3 Years Exp. - CAD Monkey



I feel like I am not given much opportunity for learning or growing in my work. This is very frustrating, demoralizing and makes me want to quit. And I don't think I am incompetent. Does anyone else feel this way; not having enough chance to learn and grow? 

I've graduated in 2014 and have been working for 3 years now. I switched company couple times. I worked in both a global corporate firm and currently working in a 4 people tiny firm. But I am realizing so far that I am given only very limited responsibilities. Just CAD and maybe a few client and consultant coordination. I quit large corporate because of this very reason but while small fir is a tad bit better but not too different when it comes to responsibilities. After 3 years, Im still just a CAD monkey.

I know some folks with 3 years of experience who are in control over their work and own a project, less in 'architecture' or 'design' and more in contracting/construction. I also know some folks with more experience under their belt but have very little responsibilities. 

I guess one way to solve this is to get a license. What do others with similar years of experience think on this? Are you happy with the work and responsibilities give to you?

Sep 11, 17 2:14 pm
Non Sequitur

A license won't necessarily solve anything. I was up to 100's of million in construction within 3y post graduation. This was because I knew how to run projects efficiently and detail correctly without someone holding my hand. I demonstrated that I could handle myself in the office, in front of clients, and on site. 

Have you asked for more responsibilities?

Sep 11, 17 2:21 pm

Non Sequitur
That is a good point. I have not done that but talking to my boss will be the first step to fix the problem. Thanks for that advise. 


Sounds like you are coming to the realization that you are in control of your career path not your employer. that starts with increasing your value, doing what you say you are going to do, and proving your-self to correct staff and people. Im of the complete opposite opinionn as Non Sequitur, A license is the fastest and greatest way to add to your value and stretch your ability. there is a ton to know in our field and although working everyday and asking for more task will help with that, getting license will give you a more comprehensive understanding and expose you to topics and concepts that don't occur in your office, along with the ability to develop time management (work by day study by night for 3yrs). next step is studying drawing sets, take past project drawings home and look at how things are done and why they are done that way. most construction and details are a way for a reason and have been done that way for decades, most interns and 2-3yr staff seem to think revit and renderings are architecture, these are just tools, knowing how to put a construction document set together is architecture, knowing the IBC, IFC, ansi, etc is architecture, knowing how a metal standing seam roof dies into a asphalt shingle roof is architecture

p.s. I would not feel confident at all giving someone with 3yrs work experience a 1mil project let alone 100mil, if I was an owner i couldnt even sleep at night knowing someone w/ that level of experience is running a 100mil project, God forbid if I was a client and was made aware of this

Sep 11, 17 4:01 pm



I also don't believe revit and pretty renderings are architecture. It's the technical knowledge including codes and zonings that makes you an architect. The best way to learn them is at a workplace although I am surprised by how many architects are not familiar with those. The runner up I think is studying for ARE.


A.R.E. test's a candidates knowledge of basic codes and zoning, specifically, ibc chpter 3,5,6,7,10,11,29,. although i guess it maybe possible for someone to pass the A.R.E. and not pass all the code questions on their exam


I think it's also got to do with what the architect has been working on. Some architects don't engage in codes all that much and concentrate on other things like detail, construction administration, interior design, or other things. Also principals tend to get busy managing and running businesses. Once someone digs into those specialties for years, I guess they tend to lose code and zoning knowledge.


^ true, but every A.R.E. exam has basic code questions on it, and you dont knw what question they will ask so you have to prepare, ex. i have never done egress balcony but i am aware of the code compliance of it


I agree with both Sequitur and (theta). I think license does help in terms of really grasping the fundamentals of the profession. You learn the standards of the profession and others will give you credit once you are licensed whether you have supporting experience or not.

On the other hand, one does not have to have a license in order to advance in the profession because like any other industry, there are many elements that affect one's upward mobility; personal traits, management and interpersonal skills, work ethics, connections, etc.

I think it really depends on how you plan your career based on the environment you are in.

Sep 11, 17 4:34 pm

I think 3 years experience is early to own projects. In my experience in the 3-5 year range, if you are competent and a quick learner, you start to move towards more responsibility, with greater ownership coming in the 5-7 year range. At 3 years, if you want to gain more responsibility, you need to be proactive on your projects. Take a first pass at coordinating the consultant drawings and marking them up. Email or talk to the project architect with your (thought through) take and questions when RFIs or requests come in from the GC or clients. Show the powers that be that you're thinking about the whole project and that you understand it, and more responsibility will come to you. And yeah, talk to your bosses about your goals. Study for the ARE if you're eligible - it shows commitment and you'll learn a ton. 

I think NCARB does recent grads a disservice promoting the 3 year internship timeline because it gives the idea that if you're NOT running projects by year 3 then you've done something wrong. You haven't. It just takes more time to learn all the things you need to know. 

Also, don't think that firm size has a direct bearing on your ability to gain diverse and meaningful experience - I've found myself more pigeonholed in small firms than large - it's really about the culture and attitude of where you're working, not the number of employees. Ideally you can find a firm you could stay with for 3-4 years - long enough they know you and can trust you with the "stretch" assignments that will help you grow professionally. Always being the new guy/girl doesn't help you to gain responsibility, unfortunately. 

Sep 11, 17 4:38 pm

This is a good take on it. Also, advocate for yourself while being proactive.

Agree. This is an excellent take. You still have time, but do be intentional about what you want to accomplish.


I especially agree with your last few sentences: "Ideally you can find a firm you could stay with for 3-4 years - long enough they know you and can trust you with the "stretch" assignments that will help you grow professionally. Always being the new guy/girl doesn't help you to gain responsibility, unfortunately." I've been at my firm for 4 years, but I've had 3 managers during this time and every time I've gotten a new manager, I've had to go back to the drawing board (quite literally) and prove my worth to them. After this past year with my current manager, he is finally letting me attend client meetings, and communicate with consultants and contractors - even though I have 4 years experience, and have worked on projects literally 80x larger (in scope and budget) than the ones I'm working on with him. I'm slowly getting more smaller projects to manage - ones where the architectural scope is not the main focus - and it's been a good way to get my feet wet.


It took me years and years even to get given my own job to run and then I got several at once! Before that it was CAD only. A lot depends on the boss you work for and how good they are and whether they will let you stretch your wings a little. If they are amenable try talking to them about it. Otherwise move and stipulate your requirement for some job running experience during the interview.

Sep 12, 17 4:40 am

Thank you all for the advice.

Sep 18, 17 2:26 pm
I'm not a robot

volunteer to do everything - do the things no one else wants to do, figure out where the holes and opportunities are and do them before being asked.  If someone asks for 2 ideas, you give them 10, and give it to them in half the time they were expecting.  This is where you'll learn the most and be of the most value.  It's going to be a struggle, but once you develop discipline and are able to quickly move through tasks, you'll end up falling into more responsibility.

It also really helps working with people who are willing to help you out - but you have to do your homework first before you ask questions.

Sep 18, 17 10:06 pm

Are you sure you're not a robot?


I agree with most of what you're saying, robot, but not the part about giving me 10 idea when I ask for two. I'm asking for two ideas, for a reason and if offered 10, I might perceive that you're either not listening, or have just passed away an afternoon on something I didn't ask for. More often than not, when I was just starting out, I would do what you're saying in an effort to be perceived as a valuable part of the team, and it backfired every time. I learned that lesson the hard way, by being fired from my first two jobs.


I also disagree with that we are far too happy working for nothing in this profession, if they dont respect you go elsewhere. Plenty of opportunities out there for talented dynamic individuals who arent willing to stay as cad monkeys. If I was an employer I would be looking for someone like you. Problem is many employers pretend they want that in their adverts but they really want a robot who will make them look good and wont rock the boat. Keep way from firms like that unfortunately that is most firms.


nooooo don't give me 10 ideas if I ask for 2. I'll seriously question if you can follow directions, plus odds are 6 of the options will be nearly identical. If you can't tell the difference between options from across the room....they're not options.

I'm not a robot

Geesh - 2 ideas is figurative - not literal. Who asks for exactly 2 ideas? Yeah, you might end up only showing the client 2 or 3 options, but if someone asks you to "come up with a couple ideas" internally and you aren't using this opportunity to run through as many ideas as possible to get a sense of what people respond to - especially when you're just starting out, then you're wasting your time overworking exactly two ideas that might end up being shit.

I'm not a robot

The point of running through a ton of options in a short period of time is to eventually be able to do this in your head - to both run through them and to edit them down before you put pencil to paper.


"It also really helps working with people who are willing to help you out - but you have to do your homework first before you ask questions" I would like to second this comment. If you have a good lay of the land, there are definitely veteran employees who will look out for you if they see potential in you and are great touchstones to get out of "pigeon-holes".


About those options...what I experienced is that people ask for an option like so and so and an alternative like this or that. So they already give a kind of direction that they'd like to see explored. In that case, always do at least those options and if you feel you need to explore other paths please do but only after you've shown and discussed the first ones. Sometimes when one of those first options lands really well, don't bring up the extra's. They will think you wasted time. But when you sense a kind of unsatisfactory atmosphere, introduce the other ones. They'll respect your instinct of not being totally convinced with the first ones and the discussion might lead to something better. But just don't bombard them with a ton of options from the start and observe the direction the conversation is going towards carefully.


you're supposed to do the 10 options but only show me 2 of them, if that's what is asked for. The point is learning to edit your work. Keep the other 8 in your back pocket in case one of them becomes more relevant. 

If you feel ready to take on full projects at this point but aren't getting them after asking, proving you're interested and taking intiative etc it may be time to switch firms. A great way to start PAing projects is to work at a place that does lots of little stuff - think residential, retail etc. this can happen at a big or small company. Really large projects tend to be much harder to get a significant role in when you have less experience. Taking on a big role with small projects then moving to large ones tends to be a faster route than just doing big stuff and waiting til someone has decided you have the requisite 5-7 years etc years to touch it. You'll certainly learn more quickly if you're given the chance to run your own project, even if it's small.

There is also the issue of whatever company hires you early on thinking of you only as an intern/producer type and failing to recognize your interim growth. A license can be a great way to overcome this mentality.
Sep 19, 17 12:57 pm

You need to get licensed.  When we look to hire, a license serves as a kind of baseline proof of core skills.  A person at the 3 year point should be well into AXP and taking the ARE.

Sep 19, 17 1:21 pm

Master you firms CAD standards and construction administrative procedures, stay after work and take on the code and zoning analysis sheets of a CD set (this will piss the Project Architect if you get it right) start studying for the AREs. After you feel confident and passed a few exams quit your job. 

Sep 19, 17 1:50 pm

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