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A few nights ago, I was cooking dinner. I dunno why, but I started thinking about architecture school a lot. I thought about all my dumb mistakes during architecture school, which set me up for failure after graduation. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done everything so differently.
As I ate dinner, I wrote a few things down in my notebook. I don’t know what happened, but somehow, I magically produced this blogpost It discusses how I set myself up for failure after graduating from architecture school.
But before I start telling you about all the mistakes I’ve made and the ones I keep seeing many others make…
I want you to know one thing:
I love architecture students. I admire your dedication and enthusiasm for the profession. You are the future of architecture.
With all these baby boomers retiring, the profession is about to undergo the biggest “changing of the guard” it has ever seen. This overhaul gets me excited about the direction the profession is going. The profession of architecture is going to change more in the next 15-20 years than it has in the past 75 years. And these changes have already started.
I want you to know that I’m deeply grateful for all of the young people who’ve chosen architecture as their vocation. You’re going to have more of an opportunity to make positive changes than any other generation ever has. Keep working hard, supporting your peers, and being awesome!
Six Mistakes Architecture Students Repeatedly Make
OK that’s all. Now let’s talk about how to shoot yourself in the foot before you graduate from architecture school…
1. Not Networking
If you study successful people, one common trait amongst all of them is that they all know A LOT of people. I mean they know A LOT OF PEOPLE in all areas of life, not just their profession.
Networking and meeting people (in your community and in all industries) should start long before you graduate and enter the workforce.
I truly believe with all my heart that networking is 10 times more powerful than being the best _________. (Fill in the blank: Designer, Model Maker, Render, Teacher, CAD Jockey, Lame Architecture Blogger, or whatever.)
What do I mean by networking?
Networking is actively meeting new people from all walks of life, making friends, connecting on social media, staying in touch, and building a circle of people that you can reach out to and ask a question if you need to. Networking means knowing the right people, years before they were the right people to know.
The most important aspect of networking is to always approach it with a giving attitude. Never approach networking with the attitude, “What is this person going to do for me?” Networking and knowing people can suddenly become magic keys that unlock doors to opportunities you never could’ve imagined.
From what I’ve seen recently, I think networking is even easier for architecture students at events and conferences because the architecture community is already struggling to understand, interact, and connect with young people.
Does networking sound exhausting?
It’s really not. Just be nice to everyone you come into contact with, make sure you know everyone’s names, connect on social media, and never worry about why or how networking will help you get ahead. Just focus on giving good energy and value. Never use networking to worry about what’s in it for you.
I could talk about networking for hours, but the last thing I’ll say is this: Try to network outside of the architecture community. In my opinion, I think most Architects spend wayyyyyyy too much time hanging out with other Architects and talking about esoteric architectural things. Yes, it’s fun to hang out with the others in our tribe, but building strong connections with other people outside of our industry can be a lot more powerful.
It’s no secret that I’m a very big fan of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), but I’m also a big fan of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Unlike the AIA, CSI is a professional organization for THE ENTIRE construction industry, not just Architects. CSI members also include Engineers, Contractors, Product Reps, Lawyers, Insurance people—you name it, pretty much anyone involved in construction projects.
My local CSI Chapter here in Portland, Oregon, does an amazing job of hosting events, workshops, lectures, and seminars for Emerging Professionals. I encourage you to seek out your local CSI Chapter. I guarantee that they’ll greet students with open arms.
2. Not Volunteering
This isn’t just a mistake students make. It’s an error I see most of the profession making. So many people just show up to work or school, do their 9-5, go home, and complain about how the profession of Architecture sucks—how it doesn’t serve them.
And then I ask those people, “In the past 3 months, how much have you volunteered, shown up in your community, or given your time to an organization who needs it?” And they look at me like I’m insane…
Why should the universe care about you and your career, when you’re doing absolutely nothing to help others?
Let’s be honest. We all got into architecture to learn how to make cool shit happen, and make the world a better place. Just because you work on certifying LEED buildings, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt. Volunteering means giving your time and attention to someone who needs it, not just making money for your office.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be a huge commitment or a long drawn-out event. Just regularly volunteer several hours of your time to someone who needs it several times a year (incrementally throughout the year).
I encourage you to get involved with an organization that speaks to you, rather than thinking of volunteer work as helping your loser cousin clean out his garage or building silly art exhibits inside your local AIA office.
3. Working (Too Much or Too Little)
Working too much…
You will have the rest of your life to work in architecture offices.
Maybe you have a professional job while you’re in school. But once it starts to interfere with being an architecture student, you’re now trading lots of tuition money for a crappy student-intern salary. Sure, the experience is good, but realize you’ll have plenty of time to work 9-5 in a professional job after you graduate.
Working too little…
If you’re planning on getting a job after school, you really need to start working on it before you graduate. I always believed that my on-the-job experience in firms helped me push my architecture projects in school a lot harder (especially more than those who’ve never done production work in an architecture office). If you never work in an architecture office before you graduate, you’re cheating yourself.
4. Thinking there is only one path: Licensed Architect
If at graduation, you asked the 200 people in my graduating class from architecture school if they would become a Licensed Architect, 95% of them would’ve said, “Oh yes, I will become a Licensed Architect.”
Almost 10 years later, guess how many of us have become Licensed Architects?
I dunno, maybe 6 or 8. Now consider this….
What if I told you that all those people from my graduating class are living happy, healthy, productive lives. They’re doing really well. Most of them work in architecture, and some of them have leveraged their architecture education into success in other industries. But not having an architecture license isn’t stopping them from having successful careers.
Not getting an architecture licenses doesn’t make you a loser. 20 or 30 years ago, architectural licensing was the only path for architecture graduates. But life was also drastically different back then. There was no internet, computers, and how people communicated was entirely different then it is today. Old-timers cringe when I say, “You can still be massively successful without an architecture license.” Because many of them are still operating like it’s 30 years ago.
There’s nothing wrong with architecture licensing, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t for everyone. Nor should it be. I always have to point out that I’ve published hundreds of thousands of words to help people pass the Architect Registration Exam. I would love to see you become a licensed architect, just as much as you do. But that’s only if your heart is in it, and it’s something you truly want—NOT because you were bullied into doing it.
Be open to possibilities in your career. Architectural Licensing isn’t the only way. Always remember: the decisions that are right for you, can be the very worst decisions for someone else.
5. Not asking Professors to help you after graduation
If you have a good relationship with a Professor, I encourage you to ask them to help you find a job.
There’s nothing wrong with casually letting a Professor know that you’re looking for a job, sending them an updated resume, and asking them if they could share it with his or her friends who may need some help in their offices.
6. Thinking the world revolves around design
Maybe the world of architecture school revolves around design, but….
…after architecture school is over, “the Real World” revolves around the ability to execute.
There’s nothing wrong with design. I love design. But the ability to get shit done, is rewarded in the profession, much more then having the best design skillset. A small part of the problem with architecture school is many of the professors teaching it are not licensed architects, who are not making buildings for real people as a source of income.
In architecture school, everyone spends 100% of their time designing and 0% of their time executing anything they’ve designed.
In the profession of architecture, design is often 10% or less, of the time spent working on a project and then hundreds of people spend YEARS executing those design decisions from Architects, Consultants, Permitting Agents, Contractors and Subcontractors.
Architecture school primarily focuses on design and problem-solving, NOT practicing architecture. Upon graduation, students typically know a lot about design and have only 1 or 2 classes about practicing architecture.
The skills required to put together cohesive a set of drawings that meet all code for permitting, how to work with contractors, manage clients, land new projects, and legally practice architecture in a overly complicated modern world is just way outside the scope of architecture school. It is learned from experience and licensing.
Some people think that recent graduates should be allowed to practice architecture after graduation, but I strongly disagree. I believe that you need to learn design and problem-solving FIRST. Then after you prove yourself with a college degree, Phase Two of your education begins: Studying how to practice architecture and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. This second phase is obtained through experience and licensure.
One of the most frustrating things about the profession of architecture is that many people are completely naïve to the fact that…
It’s the profession’s responsibility to train the next generation of Architects how to practice architecture, not architecture school’s responsibility. I’ve gotten into heated debates with accomplished Professionals, who love to point a finger at architecture school for not grooming graduates to be their underpaid entry level worker bees, and how they completely refuse to acknowledge their responsibility in training the future of architecture.
As an architecture student, I’m taking a huge weight off your shoulders by saying that you’re not expected to know how to practice architecture in our complicated, modern world—right after graduation. HOWEVER, you must acknowledge that there’s a very long road ahead of you in learning how to make buildings. And architecture school only scratches the surface.
Just because you think your designs are the shit, that doesn’t mean you deserve the salary of a Principal in a small firm—right after you enter the workforce with no experience. The reason architecture students make such a poor salary after graduation is because you need A TON OF TRAINING.
Once you have demonstrated your knowledge and ability to execute, you will be compensated appropriately.
Most graduates with little experience don’t realize it, but the fastest way to get up to speed and make yourself more valuable to your company is….
…. Studying for the Architect Registration Exam.
When you study for the ARE, it forces you to get a textbook education about how to practice architecture. In theory, this education should happen over years of experience, but it happens a lot faster by studying for the ARE.
I always tell recent graduates who’ve signed up for The ARE Boot Camp that there is nothing you can do about your lack of experience. But the faster you can learn about how architecture is practiced, the more valuable you’ll be to your company. The sooner you get this education, the more enriching your experience will be—as you move through the early years of your career.
I love today’s architecture students. The profession is about to have a massive changeover, and it couldn’t be in better hands. However, I still see graduates making the same mistakes that their predecessors made (including me).
Of course, you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot before you even graduate. Here are six ways I’ve repeatedly seen that happen:
- Not Networking
- Not Volunteering
- Thinking Licensed Architecture is the only path
- Not asking your professors to help you post-graduation
- Thinking the world revolves around design