Monday, January 7, 2013

Career forks in the road: When is it time to quit architecture?

I've gotten various versions of the "is it time to quit architecture" question from folks all over the country for the past couple of years. I take these questions seriously, as I realize that this question is more than skin deep.  It's a question of soul-searching, so many worries and dreams rolled into one sticky question. And I'm not sure that I overall have a good answer.

Like any good architect, my first impulse is to ask questions and troubleshoot.  Where are you now, what have you done so far, and what else are you willing to do?

Are you at least working now, even if it's not in architecture?  Good--that keeps the rent paid, or at least lets you pay your parents while you stay in your old room (and there's no shame in that). Plus, it makes you take a shower every morning, which staves off depression. Can you refinance, etc. or doing your student loans to buy you some time?  It might be worth it.

Have you talked to any firms in your area?  It doesn't have to be for a job interview, but maybe you talk with them just as a "where do you see the profession going in the next couple of years" conversation, and maybe a little "hey, what do you think of my resume and portfolio" thrown in. Find all the various architecture groups in your area and attend some functions, chat up some folks, and make some connections there as well. 

Can't get a job in architecture? There's no shame in doing Revit or CAD work for an engineering firm, nor is it a bad thing to work for an architectural product rep for a while.  At least you'll get to meet some architects (hopefully) along the way, which again will give you some contacts.

Where do you live now? The market might be really depressed there, so you may be better off moving and working elsewhere.  Where are you willing to move to?  Boston, New York, and San Francisco are nice, but there may also be jobs in Houston, Des Moines, Billings, Reno, etc. Be willing to move somewhere not on the Map of Awesomeness in order to get a good gig.

Do you have a 4-year degree and no B.Arch or M.Arch?  If you're still jobless, maybe going to grad school will give you time to weather the craptastic economy. Then when you get out, you're that much closer to being licensed.  I realize that also depends on financial aid, etc., but if you can swing it, it could be worth it.

So...what if you've done all these things and are still getting nowhere?

I don't know.  I do the best I can on this little blog to advise and inspire and cheerlead and counsel, but there's only so much I know and only so much I can do. I'll be the first to admit that I've been somewhat lucky--I got out of college during a booming economic time and have managed to stay employed for 12.5 straight years. Those of you still trying to get into (or back into) architecture have possibly done more than I would have done to stay in architecture.  So, failing any practical advice, I say this to you:

It's only time to quit architecture when you're ready to quit.  If you've been slogging along and trying to get in and not having any luck, it's okay to walk away.  This has been a brutal 3-4 years for everyone, you included, and no one can (or likely will) blame you for throwing in the towel. But I have to say that people who have been unemployed or have had to work like hell to get into this profession in this economy are good people to have in a firm, because they Give A Damn.  And I'll take one Give A Damner over three comfortable people who have settled and want to warm a chair for 8 hours a day. Give A Damners make things happen and pay attention and listen and learn because they know what it's like to not have a chance.

Only you can really answer this question.  If you quit, I understand, and the Universe/God/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster be with you.  You have every right.  But I hope you'll stay.

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