One year anniversary

It’s been a trying year for me. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to land this current job (since last year) and still have it, I wonder if I might have been better off had I not accepted the position?

The work is not interesting. I’m not gaining useful professional experience. I work with an architect who has little or no interest in designing. He’s only interested in being the few who is providing a service that no other architects are interested in taking on. He has convinced gullible clients that he is connected to authorities with power to approve projects. The truth is, he has no influence over these bureaucratic figures. He may know them and he may have a rapport with them but his familiarity with these people has not by passed the bureaucracy machine of getting projects approved. He also wants to churn out work based on a template or standard drawing information.

He also relies on an individual in the office who has no degree or passion for architecture. He may have experience but he’s not inspirational. He’s not fit to lead nor does it seem like he has an interest in taking on more responsibility than what he’s accustomed to, which is not working with others.

I try to stay positive but it gets more and more difficult. There’s just no hope for this office, or for the people who strive to be architects. This is not where architects are made.

I’m professionally stunted, and that’s not good. Time moves on. Each year I’m not working on a new construction project is another year wasted. I’m not pleased that I’m venting this out but I am so frustrated.

However, I’m not without a means of escape, or at the very least – trying to create opportunities for myself that may lead to a better future.


One year later, part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I was made redundant towards the end of September in 2010. I was hopeful about 2011 and my prospects of returning to work within the second quarter. But the reality of the economic situation continued to be harsh. As autumn approached, I was starting to get depressed.

And then one day I received an email requesting an interview. There was something prospective about this email because the architect contacted me a day after I sent in my resume. The other interviews that I went on were arranged weeks and months after I responded to the job listings. I had a good feeling about this one.

The interview went well and in fact, the architect was familiar with a couple of former employers, and a project I had worked on. He explained to me the type of projects that the office does, which clarified some of the projects I noticed on the website. At the end of the interview, the architect advised me to take a day to think it over and to send him an email of my interest and then a second interview would be set up.

I didn’t really need to think it over. It was employment; an opportunity to return to an architectural office environment. A second interview was set up the same week. An offer was made. I accepted, and I started on Monday.

I’m glad to be back at work, and thankful to have this opportunity as there are many others who are still unemployed. I was plucked out from hundreds who have applied for the same position, and the architect hired me.

I feel whole again and to be a contributing member of society. The next step, becoming a license architect.

A prelude…

During the last 6 months since being unemployed, I have put together cover letters with my resume and samples of my work to various job postings that I found or forwarded to me by friends. I knew getting hired during these economic times was not going to be easy. There is competition for these positions and employers are seeking a candidate that can do it all! I also noticed many positions seeking freelance architects. I kept an open mind about being a freelance architect and sought out advice and tips from architects via Twitter. In February, I accepted a small project with a previous employer to test the waters at being a freelancer. It has been an interesting experience, which I will share when the project is completed.

photo by Maxime Perron Caissy found on Stock.XCHNG

Soon after taking on a project as a freelancer, I was approached with two commissions. One is a graphic design project, and the other is a small residential interiors project. I am excited about both these projects for more than obvious reasons, which I will expand on in a future post.

I’ve also reconnected with a former colleague and friend, a great guy. When we used to work together, he was one of the people who developed an AutoCAD and drawing organization and standards that I continue to use today. He is currently, an “expert” on Revit. He teaches the program at various institutions and works for one of the large corporate architectural offices. If anybody is going to help me to accept and embrace Revit, he is that person. After speaking with him about, I have become more open-minded about the new architectural documentation platform.

In addition to trying to find a full-time position, I have been lending some of my time to giving back to the community. I volunteer at the Museum of Chinese in America. You may have read one of my posts about the current special exhibit, Chinese Puzzles. The post I wrote was of my own will. I was not influenced, solicited, or asked by MoCA. I recently met Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen, the curators and owners of the Chinese Puzzles exhibit who, on their own, found my post on the fascinating exhibit about Chinese puzzles. They were appreciative of my post on the exhibit, and complimented on the photography. In fact, they liked my photographs of the exhibit and of the puzzles, that they have asked me to do additional photography for them. I was flattered but you can imagine how pleased I was, too. I can add photographer as part of my repertoire of creative experience and skills.

I still want to return to a full-time position at an architectural practice but I am more than pleased to have these wonderful opportunities to develop as a self-employed architect/designer. This has been a long time coming, I suppose. I have considered it but always as moonlighting, though. It is a wonder to me how life seems unexpected at times. One minute, you’re just going about your life, your daily routine. The next minute, you find yourself lost and wondering what to do to pass the time productively. Without realizing it, the little things that you do in life and the what you say to people have an effect. And that effect has been positive for me. It has opened my eyes and my mind about possibilities, about my life, my career path. These events has helped me to realize that I can live a life that is not routine and traditional. I am curious to see how this new life as an independent architect/designer develops and how long it will last. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I’m in it for the ride and will go where it takes me. I hope you will ride shotgun with me?

**Disclaimer: I know I referred myself as an architect but please note that I have not acquired my license yet but I don’t want to deny my professional training and experience.**

End of the year 2010 commentary

Christmas has come and gone, and 2010 is about to come to a close. In 2009 my employment was spared. I continued to work into 2010 with hope of exciting projects to materialize and when they didn’t, I was let go. To be quite honest, I was relieved. I was not upset. I saw the signs but it wasn’t any better out there so I stayed until the moment arrived. I had to keep myself from smiling when I sat face to face with my boss as he explained the situation. Although I did not agree with how he practiced, I did appreciate the opportunity to work on some interesting projects and having been exposed to a world characters I would never have access to.

I worked on a schematic design for a night club venue for that would be part of a huge development in Southeast Asia.There was a hospitality development that was set in the south but drama ensued with the negotiations and that deal fell through. It is a shame as a lot of time and effort was put into making it a reality. I also developed a prototype for a health conscious convenient grocer. And I even worked on the design of an immense beach house.

As I mentioned earlier, I was relieved to have been let go. Though the projects were interesting, they did not have the steady momentum to keep me motivated because I knew these were not going to be realized. It did not make sense to extend myself beyond what was needed to get the task completed. I know when my efforts are appreciated and it was not fully appreciated there. I miss being appreciated. I miss giving it more than 100%. I miss extending myself for the benefit of the project, the client, my employer, and most importantly, for myself. I found it frustrating and at times stressful to work in an environment where I could not be as professional as I could possibly be. I felt underutilized for my experience and skill set. When I decided to join this practice, I was hoping to grow but instead, I leveled out. So when I was let go, feelings of frustration and stress evaporated.

On top of being rendered unemployed after 2+ years of disappointment, I found out to my dismay that my years in the work force counts for nothing with IDP. I was not devastated but became briefly frantic about getting whatever eligible hours/points submitted to IDP. Becoming an architect is now my goal for 2011. I have no excuses and actually have my disappointments to inspire me to finally complete this chapter of my professional career.

I remain hopeful about employment prospects in 2011 but I have a feeling the economy will not spark any surges in hires. The market is not in favor of the “looking for work” candidate. Employers have higher expectations and requirements from their prospective candidates.These are requirements I would not have even developed had I stayed in any of my previous places of employment. It makes me feel out-dated and my experiences obsolete. I can easily learn these additional skills but I know I will be professionally abused because I’ve been there and have little interest in doing that again. Besides, where I want to go with my professional career, in my opinion, does not require these skills.

I also bumped into a former employer who I do keep good relations with. It was great to see him and catch up. I was also touched when he expressed how much they appreciated my professionalism. Their practice is getting by and he explained that they had hired someone but informed the new hire that their employment was a trial and is contingent of projects coming in. Yet, he has inquired with me (more than once) of any possibilities of freelancing with them. I can’t help but think about the trial status of the recent hire while I was being courted for freelance work. Of course, we continue to remain friends.

And speaking of friendships, I have to say that I have had great fun making friends in the architectural community on Twitter. I know that may seem strange but if you’re reading this, it’s really not all that strange to you. What a bunch of supportive people! I certainly appreciate the many kind and encouraging words here on La Femme Architecte and on Twitter. It means a lot and helps me to push on with what I want to do with this blog and continued endeavors with writing and architecture. To these people, I want to thank you and wish you a Happy New Year!

It’s not the end…

If you didn’t have a chance to read my last post, I’ve recently become one of the unemployed. Despite my situation, I remain upbeat. To be frank, I doubt I will land a job by the end of the year. In my years of experience especially as it relates to finding a new job, I’ve managed to secure a new position in spring, late summer, and early autumn. Those seem to be prime times for hiring…during a good economy. Now that we’re into autumn with holidays around the corner, nobody is going to seriously hire. There may be jobs posted in the paper but chances are the following:

  • You’re not the only one applying.
  • Someone on the other end has to take the time out to review and plan interviews.
  • The same people reviewing resumes have to make sure they have the work to hire someone.

Knowing this, I have been preparing myself for the next opportunities and while I wait out for the economy to return to prosperity, I am keeping myself busy with the following “projects”.

  1. Updating the resume; a friend made an amazing make over of my resume, which I am happy to share with you in a following post.
  2. Work on your architect’s license requirements; whether you’re going for your IDP, exams, or keeping current with your architectural knowledge and skills.
  3. Get involved with local charities and non-profit organizations – volunteer.
  4. Apply to internships. This may not be appealing to some who are at an advanced stage in their career but it’s a great way to learn new things and maybe new skills if you can get pass the stigma of being an intern.
  5. Take classes and learn new skills.  I know money is tight but maybe this a good time to return to your interests when you were too busy with work. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write that great novel – take a writing class; etc. Also a great time to perhaps change careers. You like to bake? Take a pastry class at your local culinary school.

If you know somebody who has recently become unemployed due to the current economic state, don’t tell them you’re sorry, or you feel bad. It doesn’t help them feel any better about their situation. Instead, cheer them on with words of encouragement. I must say that some of the folks on Twitter have been very supportive – they know who they are if they are reading this. Don’t ask how the job market/search is going because we all know it’s not great out there. Instead, offer to forward their resume to your office or offer to forward it to your professional networks. And direct them to this post.

Thank you and Good luck!

Show me the MONEY!

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a middle of an exchange between my boss and the architect we are sharing office space with. The two were once college classmates. They were discussing a project where the client would need the services of a licensed architect however, he would not be able to afford the professional services. By the way, the client is a friend of my boss. My boss helped him with the layout and provided him with drawings to which to build from but the project required filing with the DOB as advised by the landlord, hence the need for a licensed architect.

In the conversation my boss advised the architect that instead of payment, the client would be able to barter some artwork for architectural services. And in fact, what he was asking for was a favor. The architect accepted the favor without further thought.

I was surprised and disappointed by this. And apparently, this is acceptable practice by some architects. There are a couple of things I find troubling about architects who agree to barter for their services. One, no contract. In a profession where architects are constantly protecting themselves from blame or lawsuits with lots of architectural, construction, and legal jargon in our documents, it boggles my mind when an architect elects to not bother with these formalities. Two, I don’t know any architect who is 100% satisfied with their salary or fees (next blog post?) so why get paid with anything other than money? Yes, I know that “money isn’t everything” or “money doesn’t buy you happiness” but you know what? Money pays the bills!

I would have less issue with bartering (I still don’t agree with it) if the architect is self-employed (and financially sufficient), works out of their home office, and has no staff. However, what I witnessed was not the case.

Wikipedia defines favor as the following:

As an activity, a favor is a deed in which help is voluntarily provided.

It may be used as an alternative to monetary compensations in the form of currency, or other items of value. A drawback compared to objects is that the value of a favor is hard to estimate, and depends on the situation and the person providing it.

The other issue that annoys me is the regard of an architect’s professional license and his responsibility to the built environment as a “favor”. It is debasing, insulting, and offensive. What we do on a day-to-day basis is not like being asked to water someone’s houseplants or feed the cat while they go on vacation. The work that we do requires creative thinking and is time-consuming. It’s not very often that an architect is approached with a no-brainer task. And even if someone does approach them with a simple task, a professional architect is going to take the time to make sure that whatever they do complies with city codes and regulations because their license is at stake.

I know I am taking a rather hard-line view on this subject but I view architectural practice as a professional business, and should be conducted as such. I’m not suggesting that architects can not be flexible in order to meet the client requests but I don’t think the actions an architect decides to take should compromise the profession and those who work hard to maintain a professional image of an architect. And very often it does because I’ve been given that resigned response of “that’s what’s done” by a previous employer on an employer v. employee issue that I pointed out as poor practice. I did not agree with his response, and I especially did not appreciate his attitude of architects perpetuating poor practice from mentor to apprentice.

In a profession where we are supposed to learn from seasoned architects so we may become proud professionals wouldn’t you agree that architects should be mindful and uphold the integrity of what it means to be an architect?

Camaraderie amongst architects

Now that we’ve settled into 2010, the US economy doesn’t seem to be making much headway in improving the job market especially as it relates to architecture and construction.

I caught up with a friend and former colleague at the beginning of the year over Sunday brunch. She’s a working mother of two adorable children and her husband is also an architect. We became fast friends ever since we had lunch after I had noticed she was getting frustrated with our project team and the architect who was leading it. She was relieved to hear that I also shared common issues about the office, project team, and the managing architect. It was of great relief to know that we were not alone in our displeasure with the then working environment.

In our recent get together, we confided in each other our dissatisfaction with our current employment situation but recognize it was in our best interest to remain silent about it from our respective employers. As I have mentioned earlier, my friend is a working mother of two young children, and shares the responsiblity of picking them up at the end of the day with her husband. She’s been finding this difficult to do as of late because it meant that she had to leave a little bit early (of course always making up her time). She works for a respected corporate firm, and though they have employees with families and domestic responsibilities, she is on a team of young “go-getters” (who work crazy long hours, a behavior left over from their architectural education), and is the only “mom” amongst her project team members. She has a cloud of guilt when she leaves to pick up her children because there is nobody else who is a parent to young children on the project team. The project that she’s working on is on a tight schedule to complete documents, and as a result all team members are required to pull in overtime. In addition to the hectic work schedule, she has taken on more tasks on top of her other responsibilities (along with the other team members).

In order for some of these large corporate architecture firms to stay afloat and ride thru this economic downturn, they had to lay-off non-essential staff. The employers kept those who had the abilities to take on tasks that were previously delegated to intermediate and/or senior staff. Those who were fortunate enough to keep their employment had to double or triple up their responsibilities.

My situation is similar in that I acquired a bigger work load as a result of my colleagues having been laid-off in the summer of 2009. I inherited the mismanaged projects but fortunately those projects did not require me to over exert myself. I was successful in completing the projects however, my responsibilities lacked challenge. I found myself in a less senior role as 2009 ended and entered 2010. I was professionally frustrated, and wanted to improve my situation.

Before 2009 came to an end, I had spoken to a friend who is in the construction industry. He told me at the time that he was putting an ad in the NY Times to hire someone and had noticed that there weren’t any ads seeking a position to be filled in construction. He further added that it would take another three years before we start to see signs of recovery…

Having that bleak outlook on my mind made my situation seem almost unbearable until I had brunch with my friend, and found out that I was not alone in going through the motions as we struggled to do our best to hold onto our jobs during this recession. And if things should become professionally moot for me, I have a sort of back-up plan to my career path, which is to return to school for real estate development and project management, and get my architectural license (yes, still working on it and a topic to expand on but not here). This alternative to an architectural career was echoed by another friend and architect who I considered a mentor.

He works for a prestigious architecture firm, and his position in the firm is not too far from the head of the company. I met him as a college intern at one of the large corporate firms. He was always helpful and enthusiastic about architecture education and as a profession. He dispensed great advice and wisdom that came from experience, and always with a positive outlook to better yourself professionally.

We met for lunch at the beginning of 2010 after losing touch for some years. We exchanged updates of our current working environment and discussed how our industry has been hit hard with the recession. He strongly urged that I get my architectural license after I admitted my reluctance to pursue it. He explained that he once shared the same thoughts I have of the architectural industry and practice. He further explained that when he finally became licensed, he felt free. He added that with the license I could dive into related fields; like construction management and real estate development; and be more appreciated for my architectural expertise as opposed to working in an environment of architects vying for recognition. There was so much truth to what he said; truth that I already knew but have been hesitating to do something about it. I appreciated his words and advice. In fact, I thanked him for being a mentor.

I walked away from my friends with the weight of professional despair being lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t alone in finding myself in a situation where I was fortunate to be gainfully employed but that the working environment had become less stimulating. Furthermore, the options that I have been pondering are avenues my friend and mentor encouraged me to pursue.

At times, we may not be able to express ourselves freely to our supervisors, or confide with our teammates because we do not trust how they will digest what we reveal, and thus, it creates an awkward and perhaps even stressful working environment. And at other times, you may not have anyone you can share or vent your frustrations to, which also does not make for a productive attitude towards achieving your professional goal(s). Should you find yourself in a similar situation, know that you are not alone, there are always options, and feel free to share or vent freely here.