Monday, January 28, 2013

What to do when you're in over your a meeting

Inevitably, one of the following situations will happen to you, and it will happen to you more than once as in intern:

  1. You're sitting in a meeting next to your manager/boss with clients, consultants, or contractors, or;
  2. You have to attend a client/contractor/consultant meeting alone in place of your manager boss
...and in either situation, the conversation and questions are over your head. You have little to no idea what everyone is talking about. VAV boxes, vent pipes, overflow drains, head-in connections, washer/decontaminators, red lines, prep line, vault, penthouse, dock leveler, blah blah blah blah. These words are so new to you that they're practically meaningless, or (just as bad) you only have a scant idea of what these words and concepts are.  You remember talking about VAV boxes in undergrad...and you think you've heard your boss talk about the vault before, maybe last week, have no clear understanding of what's going on.  And you're fearful that if you ask right now in this moment, you'll look like an idiot.

What do you do? 

Depending on the type of meeting, there's a lot you can do. The first and best option no matter what is to pay attention, take notes, and listen. Look at people when they talk, write down a note about what they say (even if you don't understand the concept, write down the words), and nod appropriately.  Early in my career, I found myself in these meetings, confused as hell and bored as anything.  To combat the urge to fall asleep (which is what I feel like doing when I'm bored and overwhelmed), I began taking almost word-for-word notes in meetings.  Fast-forward 11 or so years later, and even now my colleagues and design team members want copies of my notes, and they trust my notes more than anyone else's because I write like a court reporter. My notes have saved my firm a few times because I had every detail of a conversation written in my notes, not just the resulting decision.

If the meeting is just you (and maybe your boss) and a few consultants, you have more room to reveal some ignorance: "Okay, so your concern is VAV box locations.  Give me an example of/show me on this ceiling plan where having a VAV box located would be problematic."  This allows the other person to really be listened to, and it allows you to learn. If you are pressed to make a decision thatyou feel you don't have the knowledge or authority to make, however, don't let anyone push you into a corner.  Your best response is, "I'd like to get back to the office and check the code/walk my boss through this/see if I can make this work in the floor plan, and I'll get back with you by end of day today/noon tomorrow/next week."

Being bored or confused in a meeting feels pretty sucky and it's inevitable, but showing that you're bored, lost, or disinterested is a big mistake. Resist the urge to do any of the following:

  • Look/stare at the floor
  • Doze off
  • Constantly check your phone/text
  • Fiddle with and pay attention to something else (a string on your coat, your pen, a piece of hair)
  • Just sit there, not taking notes or acting like you're listening/paying attention
People who are involved in the project and have some stake in it are the ones that attend the meeting and pay attention, even if they don't say much. Acting disengaged in the meeting tells the other parties that you don't have any stake in the project, so you're not that inportant, and any emails or requests you send can be ignored.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Career forks in the road: get licensed now or get the M.Arch?

I recently got a question from J, who started out in one state with a 4-year pre-professional degree in architecture and then moved to another state to work due to family obligations. J is about to finish the ARE and get licensed, even without his B.Arch or M.Arch.  His questions were good ones: does getting my license this way mean I have an asterisk by my license number, and will it hurt me if I move to another state?

The short answers are no and maybe.  While some states are beginning to close the loopholes on not gaining experience through IDP/NCARB and not getting a B.Arch or M.Arch, not all have done so.  This link to NCARB's Registration Board License Requirements describes by state and jurisdiction what is required for initial license as well as reciprocity in that state.  It's a good reference for both your present situation (should I go back to grad school now or just get going with my hours and ARE?) as well as your future.  If you get licensed without the professional degree and then decide to move out of that state, you'll need to check if you can get reciprocal registration in your new state.  This might not be a big problem if you work for another firm, as they have partners/owners that stamp and sign the drawings. However, if you start your own firm and want to pursue work in a state that won't offer you reciprocity, you'll need to partner with another firm that is licensed in that state in order to do the work--and there goes a chunk of your profits.

There's no right or wrong way to go about this. It's just about knowing the benefits and costs of each method.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Career forks in the road: Should I get or finish my architecture degree?

Another question of which I've seen various forms is the "should I get my architecture degree, even though I'm almost licensed/almost 40/not sure I'll have a job/might have to move/etc.?" It's a good question, and seemingly a tough one to answer on the heels of a bad economy. A recent article on Yahoo opines that architecture isn't a good degree to have on the basis that it's hard to parlay that degree into something else if you get out of school and can't find a job. Instead, Yahoo recommends that you get a degree in business administration instead.

Well, yeah, if you want to do business.  Or if you're not really picky about whatever the hell you do after college, then sure, get a nice general business degree.  But if you want to be an architect, I'm sorry, Yahoo, but you're going to have to have a fucking architecture degree because no firm will fucking hire you without one.

Articles like the Yahoo one infuriate me.  These articles make it sound like a) today's young people are only after the almighty dollar, b) that jobs and expertise are interchangeable, and c) that no one actually has any passion or drive to do something useful and creative (see "a"). These "what should I do with my life" articles are misleading in that they don't account for someone who might heaven forbid actually know that they want to do for a living, and they want to be an architect. Furthermore, this article is written for people who, if they got into architecture, I would want them out of my profession as soon as possible, because if they're trying to just use a degree to do something like, totally epically awesome without even actually working in the field--or any field--are people who have no concept of what it takes to do something worthwhile: design and build a building, teach people, create a software program, and so forth.  Mary, Joseph, and Renzo Piano willing, those sorts of people will have been rooted out during undergrad in a flurry of tears during a brutal midterm jury.

So then what? What of the rest of you who still wonder about whether to pursue or complete a degree? At this point, it's about the research.  If you're about to be licensed without having a B. Arch or M.Arch, have you talked with NCARB about getting your NCARB record and possible reciprocity after you get licensed? If you're wondering about finishing your degree or even getting a degree in the first place, do you really really want to be an architect, or do you just feel like you have to finish what you start?  Have you met and talked to any practicing architects to see what their job is like and ask what they think the economy might do in the next year or so? Talking to people out in the profession right now will give you a good sense of where the profession is now and will be going in the short term, which might help you make the decision.

Ultimately, this is yet another question you'll have to answer for yourself: Do you want to be an architect? If the answer is no, then move along--again, no harm in admitting so and moving on.  But if the answer is yes, then do a little digging to see what you need to do to make it happen.  It's only too late if you don't start now, where you are.

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.