Saturday, December 22, 2012

Taking my own advice for once

I haven't posted or responded to anyone's emails lately because I've been absolutely worn out.  Work has been brutal, both with the actual workload and my travel schedule as well.  I'm going to take my own advice and unplug for the holiday season.  Hopefully I'll be back ready and refreshed in 2013.  And I hope all of you do the same.  Happy holidays and have a great 2013!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Know when to hold 'em, Part 2: career advice from Mark Twain

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
--Mark Twain, from

Speaking up in meetings and asking questions is something that I generally encourage interns to do.  You will very often be the least-experienced person in the room at a meeting until you've got about ten years' experience, so you might as well learn from those in the room with more experience.  (You can often learn what not to do by watching the dumber of these people, but that's another post.)  There are times when you have information about a project that needs to be shared, so you'll need to muster up the courage to share it.  You might need more information to understand how what you know (or don't know) fits in with the project or discussion, so you'll need to muster up the courage to ask. 

Long-time readers of Intern 101 know that I believe that architecture and construction are more ageist than sexist or racist.  Part of that is just old guys being cranky and crotchety.  But part of that is based on truth--you need to work on a certain amount of projects for a certain amount of time to learn, do, make mistakes, get yelled at for those mistakes by your boss or client or contractor or code official, and fix it the next go-round or on the next project. And to do that takes time. I'm working on a hospital project right now on which we began design in fall of 2011, and it won't be finished and operational until fall of 2014. If I started on it as an intern fresh out of college, I'd have three years' experience by the time we got substantial completion,  but I could still only say I'd worked on one hospital and one project in my career.

I want to encourage you all to keep asking questions and speaking up when you know you have information that could vitally affect the discussion at hand, but I'd also like to share a few situations in which you're best off staying silent:

  1. You're new to the project. Take time to learn what's going on and just listen.  No one's going to expect you to know everything just yet.  Plus, depending on what you say or ask, you're going to reveal just how little you know, which will decrease your already-possibly-tenuous credibility.
  2. You have less than 12-18 months experience.  See #1.
  3. You're new to this building/project type. Again, see #1.
  4. You think there might be an issue but you don't have all the facts. Make a note to yourself to go back and check the drawings or code or check with your boss, then let explain the situation in a follow-up email.
  5. You think/feel like you need to prove your qualifications or validate your presence.  The harder you try to say in not-so-many-words "I'm smart and good and I'm a grown-up and I deserve to be here!" the less everyone's going to believe it. Just nod and say, "I'll check on that when I get back to the office."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tis the season for random postings and craptastic apologies

So, I'm a flake.  Not a snowflake, but a flake-flake. A holy-shit-I-haven't-checked-my-hotmail-account-in-a-month flake.  Some of you have emailed me some resumes to redline and some really good work and career questions, and Someone Who Likes to Blog But Is A Dumbass And Got Busy With Work Deadlines and Holidays has been incredibly remiss in reponding.  Ergo, I'm a flake.

So, I beg your forgiveness with these mostly lighthearted websites/links/stuff to usher in this most festive of months.

If you decide to go to your office party, remember not to act a fool.

If you decide to go to your office party and don't know what to wear, go here.

The fact that I like my profession doesn't make this comic unfunny--it makes it better.

And speaking of comics, if you haven't yet discovered the excellence that is The Oatmeal, go now or never darken my blog again.

In case you need to kill some time between 4:45 and 5:00, here are some pictures of very  bad decisions made in CA.

Monday, November 26, 2012

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

As a manager, I've sat through some pretty uncomfortable meetings with interns and upper management.  Sometimes those meetings were project-related in nature, talking about design or construction ideas. Other times those meetings were more generic in nature, like performance reviews or were some sort of attempt at conflict mediation and resolution. The uncomfortable moments generally came when the intern began pushing too hard in a design meeting for a certain feature or material or layout, or when the intern made sharp, emotionally-charged statements that sounded more like accusations than responses. In either case, the issue seemed the same to me: the intern wasn't correctly reading the moment, or s/he wasn't reading the moment at all.

Reading the moment is something I learned to do during my brief foray into stand-up and improv comedy.  If I'm performing a bit that's causing discomfort in the audience, I need to stop those jokes and move to my next group of jokes that they might respond to better.  If I'm running with a scene in an improv skit that's got the audience laughing a little more and a little more with each particular kind of gesture, I need to do more of those gestures, and maybe keep up that weird accent I developed accidentally to do the scene.  Either way, I'm making these changes on stage based on reading the moment, tuning into the audience and the surroundings: the noises they're making (or not making), the looks on their faces, if they're even making eye contact, and so on. But if I decide that I just absolutely come-hell-or-high-water am telling these jokes or am going to make this scene about Jerry Sandusky and Casey Anthony on a blind date, and I don't give a rat's ass how the audience is receiving what I'm doing, then I'm almost assuredly going to bomb.

This works very much the same in an architecture firm.  You may be in a design meeting where you really want the entry to do this instead of that, and your manager disagrees. Sometimes you two can talk through the pros and cons of the entry's layout and design, but perhaps today your manager just isn't having it. If you're not reading the moment, you're ignoring how his voice is getting louder and his answers are getting shorter and shorter. You're not seeing him pinch his lips together tightly and grimacing.  And if you keep not reading the scene, you're about to walk into a minefield. If you are indeed reading the moment, though, you can deftly propose looking at some different options and revisiting this later today or even tomorrow, or you can acquiesce and move on with your manager's suggestion. This isn't giving up or wussing out--it's acknowledging that design and work are about compromise, and always pushing for your way isn't going to be possible or a good idea.  In other words, this is acting like an adult and a professional. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Give yourself a break

As we head into Thanksgiving week (and the way-too-prematurely-arrived Christmas, etc. holiday season), I've found myself a little more scattered and less focused than usual.  I'm more easily distracted and have a harder time lately finishing a task, and I find myself with a shorter fuse.  Part of this has been due to some recent deadlines (two big meetings on the same day? oh, you should't have!), and part of it has been due to being just worn out. My projects have been moving at a pretty fast clip for a few months straight now, and I think it's taken a toll on the entire team, not just me.

The peril of white-collar work is that it's never really "done"--there's always something else to be done, and there's no clear boundary on our tasks.  Add in the ability to check our work email on our phones or iPads (guilty here) during the weekend, and it's easy to see the source of exhaustion. How can you rest when you can never get away, never get a break?  The truth about architecture is that there's always something else that you can do once you're done with the tasks you've been given.  If we carry that logic to one conclusion, then we'd never leave the office, because there's always something else to do.

But if we carry the "there's always something else to do" logic to another conclusion--a more sensible and prudent one--then we do get to go home, not check email, not plan our nights an weekends to revolve around our days. If there's always something else to do, then we're never going to finish. Sounds like a good time for a glass of wine, reading a book, or going biking.  (I wouldn't try all of those at once--pretty sure it's either impossible or illegal. But you get the point.)

You will feel the pressure to do more, draw more, research more, and be more.  You will stretch and push yourself to accomplish more personally and professionally.  If the pushing and pressure doesn't ease up eventually, though, you will feel your body and mind revolt.  You'll come into work and feel depleted or even defeated.  I'm asking you to honor that feeling for the sake of your sanity, your job, your project, and your profession.  You owe it to yourself to be healthy, and you owe it to your coworkers and clients to give your best to the project.  If you're too worn out to give your best, take the time you need to replenish and rest.  The work will be here when you're ready--it's always here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The most unexpected skill you'll need as an architect

I mentioned last week that as a project architect and manager, I don't do a lot of drawing or rendering/photoshopping anymore.  (Though to be fair, my Photoshop skills were never terribly strong in the first place.) What I do more than anything is communicate, or more specifically, write.  I write a lot: emails, memos, meeting notes, more emails, RFP and proposal text, code documents, redlines on drawings, and still more emails. I tracked my writing word count for a week, and my typed word count alone clocked about 1,500 to 1,800 words a day.  That's between two and three pages a day of single-spaced typing.  

That's right--I write the equivalent of a college essay every day.  And I'm not even an English major.

You get to move from plain-old-architect to project architect/manager for a variety of reasons, chief of which is that you have some kind of design or technical skill--great with space planning, design, or construction detailing or codes.  But also among those skills is that you have some sense of what is entailed in good communication.  Writing and speaking that is clear, succinct, and respectful is good communication. Rambling, fudging, and accusing are not evidence of good communication skills, and those traits in writing and speaking can hold back a brilliant designer or someone with strong exterior envelope design and detailing skills.

Having done stand-up and improv comedy, I'm comfortable speaking to a group, and I'm (usually) good at thinking fast on my feet and coming up with an appropriate reply. My writing is often where I shine, though, and that's because writing, unlike speaking, leaves a record.  My words disappear into the air, but my memos live in a client's records, and my emails sit in a consultant's inbox with either dignity or repugnancy. My typed words can provide the clarity the design and construction team needs, or the thanks and respect that a consultant craves, or the explanation and CYA that my firm requires. My writing can be used to either protect my firm (or my client) or get it in trouble later.  My writing is the footprint of my firm's professional standards, which can help us gain or lose clients as much as our service can. And yes, spelling and grammar still count. If I'm not careful enough to check my emails and meeting notes, what makes anyone think I'll check my drawings too?  My design skills say that I've been an architect for a long time, but my spelling and grammar say that I also went to college.

So while my design skill may be the basis for my promotions, my writing and communication skills are what make the iron-clad case for me to run a project and to have authority.  Good writing is part of the proof that I won't abuse that authority and that I acknowledge the power that comes with it.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why your managers need you to manage them

Over the past 12+ months, I have become less of a producer (i.e., someone who draws and prints and researches things) and more of a manager (i.e., someone who directs producers and reviews their drawings and research intermittently). It's been tough getting used to not having any actual product to show for your efforts at the end of the day--a page of elevations, a colored floor plan, a Photoshopped rendering. I spend a lot of my time getting the information that my staff needs to make the design and drawings happen.  This means I spend time typing emails and calling people and occasionally doing my own research. 

I also spend a lot of time in [shudder]....meetings.  I go from the exterior design meeting for one project (two hours) to the planning meeting for another project that's just starting (one hour) to an informal discussion at someone's desk about a space planning issue on the first project (30 minutes) to a meeting on that same project with the MEP engineers (three hours).  If my day typically starts around 7:15am, and I leave around 5pm (if I'm lucky), that means I've just blown six and a half hours of a nine-hour day (if I actually take a full lunch) just meeting and talking to people. My email inbox has meanwhile filled up with messages regarding a wide variety of issues along with the occasional "there's cake in the break room" emails (mmmm...cake), and some of those emails may alter what I just told my staff in one of those four meetings I had today.  Oh, and I still haven't finished the meeting notes from the client meeting I spent all day in yesterday.  Dammit.

One afternoon, an intern asked me to review a drawing he was working on for another manager and me. I said sure, let me go get some water and hit the ladies' room and I'll be right back.  As I was coming out of the bathroom, I saw another team member for one of my other projects--she asked about a code study I was working on: did I have anything on how much we can suite the rooms to reduce travel distances?  I said I'd check.  Back at my desk, I looked up the travel distance, which was going to be too long even if we made a suite out of that particular part of the floor plan.  I needed to re-layout 10,000 sf of floor plan, because I only had one person working on the plan on another area's changes, so he couldn't do it that day.  As I was about halfway through redoing the plan, a shadow fell over my desk: it was the intern whose drawing I was supposed to review.  I looked up, startled, then looked at the clock on my computer monitor.  Almost two hours had passed since he and I had spoken--I had completely forgotten about reviewing his drawing.

My intern had been hesitant to "come bother me", he said, because he knew how busy I was.  Thing is, my not reviewing his drawing held up progress on the project--his project, my project, the office's project.  Like many project architects and project managers in an architectural practice, I got tied up in putting out fires and forgot about the original task at hand. I needed that intern to "come bother me" with extreme prejudice.  I needed him to come to my desk twenty minutes after we spoke and ask if now was a good time and say that he can't really move forward until he and I talked.  I needed him to hit the reset button on my priorities, especially because I had promised him some help first.  I needed him, in short, to manage me.

Your managers get busy, frantic, spread too thin.  It's generally quite helpful for them when you know their schedules and you remind them of what you need for them to do for you.  It can feel like you're being a bit parental, but nothing's farther than the truth.  Managing your managers puts you on a bit of a level playing field with them. You're really helping them help you by making sure you have what you need from them to keep moving and to do the right things on a project.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What you should know about your engineers

I recently spoke at a large engineering firm here in Denver about what projects are like for architects, and I provided the engineers with ideas on how to help the architect help them (a la Jerry Macguire).  But I came away with some new information myself, and I wanted to pass some of these helpful hints to those of you just starting out working with engineers.

  • The average intern works on 1-4 projects at any time, while the average engineer works on 10-15 projects at any time.  If they don't respond to you immediately, there's a reason why--they're effing busy. Give them the benefit of the doubt and a gentle reminder that you need X by Y because of Z.  And when you email them, make the subject of your email clear: Instead of "RFI 4", write "Elwood College Lab Building, RFI 41".
  • They need space in your building too, not just in the mechanical room.  Electrical and IT need closets and small rooms throughout really big buildings (say, more than a 20,000-sf floorplate).  Give them an additional 8'x10' room for IT and an additional 9'x12' room away from the main MEP spaces--they'll be your friend forever and maybe even take you to a bar one day.
  • What happens inside the space is more important than the size of the space.  A 400-square-foot operating room has very different HVAC, electrical, and structural needs than a 400-square-foot MRI scanner room than a 400-square-foot storage room than a 400-square-foot conference room. Accurate naming, explanation, and descriptions of equipment help your engineers plan and size their systems properly, which helps the contractor price it more accurately.
  • Revit was made for architects, not engineers. While that doesn't excuse them from using it or doing BIM coordination, just realize that changes and tweaks that are easy for us in Revit can be a nightmare for engineers.  Ask them what views and settings work best for them, and find out how often they need a new model that still allows them to be productive.
  • Engineers need as much information as possible as soon as you can get it to them. The type and size of equipment, future expansion needs, program, and so on affect so much on the front end.  Knowing as much as possible up front can help the engineers do it right the first time, which saves everyone time and trouble ont he back end of a project.
Most of all, remember that your engineers are human, just like you.  They get busy, they get tired, they forget...but they care.  The engineers I spoke and met with care about how well buildings work, and some of them even really care if a building is attractive.  Make them your team members, not just your consultants, and you can do amazing things with the people that know their way around a steel beam or a boiler or automatic transfer switch.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What should people know about becoming an architect?

A longtime colleague of mine, Lee Waldrep (aka Dr. Architecture), is working on a revised edition of his book Becoming an Architect.  Dr. Architecture is looking for some input from those who know the present and future of this profession best--you!  Below is his present table of contents for his book, but he and I both want to know: what should people really know about becoming an architect? What do you wish you'd known about two, four, six, or even eight years ago?  Feel free to post your input for Dr. Architecture in the comments, and thanks!

Becoming an Architect
Table of Contents
1. The Definition of an Architect.
What Do Architects Do?
Profile of the Profession.
2. The Education of an Architect.
Path to an Accredited Degree.
Decision-Making Process.
Application Process.
You Are an Architecture Student.
Academic Enrichment.
3. The Experience of an Architect.
Gaining Experience as a Student.
Moving Toward Licensure.
4. The Careers of an Architect.
Career Designing.
Career Paths.
5. The Future of the Architecture Profession.
BIM-Building Information.
Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)
Agent of Social Change.
Distance Education/Learning.
Appendix A: The Resources of an Architect.
Collateral Organizations.
Architecture-Related Associations.
Association-Related Careers.
Institutions Dedicated to Architecture.
Community Service.
Recommended Reading.
Appendix B: Accredited Architecture Programs in the United States and Canada.
Appendix C: Career Profiles.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Making the most of your yearly performance and pay review

I've written previously about what a performance review should be like herebut the topic of reviews is worth some elaboration.  There are two primary things to remember about a performance review: one, it should be a conversation between you and the managers/colleagues/people reviewing you; and two, its focus should be on the three Ps: performance, plans, and pay.
  • Performance: What is your job description, and how well are you carrying out the tasks outlined in that job description?  What have you enjoyed doing in the past year?  What did you learn to do better?  What did you struggle with?  What do you need more practice doing?  What were processes, etc. that worked for you this year, and what didn't?
  • Plans: Are you pursuing IDP and/or licensure?  How far along are you?  What hours are you still lacking to finish IDP?  If you're taking tests, how far along are you?  Are you planning to acquire any other accreditations (e.g. LEED AP, EDAC, etc.)?
  • Pay: What increase in pay if any are you receiving?  Upon what criteria is that raise (or lack thereof) based?
That last point is one that I want to hammer home, but with a caveat.  If you want to ask for a certain level of raise, that's fine.  But you have to be prepared in multiple ways.  First, review the AIA's job descriptions and figure out which one you most closely resemble (Intern 2, Unlicensed Architect I, etc.).  Then research what people at your perceived level and in your type/size of firm in your geographical area typically earn.  (Supposedly, there are copies of the 2011 AIA Compensation Report floating around on the internet.  I wouldn't know--I paid for mine.)  Then, play a little devil's advocate with yourself--what might be the counterarguments against you getting the raise or income that you believe you've earned?  Figure out a professional response to those arguments.

I know interns talk to each other about what they make, and good on them for not keeping secrets about that. Having said that, I'm cautious of walking into a review and saying, "Well, I do the same stuff that So-and-So does, and I know she makes 10% more than I do."  You may very well hear what it is that So-and-So does a whole lot better than you, and it might not be something you want to hear. If you're willing to hear the truth and learn from it, then fire away.  (It's more acceptable to say that you're aware that some of your colleagues with very similar job descriptions and experience levels make x% more than you.)  

The main piece of advice I can give in a review is to remain professional and grateful.  Avoid defensiveness--if given an inaccurate or exaggerated criticism, respectfully disagree and ask for specifics.  If your raise isn't what you were hoping, say thank you very much and then follow it with, "It's not quite what I was hoping for--I'd like to think about that a bit and get back to you."  Your ability to be professional and have tact and diplomacy in a tense situation can be the thing that sets you apart from your colleagues, and a review is as good a time to show your skills as any.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Architecture doesn't always mean having to say you're sorry

Because a coworker has been traveling a lot lately, I've been answering questions for the intern working on her project.  This young man is learning more about healthcare,which is somewhat new to him as a project type, and he's learning more about our office's standards.  Several times a day, this bright, eager young man approaches me, taps on my desk and says, "I'm so sorry to bother you..." and then asks me a question about healthcare planning or how we do things at our firm.  I always reply, "Oh, no worries, ask me anything!" but I'm not sure he understands that I really mean that.  Because I do.

I've said many times on this blog that architects would rather you bother them twenty times a day with questions than suffer along in silence. I cannot strees this enough, even if you have several years of experience: if you are learning something new, working on a new project, working with a new person, whatever, never apologize for asking questions.  You have the right to information tht helps you do your job, no matter how basic or self-evident that info might be.  If you're worried about interrupting people a dozen times, then you may want to work as far as you can while compiling questions, then interrupt once with several questions--that's fair.  But never apologize for asking for information that helps you get your job done.

Another intern asked me a few questions regarding our upcoming reviews.  Those questions included "What should we expect for raises?" and "What do we do if we think we should have gotten more of a raise?"  The email from this intern ended with an apology for being "maybe too forthright."

Again: don't apologize for asking questions that affect your job and indeed your wellbeing.  Questions about money, job description and tasks, pay rates, and job security can affect someone's ability to concentrate on (and care about) their work.  Regardless of what field someone works in, a person should know two things: what their job description is, and what the pay typically is for that  job description.  Never apologize for asking for information tht affects your wellbeing.

People are understandably hesitant to be seen as pushy or rude at work, especially when the economy isn't exactly on fire and a new job would be hard to find if they were somehow to lose the job they have. However, there's no need to apologize when you ask for information that you need to do your job and to assess how well you're doing it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Redlined Resumes: graphic and sharp

Our last Redlined Resume in this series comes from TM, who surely has come up with the most innovative resume format I've seen in a long time.  Borrowing some from a magazine layout, TM's resume sets off his/her skills from the rest of his/her background and experience so that potential firms can see at a super-quick glance if s/he has what they need.  The fonts read well, and including contact info at the top as well as the bottom makes sure that no one misses how to get in touch with TM.  Looking at TM's resume again since I first redlined it, I would recommend removing some of the "Graduate Studies" info under "Education", which would then allow TM the room to move "Involvement" to just above the "Skills" sidebar.  This would in turn give TM the room needed to get a little air into and tidy up his/her chunks on "Experience", which is by far the largest portion of his/her resume.

And holy mackerel at the experience.  Both architectural and construction experience are represented here, similar to SE's resume from a couple of weeks ago.  Some additional definition is required here as well: TM uses the "project manager" title in one of his/her job descriptions, so it's important to list what his/her actual jobs were in this role. Some elaboration on some jobs and tasks are needed, but there's also room to tidy up (such as where I marked out several words and replaced them with the words "Engaged in...").  Overall, TM has a great resume that really pops but also includes some great info.  TM, I'm impressed!

Monday, September 24, 2012

...and now it's time for a station break.

As I write this, I'm preparing to go on a cross-country train trip across Canada with my husband for our birthday.  (Yes, we have the same birthday but different years.  And we're both architects.  Kinda sick, isn't it?)  Despite the fact that work has been relentless and my deadline have been almost-brutal, we decided back in the spring to take a week off around our birthday to celebrate and be together.  I won't be checking email, and everyone's going to have to survive without me for a week.  Wah.

An intern at my firm once said, "There's never a good time to take a vacation, so you might as well take one whenever you can."  That's good advice.  There will almost always be a deadline, a problem, a crisis looming that will deep-six even the best-laid plans.  Follow those plans anyway.  Leave the office.  Don't cancel the trip--go.  If you can't afford to leave town, tell everyone you're going camping in a remote area.  Then don't check your phone or email.  I've actually not checked my phone or email for a week, and it was immensely restorative.  My husband and I went to Yellowstone last year for an early birthday trip (the first week of September instead of the last week), and we watched no TV and checked no email.  It was some of the best sleep and rest I'd ever gotten in my life, and we're looking forward to unplugging on this trip as well.

I encourage all of you to take your vacation time, and really take it--unplug and don't be available. Everyone will miss you and be glad to have you back, but they won't die while you're gone. The work will be there when you get back.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Redlined Resumes: more info, please

This week's Redlined Resume comes from SE, whose format I strangely like.  S/He starts with Experience, then goes to Education, which puts the emphasis on SE's experience and work ethic--a subtle but important angle.  However, I need more information as to what experiences and tasks were included in that work experience because the jobs and roles have been overly-bulleted.  When SE was a woodworker or fabricator, what did s/he make and do every day?  When SE was a shop manager or designer, what did s/he design or do typically as part of that role?  By defining those roles and tasks, SE can indicate to a potential firm all the many skills that s/he has and can contribute to a firm.

SE will have room on the resume to add those things once s/he deletes the list of attributes under "Areas of Competency".  As I've stated in a previous post, seeking out new challenges and a willingness to learn are a given for any intern and don't need to be stated in a resume.  (Hobbies at the bottom of the resume can also be deleted--we can talk about hobbies during the interview.) I would also find a different phrase than "hard work" to describe the physical building and labor that SE has done.  All of architecture is hard work, even if someone isn't swinging a hammer.

By removing some extraneous info and adding more explanation to his/her various job descriptions, SE can illustrate a great blend of design knowledge and technical experience that would be an asset to any architecture firm.  Right on, SE!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Redlined Resumes: international resume with a flair for the dramatic

This week's Redlined Resume comes from NS, who lives in Sri Lanka.  NS's resume is dramatic in a couple of senses of the word: s/he has experience both acting in and working on plays and for theater companies, and s/he has done a lot of politically-charged work with design.  Like many resumes I review, it could use a little more air, perhaps by removing the info about the senior thesis and by editing some of the nonprofit work descriptions.  (For example, I don't think it's as vital to discuss how the various workshops and volunteer efforts were funded as much as it's important to know how you used your design skills to help the underserved or underprivileged workshop participants.  Were you a mentor for their academic and social growth?  Did you help them express their anger and sadness through art and drawings and building models?  Those are all good descriptions of your efforts.)

NS's resume also suffers a bit from what CE's resume suffered from last week: a mild identity crisis.  When I read this, I can't decide if NS wants to work in theater or be an architect.  I realize this could be a partial curse of a crappy economy--if you can't be with the one you love (architecture), then love the one you're with (theater, landscape/gardening, retail management, etc.).  However, NS will either need to tailor to whom s/he sends his/he resume (firms that do lots of theater work or politically and socially-charged work), or s/he will need to edit his/her resume a bit more to show that s/he does want to do architecture rather than theater.  It may be that NS needs to include a small paragraph on his/her resume to explain how architecture, theater, and social movements all work together and inform design...or something.  (There's something good there, but I haven't had enough coffee yet to come up with a good summary.)

NS has pretty good descriptions of his/her job duties, though I would replace the word "liase" with "worked with" or something similar. ("Liase" might require someone to use a dictionary--you'd be surprised how often your vocabulary surpasses that of a 45-year-old hiring manager at a firm.)  There are a few terms in this resume that need to be defined (such as "BOQ"), but otherwise we get a good picture of NS's architectural experience.  With a little tweaking to make clear what NS's intentions are for a position at a firm, this resume is well done.  Hats off, NS!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Redlined Resumes: strength in need of definition

This week's Redlined Resume comes from CE, who has taken an unusual but welcome approach by making his/her resume into a landscape format document instead of portrait.  A very quick glance at his/her resume shows me that it's clean and mostly easy to read, but it could use a little air.  For example, putting a little more space between the two columns would help it read a bit better.  CE has what appears to be a lot of experience in architecture as well as landscape architecture and gardening.  The experience is good--s/he has been able to find work in a bad economy. A hiring manager needs some explanation here, though, if that manager is to call CE in for an interview.

Phrases and titles mean different things to different people.  CE uses the title "Project Manager" for one of his/her jobs, which to some firms would imply that s/he is actually a licensed architect and was in charge of everything from the drawings to the consultant coordination to the budget.  Without further explanation of what his/her duties were as "project manager", a potential firm might see CE as exaggerating his/her qualifications (unless s/he in fact did do all these things, in which case CE is completely telling the truth). Phrases like "urban grow site" can be meaningless to an architect, so again some very brief definitions might be of use here.

I have to admit though that I can't tell what kind of job CE is applying for with this resume.  Perhaps this is a resume that CE will use to amend slightly depending on if s/he applies to a landscape architecture firm or a building architecture firm; as it is, I can't tell which is his/her strength or which one s/he really wants to do.  If CE wants to demonstrate that s/he understands how buildings and site work together, then that needs to be said as part of his/her job duties at one or more of the positions held ("Led design direction to incorporate site and interior spaces in XYZ Project").

A few minor formatting issues include skills and address. I only caught the physical address in the lower right corner after staring at and marking up the resume for three or four minutes, which is longer than a firm manager might look at it, so I would make that bolder, larger, or located in two places (upper left and lower right).  Also, I would bullet the skills a little to make it easy to see what kind of skills CE has.  Using paragraphs to describe one's job duties is conversational and pleasant, but reading a list of software names is easier done in a bulleted or partially-bulleted format.

Overall, nicely done, CE--just needs some definition of what you're looking for, what your job duties entailed, and a little breathing room.  Good luck!

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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Women in architecture: a global perspective

One of my readers recently hipped me to Parlour, an interesting blog/website regarding women in architecture. Parlour's articles and discussions are the best kinds of posts in that they are relevant to all culture, not just women.  I especially enjoyed one sociologist's post of why women leave architecture with a tied-in critique of Architect Barbie. Preliminary evidence in the sociologist's study revealed that women generally don't leave architecture to become stay-at-home moms but rather to take on another profession or to turn a hobby into a new job.

I find this relevant to both genders and all age ranges in architecture, but especially to our younger colleagues.  If we cannot rethink how our profession treats its future practitioners such that they can be suitably trained, challenged, and enriched, how can we foresee a future at all?  To be sure, some folks (of any age) leave architecture because they realize they aren't very good at it, but other leave to use their highly-coveted skills in another field altogether for a variety of reasons--more money, better hours, or perhaps more rewarding.  Preventing brain drain may not seem to be a real problem right now when the economy is bad and the market is flooded with qualified applicants, but it could be a major concern a year from now when things have improved.  After all, if all the good architects leave, who's left to run the profession?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Navigating the Tweetaverse

I was asked in a comment from last week's post if I have a Twitter account, and the answer is yes. (I'm @Arch_Intern101 for what it's worth.)  I'm not the most productive Tweeter/Twitterer--I mostly retweet a tweet or article I find interesting. I find that most of my random thoughts require more than 140 characters to impart the full force of my fury.  I also don't want any of my tweets biting me later.

I have an intern who started a side business with a buddy (one that did not compete with our firm in any way), and he was having a hard time getting it off the ground even though this project and side business was his passion.  One day, he tweeted something like "how do you keep going when your dream keeps dying slowly?"

His tweet popped up in his LinkedIn profile, and that popped up in a weekly "here's what your LinkedIn contacts have been doing lately" email in my inbox.  I knew he'd been working on some boring stuff lately (shops and CDs, definitely not the stuff of architectural dreams), so I went to him to ask if everything was going okay, and was he worried about his job or career at our office?  The intern blushed crimson--he didn't realize that linking his Twitter account to his LinkedIn account--which he was using to get his side venture of the ground--was being seen by his non-side-venture coworkers...and bosses.

The internet is so vast and anonymous that it's easy to forget that it is indeed a public venture.  Once you attach your name to something, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, or anything else, it can be traced back to you and can be used for or against you.  Whenever you post something on an electronic platform, make sure you're okay with one of your bosses ever finding that post/tweet/status update and reading it aloud at the next office meeting.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Creative outlets for workaday interns

One of 8,000 things I love about working with interns is that they never fail to surprise me in good ways.  Recently, I wore to work a pair of nicely-made wood and aluminum earrings that I purchased for a handsome price at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival here in Denver.  As I filled my coffee cup that morning, another intern complimented my earrings and said, "Did you buy those from X?", X being an intern in our office.  I said no, I got them from an art fair, and thanked the intern for the compliment.  A few hours later as I was heating up my lunch, an architect waiting for the microwave asked me, "Ooh, did you get those from X's Etsy site?"  Again, no, but thank you for the compliment.  

It occurred to me that maybe I should see X's work for myself. I asked him for a link to his site, and once there I beheld some of the most elegant, well-made, and reasonably priced jewelry I'd seen in a long time.  He did outstanding work. And it occurred to me: how many interns are doing what X does, finding time outside of work for creative endeavors with perhaps even a bit of microcapitalism thrown in for good measure?  X makes time on weekends and evenings to indulge in this hobby-turned-second-income-source. In talking with X, it appears that this hobby/income gives him above all a source for replenishing the well of creativity, which is often lacking in an intern's usual work day.  

Making families and detail components in Revit is nice, and checking shop drawings is educational, but where's the pure creativity in it?  It's easy to get overwhelmed with the dailiness of our profession, and I don't want that everyday-ness to kill your creative spirit.  I've recently started making (bad/horrible/amateur) multimedia collage/art projects in my spare time as a means of getting back to that feeling of purely wanting to express something through a visual means.  I'm still as bad at it now as I was in college (I swear, sometimes I don't know how I made it through six years of studio), but it feels good to paint with watercolors and make tiny designs with ink and cutcutcutcutcut with an X-Acto knife. 

And something else occurred to me: I have a blog that's read by interns all over the U.S., and indeed the world.  What creative outlets do you pursue?  Would you want to show them on this site?  And would you want me to link to your Etsy site or to a brick-and-mortar store that sells your goods?  Let me know via email from the sidebar or in the comments below.  I'd love to get a community going here for interns's creativity and entrepreneurship.

Monday, July 2, 2012

You are not John Cena.

Architecture offices are busy places, between project meetings, deadlines, in-house reviews and critiques, and various conference calls and overhead paging from the receptionist.  Bosses are in and out of the office, running to interviews and meetings and site visits.  As the economy slowly improves and work starts coming in, staff in a firm are moving faster, and managers are barking orders and then running out the door to go get or hold onto a project.  If you're an intern staying back in the office and doing the work, it can feel like everyone's forgotten about you.  People just yell at you, throw some redlines and a research task in your direction, then head into yet another conference call or meeting.  No one even sees you because they're so busy.  So if the boss is gone all morning and then off to another meeting and then out of town for two days for a project interview, who's gonna care if you take an extra long lunch, or do some online shopping and fantasy baseball updates all afternoon, or even leave early?  I mean, no one can see you, right?

Folks, I'm here to tell you as a former intern and a present-day project architect: you are not John Cena.  I can see you.

I know you're out at a long lunch, because I call you four times between 2pm and 2:30pm to have you look up something for me in the IBC, and you don't pick up the phone.  I didn't leave a message because my request was urgent and immediate, so you don't have a record of the missed connection, but I do.  It's in my memory.

I know you're fiddling around on the internet without ever having to call IT, because when I come out of my meetings, I see you Ctrl+W nearly every time.  If you were working on work stuff, you wouldn't be minimizing your entire screen several times a day every day.

I know you're texting constantly, because my colleagues tell me about it.  I lament that you hadn't finished a task yet, and one or more of my fellow project architects say, "yeah, because s/he was texting all day like a twelve-year-old in line at a Jonas Brothers concert."

This isn't about needing to leave early or come in late because you have a life outside of work.  This isn't about needing to deal with something during work hours either.  We know these things happen, and the infrequent need to deal with something is okay.  This isn't about the day you have now and again when you just aren't at your best and are feeling scattered or goofy--we're all human and have those days occasionally.  

This is about a constant pattern of wasting time and taking advantage of a firm. This is about abusing the trust your supervisors and coworkers have in you.  By leaving the office and leaving you to self-monitor your behavior, your managers and firm are saying that they believe you have the ability to focus and to get work done. They believe that you'll be available if a call should come in from the field asking you to save the day with some research or information on which your boss cannot readily get his/her hands.  When you cannot self-monitor day in and day out, you waste time and resources.  You also waste goodwill--like it or not, fair or not, you give interns a bad name by betraying this basic trust in one's coworkers.

Maybe you're feeling burned out.  You're tired of working on this project/that task/so hard for so long with little to no acknowledgement.  It's been a long haul, this recession, and interns take the brunt of it.  Maybe you have lots of responsibility and no authority, and that will burn out the best of us.  Maybe you're dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling or dear loved one, and it's left you unable to really focus on anything anymore.  Instead of floundering and goofing around, tell someone about it.  Your personal problems are no one's business until they disrupt business, and then they're everybody's business.  If your daily flakiness at work is a recent development, then let someone know so a solution can be found--different assignments, decreased hours, change of manager, whatever.

But don't for a moment think that you can flake out multiple times a day, every day of the week, and keep your manager's confidence in your ability to get things done.  S/he will see your lack of focus through your lack of results.  His/her colleagues will tell what they've seen when s/he isn't around.  It's said that character is what a person does when there's no one watching.  But at a firm, you might be surprised how often someone is watching.