#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

4 thoughts on “#ArchiTalks #Career #Path #41

  1. I’ll second what you said about the good and terrible years! My core business went from really good to absolute zero in October 2008, and did not generate another penny for more than two years. I thought we might lose everything… next week… beginning early in 2009. But it all worked out OK in ways I did not anticipate.

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