Career Advice (architecture jobs outside of architecture firms)


I apologize for being whiny, but I've realized I'm just not happy. I'm 28, feel trapped and burnt out and view pursuing architecture as a career as the worst mistake of my life. Why did I do it? Well growing up I thought construction was the coolest thing ever and pretty much put a treehouse in every tree in the neighborhood so I thought it made sense to pursue it.

Regardless tell me if I'm mistaken but there seems to be only two paths in architecture from my experience at firms ranging in size from 500 people to 3. The first is becoming a designer where since everyone wants to do that the pay is low and you are most likely working for a firm that breaks a lot of labor laws. The second direction is becoming a technical architect where you work long hours so that somewhere in your 40's you make around 70-80k figuring out fire stairs but you are still mostly a CAD tech doing work you could have just gotten an ITT tech degree for. When you work in either of these situations you are told school taught you nothing relevant. Which is totally true because I didn't go to school to become a CAD tech. Seems as though firms are in the same situation as taxi companies with Uber and Lyft, they didn't modernize and have to rely on legislation to stay relevant. So yes i don't have the skills to program .cbt files and troubleshoot in depth revit model issues but I do possess basic CAD skills, basic revit skills, ability to read CD's, basic building system knowledge and basic energy analysis and system sizing for sustainable systems. The typical firm has no need for these skills it seems because their scope is just drawings.  Seems as though a lot of the more valuable jobs such as cost estimation and actual building systems design has been swooped up by large contractors and "consultants" willing to take the liability. My question is what are these other jobs? I know the skills I have are valuable where to look though? Has anyone worked for a retailer? I knew a PM at quicksilver for its retail stores and the job sounded awesome. Has anyone worked for a developer? I've heard of front end design being done in house with you guessed it the drawings being outsourced to a CADitect. What about large design build contractors for industrial projects? Anyone have experience there? I don't care if the job is boring. All jobs are, so I might as well get paid. I refuse to continue on the path of working 50-60 hr weeks for a future of CAD making a topped out salary of 90k help!!!!

Jul 15, 15 3:40 pm

Actually on second thought screw the money I just want a weekend once a month.

Jul 15, 15 4:31 pm

Project architect or project management: get really good at organizing drawing sets and managing the technical drawings and specifications (either learning from contractors or senior staff) or learn the construction management side of things (permitting process, bidding and construction administration).  At some point you should gain competency in both (5~7yrs doing each going through a dozen or so projects of similar scope and size), and then focus on mastering one or the other if you're in a larger firm doing larger projects.  I'm not sure where you are geographically, but in major cities if you know your way around a project and can manage well at PA or PM roles 70-80k should be doable within 10yrs (with a license).  Researching firms to work for would be important, most firms have deadline crunches, but a lot manage 40~50hr wks.  The work may not be what you're looking for though (a firm has to be able to be profitable to pay you...)

Jul 15, 15 5:20 pm

Why work 50 hours a week, high stress job for 80k and a professional license doing unrewarding work? I mean I'm talking about the level of work input vs. reward. I could start enter loan data at CBRE all day long with similar salary prospects and boring work load without the license, stress and late nights. Ya dada I mean? Preferably would like to find something slightly more rewarding, does it even exist?

Jul 15, 15 6:02 pm

Put in the 10 years post school its takes to become expert in the profession.  Get license at some point along the way.  Learn business development skills along the way.  Develop network along the way.  Partner or start your own outfit alone or with partners at year 10, 0 months, 0 hours, 0 days, 0 hours, 0 seconds.  Hire your own small army of CADitects to do all the grunt work you slaved at to get where you will be.  Buy rake to organize all your profits year 10+.  Problem solved?

Jul 15, 15 6:40 pm

Alternate idea:  Forget the architect license.  Get an MBA as a shortcut to understanding business development and networking.  Work in large CM company learning general contracting for several years thereafter.  Network for several years.  Start a design build company at total year 10.  Hire your own small army of CADitects and architects to do all the grunt work you are sick of slaving at.  Buy rake to organize all your profits year 10+.  Problem solved?

Jul 15, 15 6:47 pm

Work equivalent amount in any other non-dead profession I.e. Not journalism or stock brokering, buy rake for profits at year 5+ Or work half as much and have rewarding life. So no once again, suggestions outside of an architecture firm.

Jul 15, 15 8:03 pm

No more school, straight to construction. Opportunities will arise.

Jul 15, 15 8:16 pm
Dr. Architecture

Your only limitation is your imagination and creativity; network with those in the profession that are doing what you want to do.

Jul 15, 15 9:32 pm

Act now and we will send you a second book and a salad shooter absolutely free! Operators are standing by!

Jul 15, 15 9:38 pm
null pointer

Only idiots wait 10 years to start.

Look at every major architect out there whose practice did not arise out of a competition win, mass defection or split from a another firm. They all started their firms extremely early on in their careers.

My two cents: Get licensed ASAP. By ASAP I mean, if you are clocking a single hour that isn't counting towards IDP, you need to quit and find a new firm. If you can't shorten your work week to 40 hours and study for two weeks on end, or if you feel like at any point your workload is preventing you from acing your exams, quit and find a new job.

Take your exams. Fail once, fail twice, fail three or four times, just finish them. It's a brute force effort. Get angry, get enraged and put it all to  good use.

It's worth it. I hope someday I won't live in this weird gray area where I can't tell you more about why I think getting licensed is so important, but again: It's totally worth it. My income doubled the year after I got my license.

Jul 15, 15 9:55 pm

It isn't actually too late to do something else, what do you actually have an interest in?

Jul 16, 15 5:59 am

You're only 28, and IMO the 20's are the hardest years, so some of this is just general life angst that is right on schedule.

Lots of good advice here. I like Good_Knight's first post, to just keep at it and learn as much as possible knowing you have a firm deadline to start your own thing. null pointer's advice to get licensed ASAP is also great.  Putting in ten solid years of being in the profession and soaking up as much as you possibly can will place you miles ahead of where you are now - granted, of course, that you're in a firm where you're exposed to lots of different knowledge. if you're stuck doing one task, make a lateral move to a different firm - job hopping every few years when you're young is very often a good thing as it makes you a well-rounded practitioner.

All that said: development is in a really interesting place right now with so much smaller scale work going on, it seems access to doing your own projects shouldn't be too difficult. Having a license and ten rears of knowledge can also make you valuable to various development companies.

I moved into facilities because I needed health insurance for my family. Currently I'd consider going into a small-scale development partnership if something good presented itself (I'm not actively pursuing it, but keeping my ears open, basically).

Be pro-active in pursuing what you think you want to focus on. Even though you're broke now don't put chasing money as your main priority: work you enjoy first, enough money to make you feel somewhat more secure second.

Jul 16, 15 9:22 am

PS if construction is your true love then small scale design-develop-build might be a great place to start.

Jul 16, 15 9:23 am

the answer to your question is within yourself.  now that the that is out of the way.  did you ever consider you haven't been exposed to the way a very well organized outfit whether an architect, developer, general contractor, or even a supplier, actually works?  there are other options out there. currently the profession is re building the losses incurred in terms of knowledge, and design. there are cycles but this last one really did a number on the profession. look for a new avenue, and don't limit your way of looking at things. its not just technical vs designer. 

Jul 16, 15 9:46 am

sounds like it's more to do with the particular job - i've never taken one where i didn't enjoy going to work every day, so dunno, maybe it isn't for you?  i did try retail, engineering, etc and didn't like it as much. 

working for yourself sounds great, though i do hear of all the headache of insurance and finding work.  the freelancers i run into keep insisting they love the freedom, but most seem to have an alternate source of income.

Jul 16, 15 11:00 am
null pointer

The woes of insurance are overstated.

I went bare for about 6 months until i got my first big job that required insurance. I got a quote in 35 minutes and was insured about three hours after having signed the contract for that job. It's costs a lot less than a subscription to Autodesk's Building Design Suite.

Jul 16, 15 11:25 am

As I've stated before, I run the estimating department for a door distributor.  I make 50% more than I ever made in architecture, everyone goes home at 4:30 and I've never worked a weekend.  I get more holidays and we close for at least a week every X-mas.

There are lots of related companies that value your education as an architect.  Go find one.

Hang out your shingle and practice your own architecture on the side. 

Jul 16, 15 12:07 pm

Jerome, that's what I'm talking about, I don't really care about the money I'm just not sure why I would kill myself to at 40 be in a profession where health benefits are a rarity. Working for a door estimator would definitely be not as glamorous but getting weekends and week nights and basic benefits makes up for it. Especially when the reason we work so hard in architecture is because it's supposed to be fun work is completely false. I look at friends who got a communications degree and are essentially making what I'm making. It's not about the money I'm just saying they put in half the effort for the same reward and have just as boring of a job as me. So why not get a typical cubicle job and start enjoying life and keeping architecture as a hobby? I'm actually doing really well in architecture but I feel like if I put in half the effort and attention to detail in a different job I'd be doing extremely well. So again I'm not looking for architecture suggestions give me more door estimator suggestions or small scale developer or even teaching CAD at a community college.

Jul 16, 15 12:30 pm

" I'm actually doing really well in architecture but I feel like if I put in half the effort and attention to detail in a different job I'd be doing extremely well."

Can't fault you for that thinking.

I'll bet anyone of a high caliber (intelligence + high ethics) is pretty frustrated internally with the BS they have to endure from all the bottom feeders in and around the design and construction industry.

There are a lot of stupid, corrupt, and downright incompetent, lazy people in design and construction.

For me I think I'm learning when to act stupid.  Most of the time it turns out.

Still haven't figured out the morally corrupt angle...yet.

As far as getting along with incompetent, lazy...patience and then more patience.

FWIW I don't think you are being whiny OP.  Sounds like you have a brain and a spine and perhaps some moral dilemma (wherein you'd like to soar like an eagle but are forced by CADitecture circumstance to grovel in the dirt like a rat for a crumb or two like the rest of them.  There is a lot of indentured servitude/ essentially slavery going on right now today in general and in architecture specifically...the zeitgeist has conditioned everyone to not think or speak in these terms, though) 

Jul 16, 15 1:03 pm

Working for others is a fools errand...figure out what you enjoy...what you are good at...and create a design for your future life...If you must put in more time...use it with the end goal in you are a spy gathering the intelligence for your mission...It will give meaning and purpose to your present situation...and keep you observant of things beyond your tasks... 

Jul 16, 15 1:47 pm

I'm younger than you but I always thought if architecture didn't pay off or I needed to supplement my income with various other revenues, I would walk into any industrial design firm, or graphic design firm, or interior design firm, or furniture design firm, or fashion design firm, or a tech start-up and apply to be the creative director. Specifically in NYC where all this stuff coalesces. My brother graduated with a B.A. in graphic design, moved to Brooklyn and became the creative director of a successful start-up where he made six-figures at 22. I understand this is an anomaly, but what is important is that I'm a better designer than my brother, meaning I could of had that job too.

You're allowed to do this with your architecture degree, you know. Out of any design profession we are the most sophisticated and thoughtful designers, and because of this, an architecture graduate possesses the skills needed to excell in any design profession.

The difference in architecture versus the rest of the design industry is that A) the service and product we sell are the most expensive things that our client has ever bought in their life, so the stress is heightened but the rewards are as well, and B) our service and product are more complex than any other field of design. So if you stay exclusively in architecture, you really have to work at it for 10 years before you can compete in the big leagues, and the architectural big leagues make any other design profession pale in comparison. So I think it's right to pay our dues in order to hit center stage in architecture, similar to being a surgeon or an attorney, and I think that's a good thing in several ways because it weeds out incompetent competition. You don't question a surgeon's authority because they're above the age of 40 and you're intimidated as hell if you're their patient. I see it the same way with an experienced architect.

Jul 16, 15 1:51 pm

^ "incompetent competition" is an oxymoron...Architecture is not surgery...and attorneys can practice right after graduation and bar... 

Jul 16, 15 2:01 pm

Our European counterparts start firms much much earlier than americans...thats the way it should be...starting a business requires the freedom that adulthood usually does'nt permit...

Jul 16, 15 2:03 pm

The construction industry sucks, I was half way through the ARE when I decided I didn't want to work a traditional route anymore. I still love architecture, I just think the profession is boring and old fashioned and stuck in the mud. I am a freelancer, I do design, consulting and business development for a learning and language center and I consult in both education and architecture for small schools. So I do curriculum design, worksheet and game design for them as well as design their website, pr, and marketing. I also consult and do drawings for owners and contractors who do small projects like basement finishes and bathroom tiling. I'm also writing a book about visualizing math for kids. I have been freelancing for 5 years and has been both tough and rewarding. It was really hard at the beginning as I had to again learn whole new sets of skills but I find that doing interdisciplinary work makes me happy and that taking classes and learning about how other disciplines work makes me better all around, also makes me calmer and happier. I can do all this, essentially 3 part time jobs, and I agree, I can work half as hard with more reward and balance than when I was a CADitect stressing out about reworking the drawings for some rich developer a Saturday, for free. 

Jul 16, 15 2:18 pm

So how should I make that entrance BR.TN? 

"Behold, your days of wanting for a superior design manager are no more, for I left the great art of architecture to walk amongst you common petty designers and dabble in your trivial matters. Fear not for I shall lead you to greatness with my superior wisdom and expertise."

That should do it right?

Jul 16, 15 2:20 pm
Non Sequitur

What's the deal, are construction details kryptonite or something?

Jul 16, 15 3:08 pm


Realistically, you show them your design portfolio. An architectural design portfolio straight-up doubles as a unconventional graphic design portfolio. You show them your sketchbook that visually explains how you think differently about design than the rest of their employees.

My brother met a friend in Brooklyn who did B.Arch at Cornell and M.Arch at Harvard, but abandoned architecture when he saw other creative opportunities were presented, and is now in his late-20s as the "Lead Designer" of a tech-start up where he focuses on the visual design and branding of thier iPhone app interface, UI/UX, web design, and things like that. I was able to have lunch with this guy and he told me how he transitioned. To parahprase his words, he said something along the lines of, "I had met a lot of artistic people here and grew a network of designers across all types of design, and many of us weren't one-trick ponies, but rather renaissance men and we did whatever designing we could to make ends meet. Eventually one friend in my network was talking about how they got hired for this tech start-up but needed a Lead Designer/Creative Director, and they knew I took architecture and design really seriously. So I crafted an application package with a letter of intent and my design portfolio, and got called in for an interview. They questioned my background but I told them with confidence that I'll have no problem exceeding their expectations with the position. And they trusted me and I got the offer. I'm happier with this job than any other position I've had, and it actually pays more than I was making in architecture and I never work more than 50 hours a week so I can enjoy my time in NYC on top of all of this. It's great."

The other design fields seem to really respect architects because they've heard about the rigor of our schooling and practice, which is more rigorous than their own. It's like how people say if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere. If you make it in architecture, you can make it in any other field of design; it is the umbrella of the design industry.

jla-x, attorneys can practice right out of school and after the bar, yeah. What do you think architects do? Lawyers: 4 years undergrad, 2 years law school, 6 months studying for the bar, 6 months to pass. 7 years right? Graduate and make somewhere between $70k-$160k depending on the prestige of their alma mater. Architecture: 5 year B.Arch, 2.5 year internships, 6-18 months on the AREs. 9 years more-or-less. Graduate and make somewhere between $50k-$70k depending on the quality of your portfolio. Lawyers look at 2-d paper all day and read until their vision's blurry. Architects provide 3-d space to lawyers so they can read until their eye's bleed. Even though we get paid half as much as lawyers for the same amount of experience, we have the better job (my opinion of course, but who in their right mind would disagree).

Jul 16, 15 3:13 pm

Okay so this thread has only offered pretty much one suggestion which is work harder and open up my own firm. With the goal of making just a tad bit more and regaining work/life balance that is the worst suggestion however this is what I'm thinking, so maybe people have suggestions on why not to do this.

I'm going to finish my IDP hours almost purely because not finishing them would be admitting all the missed memories in college and 20's were a complete waste. I'm going to say screw it, I've worked harder than almost everyone I know (excluding other architecture majors in school of course) and work part time in a contractor's, developers or even a mortgage broker's office while taking the ARE's and maybe some business classes which would still allow for 3 day weekends for epic trips (there's an awful lot to see in the U.S.) When I have my license continue on in the corporate world for a developer or large scale contractor's office probably only making $80,000 a year but being stoked I have time for friends and family. Anyone have any suggestions what those roles in a developer or contractor firm could be? Or is this just as much of a looney plan as walking into an interior design firm or graphic design firm and demanding a design manager position.

Jul 16, 15 3:22 pm
Non Sequitur

"...only 80K/year"

Why do you think you're worth more than that?

Jul 16, 15 3:26 pm

BR.TN architects just look at a screen until their vision is blurry no difference, just different salaries. The only people I've met who respect architects do not respect them for design but usually manage a REIT and have been burned by trusting a contractor for permitting and quality control.

Jul 16, 15 3:26 pm

I know an arch school grad who got a job as Director of Design for a company who invents things and patents stuff. They work on their own designs or will take other people's ideas and make them work. Sounds like a good gig, huh? Wish I knew how she got that job. 

Jul 16, 15 3:27 pm

Non Sequiter because I make close to $70,000 right now and I'm only 4 years out of school. If you read the posts this isn't about money it's about work/reward ratio and architecture offers none of it

Jul 16, 15 3:29 pm
Non Sequitur

Starch, I've read the posts.

I get it that most like to vent here but your situation is not the norm.  4-years in the working world is not enough exposure to paint such a dim picture.

Jul 16, 15 3:34 pm

jla-x I'm calling you out on this display of ignorance about professions in general and esp architecture.

I'm especially fired up about anyone in the interior trenches of the profession of architecture who are a) ignorant about the value architects provide to society b) have somehow reached the conclusion that the profession can be reduced to linear tasks like drafting production or running a Taco Bell.

I don't mean to pick on you individually, but:

"Architecture is not surgery...and attorneys can practice right after graduation and bar... "

#1  Architecture, after its all done and said, is much more complex than just about any routine surgery.  I'm an architect who is the son and grandson of 2 surgeons and I've shadowed many surgeons in the operating room before/ during attending medical school myself.

#2  Without an effective architecture in place to accommodate the act, the surgeon and surgery will not be effective.

"Our European counterparts start firms much much earlier than americans...thats the way it should be...starting a business requires the freedom that adulthood usually does'nt permit..."

#1  a business is not a profession.  A profession can be a business but not the other way around.


I'm curious jla-x, are you an architect with a license (not an oxymoron and pretty pathetic this even needs to be redundant)?

Jul 16, 15 3:40 pm

BR.TN said, "The other design fields seem to really respect architects because they've heard about the rigor of our schooling and practice, which is more rigorous than their own. "

This has been my experience.  For example a good friend of mine owns and operates his own business of about 50 employees.  When he was first starting up a handful of years ago he tells me, with great excitement on his face, how one of his earliest employees was the best he has ever had.  Archtiect graduate.  Worked the longest and hardest and was the most productive employee he has ever had.  Architecture school will help do that to the right person.  Arch school graduates have a good overall reputation in the marketplace in my experience.

Jul 16, 15 3:47 pm

BR.TN said, "...Architecture: 5 year B.Arch, 2.5 year internships, 6-18 months on the AREs. 9 years more-or-less..."

to your point, the actual average time for IDP has averaged around 5-8 years when its all been done and said.  NCARB is extremely reticent (and disingenuous to the point of deliberately misleading IMO) to reveal these facts.  Buyer beware.

Jul 16, 15 3:50 pm


Its not exactly a looney plan to walk into a related field and apply to work for them.

We hear all the time in architecture that our design education didn't prepare us for the architectural industry especially in terms of construction methods and project management/execution.

Because why? As you know, our education is so theoretical and design-heavy rather than reliant on field experience. THE THEORETICAL AND DESIGN EMPHASIS IS EXACTLY WHAT MAKES US VALUABLE TO EVERY OTHER DESIGN PROFESSION. Essentially, our architecture degrees train us to become holistic designers. We learn how to put buildings together during our first 10 years in the architecture industry. Maybe its not the ideal dichotomy, but thats the way it is, so deal with it.

P.S. Architects dont just look at a screen. The entry-level employees like me do, sure. A principal architect might spend half their day on the computer, but the rest is spent designing, traveling, or collaborating in meetings. Lawyers exclusively look at paper. A project architect might spend 3/4ths of their day on the computer but they're not CAD monkeys, and the rest of their time is spent in collaborative settings. I know you already knew this but I had to call you out on your exaggeration.

Jul 16, 15 3:56 pm

Architecture degree in the eyes of an architecture firm = imbecile

Architecture degree to everyone else = a super smart, talented and knowledgeable renaissance man/woman. 

Jul 16, 15 4:06 pm

BR.TN said, "...Architects dont just look at a screen. The entry-level employees like me do, sure. A principal architect might spend half their day on the computer, but the rest is spent designing, traveling, or collaborating in meetings. Lawyers exclusively look at paper. A project architect might spend 3/4ths of their day on the computer but they're not CAD monkeys, and the rest of their time is spent in collaborative settings. I know you already knew this but I had to call you out on your exaggeration."

True.  Dat.

Jul 16, 15 4:14 pm

this has completely devolved, have fun debating the role of the architect. I'll just go google job sections on major contractor websites. I know other people are interested because this has been asked multiple times on here so I'll post back with the results.

Jul 16, 15 4:57 pm

I still argue that the major problem is thinking a job = a profession.   And the associated conclusion that architecture = a job.

The misunderstanding is rampant outside the rank and file of course. Unfortunately its also rampant inside.

(^^^ this last post highlights this misunderstanding.  And misunderstanding breeds frustration)

Jul 16, 15 5:06 pm

Ha ha ha my mind just literally exploded Good Knight, that is probably the best way to put it. All this time I've been mad at architecture is the same as some one becoming a poet and being annoyed the job prospects are terrible. Ha ha for some strange reason I feel a thousand times better. Here's to architecture as just a hobby!

Jul 16, 15 6:54 pm

70k 4 years out of school? I am doing something wrong!

Jul 17, 15 9:09 am


smells like burnout. you need to get out fast and do anything else you can. your view of architecture seems unreasonably dour, but if you find yourself this unhappy it's not going to get better.

I know several people who left architecture to work for big developers... give it a try. It's not really less work but maybe you'll feel more valued at that, or at least get some sense of control and respect. If you're persistant and good at networking you don't need an MBA, just talk to former clients and see if they know any openings to get you started. Once you get a year in it you'll know if its right for you.

Jul 17, 15 10:39 am
null pointer

Shuellmi: 5 years out of school i was making almost double that; the key: become a specialist at something that is on demand but that few people can offer (every idiot architect out there can detail a wall, don't do it. i quit my second job after a two week stint drawing wall sections for a hotel. dead ends are dead ends.).. but keep yourself broad. Getting licensed and getting side work was a huge part of my income back then.

Jul 17, 15 10:59 am

Just curious, what do you specialize in? 

I'm 20ish hours of bidding ipd from being licensed.

Jul 17, 15 11:18 am
null pointer

Not gonna happen.

Jul 17, 15 12:02 pm

null pointer, what did you specialize in? any recommendations on how to turn quirky interests into specialization, aside from the given of Googling until the sun sets? perhaps you'd suggest going to my nearest research university with an architecture program and try to work with professors who have similar interests? I have a niche I want to specialize in but at the moment its difficult for me to translate this niche into a service to offer a client. in a way its more along the lines of being a stylistic niche rather than a supply-demand niche, so how can i turn this stylistic interest into something people will pay money for? maybe thats the question everyone is asking these days though....

Jul 17, 15 12:04 pm
null pointer

Not gonna happen.


I'll tell you who my peers are: The high-end high-rise facade design and fabrication specialists in NYC. The good ones make a lot more money than the average architect.

Jul 17, 15 1:12 pm

"Behold, your days of wanting for a superior design manager are no more, for I left the great art of architecture to walk amongst you common petty designers and dabble in your trivial matters. Fear not for I shall lead you to greatness with my superior wisdom and expertise."

resume updated.  thanks man.  if anyone asks i will credit you starch....

Jul 17, 15 2:50 pm

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