Message - Re: Architecture Career Change - Know The Facts. Know Thyself.

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Posted by  Grumpy Voice of Experience on June 01, 2003 at 11:39:35:

In Reply to:  Architecture Career Change posted by Brian on May 30, 2003 at 15:50:24:

I respectfully disagree about the "fun" and "excitement". You may have fun messing around with design, but you will find actually making a living from architecture to be not so wonderful. What follows is somewhat of a diatribe, but of course, I only have myself to blame.

For most career changers, architecture is a shell game perpetuated by the popular misconception. Think twice. Talk to builders, developers, property owners, lawyers, government building officials and many architects. Think again, then look at some other career choices and maybe get in a couple therapy sessions.

Consider engineering - if you are good at computer science, you'll find more work opportunities and better pay as an engineer. People really need your skills, almost as much as a doctor, veterinarian, lawyer or accountant. Architects are not in the same category.

Consider construction contracting - get a masters in project management and get some toolbelt experience. People need competent honest builders more than they need architects. You actually make something, and for many residential and small commercial projects, you can be the designer (you are not permitted to call yourself an architect, but so what?) Don't go to architecture school to be a builder. Read architecture while eating your sandwich on your carpentry job lunch break. You'll make money instead of blowing it on tuition. Fact - Lead Carpenters are paid more than you will be paid for at least 6 years out of architectural grad school.

Now, go outside and bang your head against the sidewalk as hard as you can.

Still interested? Proceed....

Yes, there are several 3 year Masters programs out there. Know what aspect of design you are most interested in before selecting a school. Consider urban planning for a career with people and leverage to really change the world for better or worse. Architects have virtually no leverage and really are more responsible for individual buildings only.

Architecture school is more stressful than medical school. Take it from one who knew both.

After you graduate, you have about 3 to 5 years of "internship" during which by State Law you are not permitted to call yourself an architect. What the hell is an "intern"? You have a master's degree, no experience and no respect. You are not permitted to use the terms "architect" "M.Arch." "architectural designer" etc. to describe yourself in marketing, on a business card or when performing your work.

Then a massive 2 or 3 day costly test that used to be given only twice a year and was rather challenging to pass. It has since been computerized and maybe simplified. It can be taken in smaller bites also. Apparently still has some crunchy parts. Then you can pay some more fees to become legally registered as an "architect".

By the way, the pay for interns sucks. I mean really sucks. It has only been a few years since the Department of Labor cracked down on the profession for exploiting interns with no-pay work and bogus independent contractor status. If you are used to computer science graduate related salaries, get ready to downsize to elementary teacher and child-care professional levels of compensation.

Architects, like dogs, are only as good as their masters. You will now work for 3 to 6 years more for firms who have long ago given up the struggle for dignity. They will do anything to get the clients and keep them happy. Is your nose brown enough yet? Maybe you can get a job with them for a carpenter helper's pay. You will be laid off whenever business slows down, which is often.

Your bosses will be competing (read, cutting throats and stabbing backs) for publicly funded jobs in order to eat. The only reason developers and business people deal with them is because the law requires them to, and to shift liability onto you. Owners only want your services because they are too busy. You are not perceived as really necessary, only a convenience to meet legal requirements.

The AIA will charge you enormous membership fees and inundate you with eye candy superstar project propaganda and come-ons to expensive insurance and junkets. The only advantage - a discount on their legal contract forms designed to push responsibility onto everyone other than the architect and despised by the construction industry.

You will have virtually no respect from anyone who actually bids for and builds the projects. They'll kowtow to your face because you control the payment approvals, but denigrate you at every opportunity.

And when you ask for a salary level commensurate with your responsibility, ability to deliver and comparable to your collegues in engineering, the client or hiring firm interviewer will become rather quiet. You will get a polite but negative letter three or four months later, if you are lucky.

Go into business for yourself? Read "Death of a Salesman". Prepare to have a second source of income and a divorce settlement. What's the use of going to architectural grad school if it turns out the best and most fun way to make a living is to design and build small projects for which you do not have to be a legal architect?

Go into big construction? You need to know construction, not design. You didn't learn it in school. You need to know how to budget and estimate costs. You didn't learn it in school. You need to know how to schedule multiple contracts. You didn't learn... you get the picture. Check out construction business degrees instead.

Go into development (big risk, big reward, massive leverage to affect the world for better or worse). See urban planning. Don't bother with school. Most highly successful developers didn't.

Well, that's about it. Feeling better now. Good luck, my friend.

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