#ArchiTalks #Career #Path #41

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. The Topic ‘Leader’ for this post ‘Career Path’ is Mike LaValley:

We were given a few pointers for inspiration on this post:

1. One’s personalized career path
2. How to navigate a career in the long term
3. Alternatives to the ‘standard’ career path as an architect that many think about (ie. school, work, license, own a firm, retire)
4. Stories about experiences that have shaped your own career in profound ways.

So let’s get started as I think my career path has been an interesting one…

What I’ll also do is add a few ‘hot tips’ in for students to help them along their path.

1. My own career path:

I’d wanted to be an architect from I guess about the age of 7; my own guess now is that I wanted to design Tracey Island on Thunderbirds and even at that young age I understood that architecture was the combination of art and science. You can read a bot more about the Thunderbirds link and my background in this NOVEDGE INTERVIEW I did a while back.

I can remember being called into the headmaster’s room to discuss why I was doing the ridiculous combination of Art, Maths and Chemistry for my A’ level choices (aged 16). My response was that I wanted to be an architect and that the combination of art and science would be ideal:

Headmaster: “The architecture course is very long and you might want to change your mind”

Me: “I won’t be changing my mind, I’m going to be an architect”

Fast forward a few years and I’ve graduated in my degree and post-graduate Masters in Architecture but I have started to diverge slightly from ‘pure’ architecture; I was very interested in Computer Aided Design.

I’d got my job post Masters (thanks Phillip Allison, Oxford Brookes) as he know that I was interested in CAD and he recommended my for a job at Architects Design Partnership. So the Hot Tip is to be helpful and known to the tutors – they may be contacted about jobs by employers and will put your name forward.

In the job where I qualified as an architect I was also taken on to help set up the computers and CAD work-stations. But it was the prospect of undertaking a ‘pig processing plant’ that turned me off being an architect and I launched out on my own as an architect and computer consultant. Here’s what I did then…

• Set up as Architect and CAD consultant; initially using Architrion (long gone) and subsequently (and still using) MiniCAD and then VectorWorks.

• Became an Apple Developer and was a European pioneer of Apple’s QuickTime VR technology. The technology behind this turned into Google StreetView. You can read more about this progression in a previous Architalks post HERE We undertook thousands of photographic virtual tours for hotels, properties etc…

• As an off-shoot of the photographic VR stuff we also started doing some websites as we’d done our own in 1996; HERE IT IS from the Web Archive (no laughing please)

• I was also producing photorealistic images for other architects (disaster), computer training in VectorWorks and related software (stressful), Software sales (no money) and it was only when I started designing and building our own house in 2004 and was subsequently asked to do other peoples houses that I returned to being an architect. What was interesting was that I thought I wouldn’t be able to undertake other projects considering how much my own took out of me. The exact opposite has been the case where I can be dispassionate about the projects whilst still producing architecture in a professional manner.

There’s no harm in having a varied career; even if you don’t return to architecture as I did – the most important thing is to find something that you enjoy. The world is littered with famous people who originally trained as architects who went onto different careers:

• Three of Pink Floyd’s five founding members Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright met while studying architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic in London

• Samuel L. Jackson started architectural studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta before transferring to dramatic arts

• Art Garfunkel attended Columbia University in New York City where he studied architecture

to name just a few.

How to navigate a career in the long term

For this I have no idea. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (originally from Allen Saunders). I had a plan to design and build our own house but at no point did I think that I would return to being an architect (the best thing I ever did btw). Sometimes I think Forrest Gump was right “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get”. That being said, I think you do need some sort of plan. A plan on whether you want to be a cog in a big machine or to big the big fish in a small pond.

Being self-employed

After completing my Practical training (internships) I effectively set up my own business and have been self-employed ever since. I am now coming up to being 30 years in business, albeit in a variety of different sectors described above and doing different things. In this time I have found the following:

• I’ve probably learnt the same as if I’d been an employee when you take everything into account (see below also)

• You are your own boss but you still are effectively the employee of the clients

• The good years are good but the bad years are terrible. When I mean terrible, I can’t get across how bad they are. I remember in January 2007 going from having a good number of projects and plummeting to zero within a week. Things weren’t to turn around again until more or less today.

• You are the master of your own ship. In this time I’ve never been unemployed and I’ve never claimed benefits (I couldn’t in Ireland anyway; the country doesn’t look after the employers in the same way as the employees)

Comments as always welcome…

Below are how the other ‘Architalkers’ interpreted this theme:

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Well, How Did I Get Here (Again)

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
a paved but winding career path

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Career – The News Knows

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#architalks 41 “Career Path”

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Winding Path

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Career Path

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Career Path of an Architect (And Beyond)

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Career Path(s)

Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
A Strange Career Path

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