Set Yourself Apart

The following article is from a dear friend my mine, Cherise Lakeside from the blog You can connect with Cherise on Twitter at @CheriseLakeside.  Let’s Fix Construction and Young Architect traded guest blog posts, there is a link to Michael Riscica's post titled: Let's Fix Mentorship.


Set Yourself Apart

I am honored to be asked to provide a guest post on  I originally got to know Michael Riscica through a network of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) professionals on Twitter.  As we started to chat, we discovered that we had a shared passion for helping emerging professionals succeed, navigate the AEC waters and get ahead.   The difference between us is that Michael is an Emerging Professional (EP) and I am not.  I have been around awhile.

We eventually met for coffee.  What was supposed to be a short meeting to share some ideas turned into 2.5 hours of brainstorming and sharing of knowledge. We have been fast friends since.

I have been in AEC for 30 years.  I am currently a spec writer at Ankrom-Moisan Architects in Portland.  A couple of things, I think, make my perspective and advice to EP’s unique.  One is that I have worked in Construction, Architecture AND Engineering.  Most of my career has been in Architecture.

The 2nd thing is that I am a “trained in the trenches” professional.   I do not have a degree in architecture and everything that I have learned has been on the job.  I kind of did it the hard way.  I say ‘kind of’  because my most valuable education came on the job but was harder to learn without the education background.

So what does all that mean?

It means that I have done everything from pour coffee to negotiating huge contracts. I have completely managed a firm, prepared client programming, written specs, prepared marketing materials, helped on a bid day, assisted owners in the process and worked on documents as a consultant instead of on the Architecture side.  I have delivered a project from cradle-to-grave in almost every aspect.

Lessons learned through all of that have been invaluable.  I would like to share a few with you today in hopes that some of my experience will help you set yourself apart and learn a few things that I wish I knew a lot sooner.

I am very close to my 20-something sons.  My (now 29 yr. old) son once said to me “Mom, you gotta let me make my own mistakes” during a conversation about an issue he had as a teenager.  My response?  “Dude, you will make plenty of mistakes in your life. Why make the ones that I already made for you?”  Food for thought.

Setting Yourself Apart

So, from me to you, a head start that will change the course of your career, set you apart from your peers and help you truly understand what you are doing much sooner than you will learn on the job.  I could go on all day but Michael gave me a limit.  Here are a few that I think are most important.


Regardless of your discipline, you are missing a huge piece when you come out of school.  While you are learning the basics of your discipline, you are not learning project delivery.  Without project delivery education, you can’t do your job properly.   Your school/program is failing you in a huge way.

Your documents (drawings and specs) ARE THE CONTRACT and affect EVERYONE on the project in different ways. You shouldn’t be drawing anything or picking up a hammer to build something if you don’t understand these requirements.  If you don’t understand what that means, you are going to make some huge mistakes.  Almost everyone in AEC, since the beginning of time, will get a trial by fire education in their firm.  That education will be piecemeal and will often be painful.  You could go through your entire career (and most do) without ever understanding the whole picture.  This is totally unacceptable.  More on this later.


Many people in AEC work in a bubble.  It drives me insane.  They come out of school thinking they have learned what they need to know to work in our environment, go off to their firms and then focus on honing their craft.  The problem is that making a building happen is a TEAM effort.  Owners, Architects, Engineers, Consultants, Product Reps, Contractors, Subcontractors, etc. work together to make it happen.  We absolutely need to know and understand each other.

  • Do you know what happens in a Construction Company?
  • Do you know the workflow in an engineering or consulting firm?
  • Do you know what the Contract say’s about roles and responsibilities? What you can and can’t do? Who is supposed to do it?
  • Do you know a Product Rep’s true role and how they can help you do things right?
  • Do you know if the documents that you prepare are free of conflicts that could get you in trouble if you end up in a conflict?
  • Do you know what a Specification is? Its purpose? What belongs where and why?

I could make this list really, really long with things many in our industry (including experienced professionals) do not understand.  The result of this lack of understanding is typically lost time, money and project conflicts.  You could be different.

You MUST get out of your bubble.  Meet people from other disciplines, work in another discipline for a while, talk about issues from different viewpoints, learn from each other, understand roles and responsibilities and know that you do NOT make this project happen alone.  Jump off the high horse and get your hands dirty.


Don’t let the name “Construction Specifications Institute” fool you.  Way too many folks dismiss the value of CSI because they think it is just about specs.  It is not.  It is PROJECT DELIVERY EDUCATION among many other things.  You know, that thing that I spoke about earlier.  That thing you are not getting in school or your trade program.

I am not saying that you should choose CSI instead of AIA, ASHRAE, AGC, etc.  You absolutely should join your disciplines association to hone your craft.  Then, you should join CSI so you can learn how to deliver a project with limited risk.  I so wish I would have understood this many years ago – it would have changed the course of my career.

Why you ask?

CSI is the ONLY AEC industry organization that welcomes all disciplines to the table as an equal member.  Everybody belongs in CSI because everybody needs to understand how a project works.  It is not enough to know how to draw a floor plan.  From day one, you need to know that what you are putting on paper has far reaching implications, no matter your role.

I joined CSI five years ago and I am very active in the organization.  I mentor, I teach CDT Certificate courses (Construction Document Technologist – the first thing you should do), I am currently on the Portland Board as Immediate Past President and I chair the Institute Practice Area Curriculum Committee.  In addition, I plan and run Young Professionals Day at our convention. The benefits to me from this involvement have been tremendous.

Can you imagine going to a meeting to learn something and, in the process, being able to share an issue with both peers and experienced professionals.  Getting the perspective of a Contractor, Architect, Engineer, Product Rep and more?  You can’t possibly have any idea how much more depth there is to your learning process until you have experienced this.  My career skyrocketed after I joined CSI.  I have met professionals from all over this country who help me regularly.  These are the most giving and knowledgeable people that I have ever met.  These people “get it” because someone guided them down the right path.  A path that seems to be the industry’s best kept secret, which is a shame.

I am happy to share more detailed information about CSI and how it WILL help you with anyone who contacts me.


Another misconception in our industry is that EP’s need mentoring but, due to inexperience in the industry, don’t have much to give back yet.  This is a load of crap.  You have as much to teach me as I have to teach you and I want to learn from you.  This is a two way street and I am a better professional by knowing and sharing with you.

If you are not already, you need to get your voice out there.  I don’t care what works for you – Twitter, Blogging, pursuing leadership roles in industry organizations, LinkedIn, planning an event, going to meetings and networking (yes this is vitally important), asking to present at an event – JUST DO IT.

If you want to set yourself apart, it is not enough to just go to work and go home.  You need to know what others (including your bosses) do not.  You need to meet people from all over the industry.  You need to get involved and you need to show all of those misguided souls just what you can do.

I was so fortunate at many points in my career to have amazing mentors who helped me do things that many thought that I could never do.  I want to give back.

The opportunities to come together and kick some ass are exciting.  Do me a favor and come to the table!

About The Blogger

Cherise Lakeside works for LSW Architects as a specifier, is a Director-at-Large on the CSI Institute Board, the immediate Past President of Portland CSI and Chair of the Institute Curriculum Area Prep Committee.  Cherise also participate on the CONSTRUCT Education Advisory Council and lead the CONSTRUCT Young Professionals Day.  She was the official CONSTRUCT blogger in 2015 and 2016.

Cherise is particularly passionate about, emerging professional development and improving project coordination for the best possible outcome.  They call her the #CSIKraken.

Let's Fix Construction is written by a collective group of construction professionals involved in, an online impartial platform to provide forward-thinking solutions to many longstanding issues that have plagued construction. Organizers and contributors seek to better the industry by sharing knowledge, while creating open and positive communication and collaboration.

Here is a link to read Michael Riscica’s article titled: Let’s Fix Mentorship


Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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