Architalks #20 Introduction
Once a month a group of architect bloggers gather to blog about the same topic. This 'movement' led by Life of an Architect's Bob Borson is called #ArchiTalks.
The topic for this month's #ArchiTalks number 20 is “Summer.”
The theme “Summer” made me think of my first summer internship. I worked for a firm in Baltimore called Marks Thomas Architects. It was a fun summer and I did learn a lot, but I feel like it could have been more valuable. One of the common threads on Buildings Are Cool is me looking back and saying “I wish I knew then what I know now.” If so, I would have gotten a lot more out of that 3 month stint.
Many of you may be in the middle of a summer internship or you have been hired full time as an architectural intern. I have gathered 4 of the most valuable lessons I learned over my time as an intern and architect. This advice will come in handy and allow you to make the most of your internship. Good luck!
Congratulations! You have been hired for a summer internship.
For 3 months, you will be at the disposal of an architecture firm before you head back to school. You will gain valuable experience, learn new skills and hopefully develop esteemed contacts. This short gig has the potential to serve as the launching pad for your career.
So how do you make the best of that time?
After all, it is only a couple of months.
Before I get into my list, I think it is important for you to understand 2 facts. Just a warning, part of this may sting a little bit.
You are Green. This is a polite way to say that you don’t know anything yet because you are likely to have little to no professional experience. It is important that you understand that your new employer has taken a risk on you and now has the challenge of trying to make you productive in just a few months. It is possible that half of that time will be spent in training and just when you become useful, they will ship you back off to school.
So be thankful. Be thankful that this firm has invested in you.
You are valuable. But wait….Steve you just said that we suck. Well, kind of. Although you start with little experience, you do have the potential to be one of the most profitable employees in the firm.
How so? It is simple. You are not getting paid much. You are likely getting an hourly rate of about $15-20 per hour. Your firm can bill a client anywhere from $60-90 per hour for your time At 4-5 times your pay, that is a very handsome multiplier. A multiplier of 3 is more typical for a firm.
Now if you are cleaning out old drawings or arranging the supply room, your time is not billable. Only when working on specific projects.
Confused yet? My goal with confusing your value is to highlight that an internship can be extremely valuable for both parties, the employee and the employer. So make the most of it!
4 Secrets To Getting The Most out of Your Summer Internship:
#1 - Be Proactive
There is a possibility that during your internship you will get pigeonholed into one or a couple specific tasks. For example, it is very common for new interns to be given a stack of redlines of construction details. You may be stuck on redlines for several days or even weeks. If the firm can teach you one task and get you doing it very well, they may not be motivated to train you for a second task. It is up to you to break that.
So what do I recommend: At the very beginning of your internship, have a talk with your direct supervisor. Ask the supervisor how you can best get a well rounded experience. Tell them that your goal is to get a general understanding of the practice and that you’d like to have experience in a variety of categories, schematic design, construction details, construction administration, etc. Ask them if you can attend meetings with clients and consultants.
Your supervisor will respect your motivation and will be more likely to spread you around. What's the worse that could happen?
#2 Be a Social Butterfly
“Be a social butterfly? What? “I’m here to work, Steve,” you may be saying. This may sound counterintuitive, but plugging in your head phones, putting your head down, and working for 8 hours straight is not why you were hired. Nor is it in your best interest.
This is something that employees at all levels suffer at: being social, being human. It is ok to take breaks. It is ok to get up, walk around and talk to people. We are not robots!
These social encounters could be the most valuable parts of your internship. By the end of your summer internship you want everyone in your office to know you. The more people in your office that know what a rockstar you are, the more likely you are to get invited back the following summer or for a full time gig. You will also have many people to call on for future recommendations if you decide to go elsewhere for employment. If you have your head down for 3 months and only speak when spoken to then you are just missing out.
Now of course you need to be productive and get your work done but just a few things I recommend: Take off the headphones from time to time. When people walk by your desk, look up, say hello. Don’t just stay glued to your desk. Get up throughout the day and walk around. Ask folks what they are working on. Maybe it is a project that you can help with. Ask them how their weekend was. Small talk is ok.
These simple interactions will create opportunities to learn new things, opportunities to work on different projects and foster new mentors.
This may sound like flaky advice, but the truth is that people want to work with people they like.
#3 Be Flexible
Remember that pigeonhole thingy. You may find yourself getting yanked out of that pigeonhole. Cool right? Except that you may find yourself being yanked from multiple people. We call this the intern tug of war.
As a deadline based industry, we like to shift labor around where needed. Your supervisor has told you that you are committed to working on wall sections for that middle school renovation for the next 4 weeks until the deadline. Then out of the blue one of the principals pops by your desk and asks if you can do a revit model of his garage addition. Now you are thinking, which one do I do first. While pontificating another architect pops by and says, “Hey I heard you are good at photoshop? Can you fix this rendering so that it shows red brick instead of yellow brick and add a bunch of people and cars while you are at it. And I need this by noon.”
Is your head about to explode? Welcome to the career of architecture.
This will happen. And this is a good thing. This means people like you and trust you. This is the fun part. So what do you do? I would recommend you talk to each person who has called on you and let them know of all of your tasks. Work with them to prioritize your time.
Whatever you do, don’t say no to work. Never say no. Remain nimble. Remain flexible.
#4 Embrace Where You Are
I am now 10 years into my career. As a project architect and associate principal in my firm, my role involves lots of juggling. And it's the kind of juggling where you’ve got a bowling pin, an apple and a flaming chainsaw.
I typically work on about 5 projects at a time. They are all incredible projects and I feel very lucky.
It also comes with a lot of stress. Managing deadlines for that many projects is a challenge. My email box is constantly sending me messages that it is full, the voicemail light on my phone is always blinking red. It’s a challenge.
Sometimes I feel like I am skiing down the mountain and there is an avalanche behind me. Thankfully I always stay just ahead of that avalanche. This is the Life of an Architect. It can be stressful.
Now let's look at you.
The amount of work stress for an intern is minuscule. I don’t mean to criticize, I just want you to embrace your lack of stress. Embrace your empty email mailbox. Embrace the fact that your phone doesn’t ring.
You are at the top of the mountain. You have a brand new pair of skis attached to your feet or a snowboard if that is your fancy. You are looking down the mountain. The sky is blue, not a cloud in sight. No one is on the mountain but you. The powder is fresh. All trails are open. The mountain is yours. That is where you are in your career. It is pretty amazing. You can chart your own course.
The mountain is yours……Go!
Steve’s Wrap Up
When you started reading this article you may have thought I would have recommended becoming a wizard at some computer program like revit or photoshop or some other more technical advice. There is no doubt that some degree of technical mastery will propel you in your career. That expertise will eventually develop, but it would be foolish for you or your employer to expect that to occur in 3 months.
Your employer is more interested in learning if you are a valid candidate for full time employment. And they want to know what kind of person you are. And you are there to get a taste and to start building a foundation.
By being proactive you will guide your internship and steer it in the direction of your choice.
Being flexible will make you valuable to your firm and allow you to gain a broad experience.
If you become the social butterfly that I recommend then you will quickly find those mentors that will help you now and in the future.
Embrace the open mountain. In a short time you will be speeding out of control, dodging trees, trying to stay ahead of the avalanche. It will be a blast.
But wait, there's more. I am fortunate to be in cahoots with a bunch of all stars who are also blogging about the topic Summer. Please do yourself a favor and follow the links below to read great articles by the other architalkers. Free advice!
Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Do I Need to Hire an Architect?
Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
... and the livin's easy
Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
An Acrophobic Architect's Illuminating Summer of Roofs
Jes Stafford - MODwelling (@modarchitect)
The Dog Days of Summer
Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Summer -- Architecture Imagery
Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#Architalks 20 "summer" and architecture
Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Summer is a Great Time To Market Your Architecture Firm!
Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
summer working, had me a blast
Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
An Architect Summer
Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Summer : A Review