My first architecture job - Struggles


Hey all, didn’t know who to turn to so decided to make an account here :)

I recently graduated with my masters of architecture in 2020 and moved across the country (Australia) to start my career. I am extremely grateful to have found a job at an very large architecture / development company in the city.

3 months into my 1 year contract and I’m starting to have a few concerns. Moving away from home I took the first job I could get and I am extremely grateful to be able to work from home while our city is in lockdown, however the scale and size of the company and their projects is something that fails to interest me (multi story apartment complexes around the country). 

For the last 3 months I have been relegated to producing diagrams and urban design reports for the development team, going back and forth and producing as many diagrams as I can for the packages they want to issue. I can’t help but think that I’m falling behind in regards to learning or developing my architectural skill set. So much so that I take time to read as many architectural books I can and study the work of smaller firms in the area over the weekends and after the working day.

It may sound stupid being a graduate with no experience but I have always been intrigued by smaller refined residential work, structures that are somewhat creative and finely detailed, learning how things go together. I’m starting to think that even if or when I get moved on to doing more architectural related work within the company, the sheer size and scale of the projects will fail to interest me. I do feel guilty as I knew I preferred smaller scale work when I took the job but being fresh in the industry I thought this would change or I would at least be learning more than I currently am within the company.

I have also found myself working from 8am-7:30pm most days and even later on others while working from home, and it is very rarely that I finish on time at 5:30 (though we don’t show overtime hours in our timesheets). I’m finding this extremely demoralising when the tasks and the work I am undertaking fails to interest me and almost seems like I am just a cog in the wheel doing the work that is solely for the benefit of the company with no interest in my personal architectural development. For context I have been primarily in Adobe for the duration of my contract and while I am now pretty well versed in Illustrator / Indesign I have learned nearly nothing in regards to architectural drawing or detailing.

I originally planned to stay for at least 2 years but I’m struggling to see myself renew my initial 1 year contract. My main concern is that if I leave this company after the contract I will struggle to find a job at a smaller residential firm given my lack of experience. Until then I  have just been planning to produce an additional side project for my portfolio and read as much as I can to further strengthen my chances.

After writing this all down I feel like I am just being selfish and complaining and should be appreciative of the opportunity I have to be working during these times, but I guess I just needed to see what other people in the field think.

Sep 26, 21 7:08 pm

sounds like you have the right idea and are doing everything right. some jobs suck and it's up to you to decide what to do about that.

if you feel like you have a decent boss and can discuss how to get involved doing the real architecture work, first try that.

but that might not work out - so start looking for other jobs more closely focused on what you are interested in. high-end residential is competitive and not well paid at the entry level, but it's great work and potentially a good sector to learn everything about how architects work.

it's great that you already have an idea what you really care about - follow that.

and never feel shame in disliking a mediocre job. you owe your employer your time, not your gratitude or sense of joy.

Sep 26, 21 9:33 pm  · 
3  · 

Thank you, I definitely agree with your points :)

Sep 27, 21 4:47 am  · 
1  · 

It's easy to get stuck somewhere especially in large companies and even more so if you're just a name on a Zoom list. In another year of doing this same daily routine, where will it lead you? Unless you bring it up, your boss may think you enjoy it and not think of anything more. Seems to be a millennial trend to search for advice online instead of direct confrontation first. 

You're probably still on the young side and trainable. Don't worry about it, you may have to sacrifice pay but could find yourself starting over in a much better place. That money stuff will sort itself out eventually, find greener pasture first. And seriously don't ever do those long hours anymore. There's reasonable expectations of finishing work as needed and then there's exploiting workers.

Sep 26, 21 9:58 pm  · 

Thanks for the advice!

Sep 27, 21 4:45 am  · 

Sorry about your job troubles. Moving firms will be probably be the best course of action, talk is cheap and your bosses will promise different work "soon" but soon never comes along. Just be mindful of where you're applying. I see so many job ads that look good but then go over to Glassdoor and the reviews are horrible. It's rare to see an architecture firm with more than 3.5 rating and that's with HRs fake 5 star reviews! It's a very 2.5 star profession, at best. 

Sep 27, 21 9:11 am  · 
2  · 

2.5 stars for the profession at large is pushing it.

Sep 27, 21 1:33 pm  · 
1  · 

Dont work for free.  Stop at 5:30. 

Sep 27, 21 12:53 pm  · 
2  · 

You're not falling behind. You're doing work that is relatively typical for someone just out of school. However, if you find yourself not liking it then take that as a sign that you should try another aspect of the job for a while. First step is asking your bosses to move you around a bit to get exposure. If that fails, move on.

There are definite benefits to moving to a smaller firm, namely that you're going to get thrown into the fire and exposed to everything much quicker. If you see yourself as interested/potentially happy with smaller residential, go for it. You don't know until you try it. 

Sep 27, 21 6:31 pm  · 
2  · 
Jian Huang
I like others’ advice.

Those doing practice seldom talk about fancy things, researches, what they do is getting things done. But they do care about dry things, I mean, those knowledge (IBC, coordination, etc.) which may affect the completion of project. If you start reading lots of architecture books and spend weekend on learning from other firms, I truly admire you! But I have a little advice on this part, that is, studying for architect license instead of reading random fancy books, and get the license as quick as possible. All the things which are tested in the licensure exams are those dry things. After mastering these dry things, there will be more opportunities for you to gain more trust and have some freedom of design.
Sep 29, 21 5:27 pm  · 
1  · 

If you aren't able to finish all of your work, be sure to ask yourself if you were tasked with too much work rather than the problem being you. We all know that margins in this profession are thin. It is all too common that the youngest employees volunteer their time the most. Stop. Especially if this work isn't aligning with what you are really wanting to do. If you don't start doing what you want to do, you will end up doing whatever it is you're doing. 

A lot of recent graduates get caught in similar situations. Usually, I might say ride it out and see if you can push for better opportunities within your company. But if Australia is anything like the US right now, the job market is on absolute fire. Sometimes employments are not the right fit and that is OK. It's OK to realize that after 3 months instead of the interview or putting in the 2 years. It's OK to leave sooner than later. Especially if the job market is as hot there as it is here, because one day it won't be and then finding another employer will be difficult. 

Oct 4, 21 1:18 pm  · 
3  · 

A few more in addition to the great advices above:

1. Be VERY careful what you are good at.  This is a hard one for most architecture grads.  We've been trained to perfect, to strive for "best".  In real world, you must not be the best minion.  It's a fine line.  You want to be good enough to keep your employment, but not so good that you become the first to come in mind when your boss is looking for: that renderer to work all night to rush out the perfect visual for that unplanned competition...  You want to be "fair" at this level of the game so you can pass to the next, but don't get so good to become indispensable at this level.  

2. To accomplish above step, you needn't suck at what you do.  The best way to get promoted is to train your replacement (at early stages).  If you know cool tricks, don't hold it tight so you'll be the best renderer, share, enable others.  You can leverage this in your conversation with your boss:  you are someone that adds value to the firm far more than the graphics you produce, you are already acting like a leader.

3. That conversation with your boss.... well, unless your boss is the rare gem who go our of their way to foster growth in younger staff, some investment on your part is required for them to help you.  Like them, sincerely like them. Find something good about them you like about them, and really appreciate every little support they give you, express it sincerely.  (But don't just butter them up, the subconscious' BS detector is very strong).  People are more likely to help those they like, and people like those who like them   Liking them is the fastest way to get help from them. 

4. This one is counter-intuitive. But I highly recommend try it:  look at your situation differently.  Rather than seeing your own career being trapped in low level boring work, see the challenge from the firm's point of view:  how can you become a greater asset to the firm?  How can you produce more value for the firm?      

Practice "total devotion" for the firm for say 3 months.  If you choose supplemental studies, select them based on what might help you help the firm. If you are very good at something that's not utilized, express it in the interest of the firm.  If you are given 80 hours worth of work in 40 hours, push back with: This is not in the best interest of the project/firm because when stretched thin, we don't produce good work.....

I promise if you sincerely devoted to the firm. you'll see dramatic improvement to your daily happiness, and hopefully / likely very different feed back from your boss.  Rather than indifference to a typical young staff's typical complaints, you'll be the most passionate (not for yourself and your own architectural journey, but for the benefit of the team/firm) young staff, and that will be refreshing, and worth going out of their way to support.  Try it.  It isn't going to cost you much in way of career development, right?  Hopefully it'll giver you a different experience. 

Oct 4, 21 3:49 pm  · 
3  · 

This is solid advice.

Regarding your first point, in my first two jobs out of college, I was always quick to try and help partners and the office when they had IT or computer issues. I took pride in being the young kid who could solve issues for the boss. After a few years, I was always the first person called when an IT problem happened in the office. I thought it was a good thing. I thought it was good to get that attention from the people that mattered at the top. But that attention was for IT solutions. I wanted to design buildings. I realized I had crafted an idea in my boss' head of what I was good at. 

I distinctly remember the first week at my third job when my new boss was having a computer issue. I just sat there. I knew how to resolve the simple issue, but I sat there and said nothing as she struggled. Over the years, I was never asked to be the IT assistant in that office but instead, my time was focused on architecture. 

Do what it is that you want to do. Otherwise, you'll just end up doing that other thing. Time is finite.  

Oct 6, 21 11:06 am  · 
2  · 

i like the first half of this advice, but i find it at odds with the end bit, the suggestion to be "sincerely devoted to the firm," which will lead to happiness.

Oct 7, 21 12:14 pm  · 

CHC's advice is solid, and I agree. One thing to keep in mind with what you are doing at this firm: the development feasibility analysis support role you are filling is one of the highest value-add things architects do in the development process. So you are getting solid experience with something that is very valuable both to architecture firms and developer clients. You could build an entire, quite lucrative career out of that if you wanted to. Just sayin'.

On the other hand, you may not want to do that. You expressed other interests, and it's good to know what you want. I would suggest then that you stick it out doing this design-development work for a bit longer, to get established doing it and secure your value in that role. Then go look for a job with a smaller architecture firm where you can get experience working on a project from the very beginning through construction to occupancy as quickly as you can. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

tl;dr - this current job is not your last one. It may not be ideal, but it does give you some very valuable experience. Learn from it what you can, then move on to fill in the gaps toward what you really want to do.

Oct 11, 21 5:12 pm  · 
1  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: