very East Coast places you listed, you might find some great opportunities in your field.  NYC has a lot of competition, but what if a firm in Des Moines, Iowa, or Houston, Texas, or Casper, Wyoming suddenly had a need for an intern with both an architecture degree and experience and an understanding of construction management?  No, those might not be super-urbane places, but there's a lot of potential in between the coasts.  These smaller, un-Coast-ish markets might be excited to have someone as well-traveled as you.  Plus, your cost of living will most likely be less than it would be in Boston/NYC/DC. 

Item #3 is about ultimate reality.  You might prefer to live in NYC and wait tables rather than be an intern and construction estimator in Omaha, Nebraska.  That is your choice.  And whatever that choice is, you'll be okay.  The truth about architecture is that your education is the cover charge that gets you into the nightclub that is our profession, and knowing Revit gets you a seat at the bar or on one of the nice cushioned benches.  Revit and rendering skills, or even Revit and construction management skills, gets you a spot in the center of the dance floor or even up in the DJ booth.  The real value of your education is that you've learned how to think like an architect, which is a skill that few people in proportion to the overall U.S. population posess.  You can look at a problem and think of five ways to solve it, whereas most people only can see one or maybe two.  Your education and experience so far has equipped you in a weird way to do well no matter what you decide, as hard as that is to see right now.  You might end up as a clerk at a department store...and with a little time and initiative you're doing the store windows for a three-state area because you have amazing ideas about space and color and design and adviertising.  You may become a vendor for a lighting company, and you eventually parlay that into something involving lighting for commercials and theater.  You may move to Cheboygan, Wisconsin to work with a 20-person firm to do cost estimating, and you turn it into your own estimation consulting firm once you get your license.
Whatever you do, your initiatives and effort won't be wasted.  Take a deep breath, consider your options, and flip off the naysayers.

All the best,

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A company blog worth reading

While surfing the web with a glass of Riesling this week, I happened upon the employee blog for architecture and engineering giant HDR.  BLiNK is a blog written by various HDR employees on a wide variety of topics: design, culture, planning, photography and art, recent projects, and even using Revit to design a quilt pattern.

As would be expected from a company blog, the posts aren't particularly incendiary.  They are, however, well-written and edited and even thought-provoking, such as the notion that using the auto setting on your camera is akin to cheating, or the acknowledgement that architecture as a profession is about careening from one deadline to the next.  It's interesting to read other people's thoughts about design and culture in a way that's clearly written for nonarchitects or those new to the profession.  I'm not sure how much (if any) veto power HDR has over its bloggers, but the posts are overall an excellent way to engage staff and possibly even engage the general public with architecture.