Learn the Career Path of an Architect
Considered working as an architect? This interview will take you down the career path of an architect including the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land he job, what you can expect to earn and more. This is a true career story as told to "DiversityJobs.com street smart" – a collection of true work-life stories told by members of minority groups. I'm a project manager in an architectural firm, working directly from a quality control monitor to a software engineer, and everything in between. I work under a licensed project architect. This position designates me as the first point of contact for clients and contractors during the contract document phase of a project and during the construction phase of a project. I over saw the working drawings and specifications. I have been in this industry for 12 years and a project manager for the last five years. The fact I am detail oriented and calm has been a benefit. For the record, I am a white male. Once I got out of school, this is just a fact that has had no bearing on my job. The majority of what I do is paperwork. Every decision and change in a construction project has to be documented and approved by the client or rejected. If needed, I submit changes to the municipal authority in charge of building inspection. Loose ends are not acceptable. Depending on the complexity of the project, you will have a team working under you. There is a misconception architects spend their day in creative tasks such as drawing. That is at most 2% of any project. Most projects allow from six months to two years from start to finish depending on the complexity of the building type. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my job satisfaction as a 5. The things that sold me on acquiring degrees in architecture are just not present in the large firms. I would fit better in a smaller office of 25 people or less. My sweet spot in life would be to work for myself as a writer. The drive to work for oneself is very common in this industry. I got started in high school with an internship in a small local firm. If I had an opportunity to do it over, I would get an undergraduate degree in history, or English, and get a master’s degree in architecture. In the disciplines of history and English, you learn how to write. That is incredibly important in putting construction documents together and for the volumes of reports you will write. One lesson I learned the hard way is you have to keep up with technology. It is very hard to find a job if you cannot demonstrate a working knowledge of the drafting program that a firm uses. In the working world, you need to actually listen to the boss, the client, and the people you are working with. Students tend to think one answer, their own, fits everything. The strangest thing that ever happened to me occurred in Grand Rapid Michigan. I was doing a field observation report for a client and was on the roof looking at the condition of the HVAC units. I turned around and there was a flock of geese at eye level flying directly at me. I ducked. I get up and go to work each day because I promised I would. One of the better feelings I get is from delivering on a promise. One of the worst is failing to deliver. This job is extremely stressful during the fall and winter seasons. Typically, projects have to be ready for bids by spring and construction starts during the summer months. Clients hit the roof if you miss a bid. If you miss the bid schedule, you affect the bank loans, the building opening, and potential revenues. Also, the construction drawings have to be complete for a bid to be effective. The biggest challenge in architecture is time management. I usually want to quit around January or December as the pressure to complete construction drawings mount. The job can be extremely stressful during up swings in construction and lay-offs are very common during the down swings in construction. There is no job security unless you own the firm. You have to work at maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It is not easy. I started out around $21,000 and worked my way up to $48,000. If you add the bonus, it came out to $54,000. The upper salary for a licensed employee is in the $80,000 range depending on the firm’s location. Keep in mind that you are responsible for your own license fees, continuing education, AIA dues, and any other training you need. You will be expected to use your own car to visit construction sites; but, unless the firm is incredibly cheap you will reimbursed for the mileage. The wages are low compared to other professionals such as engineers, who will be working for you. There is a tendency for young architects to job hop in order to get a raise in salary. Vacation time is pretty much the standard two weeks that increases with your tenure. It worked for me. Architecture is regulated by the state you live in. Most states require that you at least complete the Intern Development Program of NCARB and you have an accredited professional degree and you pass the state licensing exam. If I had a friend who was interested in this line of work, I would wish him well and have him read this article. If I could write my own ticket for a five year plan, I would be free-lance writer making regular contributions to Architectural Record. JustJobs.com is a job search engine that finds job listings from company career pages, other job boards, newspapers and associations. With one search, they help you find the job with your name on it.Photo credit: Shutterstock
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Work is important to a lot of us. And we all have egos. The trick is to balance our own view of work and success so that the ego remains a helpful source of support and not a tyrannical master. One is the road to relative contentment, the other to continued misery. Have you struck the balance?

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