Seriously, what other careers can architects make a move into?

pale shelter

I've spent my time in the past on here reading over all the discussions with the developer / architect debate ...  working for a developer, becoming one... and the professions like graphic design, user interface, construction mgmt, etc that seem to parallel with the attributes architects possess...

..but has anyone done it and can offer real guidance into such semi-parallel careers? especially development?

..what about product design?

I've been out of school nearly 5 years - working at mainly 2 firms - registered - great office and decent work... many responsibilities -  but sorry, I'm just ashamed by the money. Not ashamed, disappointed.  (yeah yeah, we hear it all the time...) And my office pays average - but hey, what is 8k more gonna' get by going corporate? No thanks...

I'm more intrigued by the business and numbers of how our clients (developers) do what they do. And hey, I dream more about what those empty lots can be then looking forward to drawing wall section details. It's also not inspiring to see the architects 10 years forward in their career doing 90% of the same work and duties I do on a daily basis.

So anyone, any parallel career experience? Anyone earn more pay and feel more challenged in other professions like product design... corporate campus facility architects ( sounds boring?) ... development ?... and does an architect's experience and resume impress when interviewing elsewhere?

Thanks - cheers

Oct 17, 12 1:17 am

1 Featured Comment

All 92 Comments


tears for fears cover band?

Oct 17, 12 2:17 am

I've done the opposite (product design to architecture via returning to school). If you're more of a 'big ideas' person than a detailer, you should rule out product design right away. Let's say you do land a job - you'll be designing toothbrush handles and window cranks fr the first 5 years, anyway. You might get to experiment a little more, but 95% of prducts are seen as essentially disposable (your ego will starve, whether you admit ths is a concern or not).

Oct 17, 12 5:34 am
wurdan freo

I made the jump to construction management early in my career and am now working towards development. Your strength will be utilizing the skills you have earned in architecture that translate into the new career. For example, if you did healthcare work as an architect, you could find a position with a GC or Developer that does a lot of healthcare if you can prove your skills valuable. The "Architect' part helps a little, but not much.  It will be your knowledge of building typologies that employers will be looking for and your relationships.

The other option is to start at entry level. 

Oct 17, 12 10:08 am
Mike A

Wurdan, I've been always thinking to jump into the CM/Developer world. I see this post is pretty old, do you have any input since then? Thanks.

Project Management.
Professional Services.
Design Talent.
Critical Thinking.

Oct 17, 12 1:11 pm

Product design is structured much like architecture--only the superstars will get paid well. If you are a big idea guy, then what may be worthwhile for you is design strategy. Arch grads are often very well prepared for it because of the heavy design theory taught in school compared to the other design professions. Firms like IDEO, Ziba, Frog, Fuse, RKS, Continuum, Karten, that mossstly do product stuff usually also have a team that's engaged in research and strategy for their clients' product lines and identities, and these jobs can pay more than design jobs at the same firms. To make a transition without any schooling might be a little difficult, but would require repackaging your projects to show extraordinary critical thinking in programming and client relationships. If schooling is an option, classes in research, business strategy, marketing, or product design could be helpful. If you wanted to make a big commitment to it a program like CCA's MBA in Design Strategy would be the way to go.

Oct 17, 12 1:55 pm
Featured Comment

Archinect's Working out of the Box interviews architects that have found success it other fields.

Oct 17, 12 2:37 pm

As mentioned above, I'm out of work but I got a call today - a friend's parents who are heavily involved in a recognized heritage site - and it looks like I'll be doing some construction work for a couple of weeks. Of course, now that I've agreed to that, it means I'll be offered a job in a firm tomorrow, but I'll take it   :-)

It got me to thinking though. While I was in school, I worked for the government in heritage architecture and I really developed a passion for it. In talking with these nice folks, they said that there's more work than they can handle in their area, and they're always looking for more people (this is for construction, but I have a feeling it could lead to other things).  They hire architects for studies, planning, and rehabilitation all the time. Part of me thinks that I would really enjoy being the go-to guy for that type of work in my area... the other part of me says that I'm not sure I want to work ONLY in heritage architecture; I'd like the opportunities to build new. I know from experience how much a pain in the ass doing renovations and rehabs can be.

Well anyway, that's somewhere down the line and for now, I'm going to stop stressing for the night and enjoy the moment. I guess this is one of those 'alternative paths' everyone keeps talking about.

Oct 17, 12 9:55 pm
i r giv up

Anything banking.

you little hippies.

Oct 17, 12 10:58 pm
next career?

There is little interest by youth-crazed firms to hire very experienced architects in their 50's.  My next career move may be a domestic worker for my domestic partner.

Jan 10, 13 10:11 am

If you are still in your 20s and 30s, try youth crazed Video game studios - when I turned 50, I  went from video games to architecture -

Jan 10, 13 11:39 am
Postal carrier with a foot beat is my next gig.
Jan 10, 13 11:43 am

rationalist - also were industrial design and architecture meet -

Jan 10, 13 12:07 pm

I am in an allied field.

If all you have ever done is architecture, it is hard to move into more technical fields, but I know many people who have successfully moved into real estate or development. 


I am in a highly technical design and fabrication role. It is more rewarding than my past architecture internships/ junior design positions. If you want to move around in search of more money, it is not the way to go, nor do you want to get into graphic design, industrial design, or any field like that. I have always been on the technical/ practical side of the design spectrum, so it made sense that I would end up here.

I can imagine it is frightening to try and strike out into an allied field if all you have ever done is architecture, so in that way, I would recommend you take an inventory of your skillset and use that information to determine what allied fields may suit you.


The money is in real estate and development, but you need connections, capitol, and experience to access those fields.

Jan 10, 13 2:15 pm

I don't get why licensed Architects look to work for someone else. Isn't the reason why we became Architects was to work for ourselves and create what we imagine as good Architecture. Did you really get your license to work for someone else for the rest of you life?

Jan 10, 13 3:10 pm

i'll make this pretty simple: if you want more money out of your career (whatever it is) - be the owner. period. you can be a part owner, get paid in stock, whatever. but you won't make really serious money working for someone else unless you're that one in 10 million who is a natural rockstar type of megastar talent that can draw lots of money to it. 

case in point: how much did paula abdul make on x-factor? 2M a year? 5M? (not that i'd turn that down). good, but what did simon take home? oh yeah, 75M. because he co-developed it, owns the syndication rights, owns the record label they all sign on to, etc. that boy band one direction? yeah, it describes the money flowing into simon's bank account after he signed them (they only finished 3rd to boot). 

so, what you move into (in terms of money) is much less important than being the owner. yes, you get to take on all the stress and premature aging, but...

Jan 10, 13 8:50 pm

If I had a nickel every time I heard this question, well, I'd probably be retired. If you like computers and building things, try software application development. Writing java, designing gui's or creating mobile apps are all areas of high demand. High demand with a limited supply of tech savy people to produce = good job prospects with solid salaries.

Jan 10, 13 9:05 pm
wurdan freo

what GW said.

Jan 10, 13 11:38 pm

software design. The workflow is similar to architecture but the pay and opportunities are far greater.

Jan 11, 13 8:48 am

I watched an old Dateline show last night, and the investigator who cracked the homicide cold case (after 20 years!) says he owes it to his architecture education.  So there ya go.

Jan 11, 13 9:20 am

Sustainable design fields, such as those dealing with public transport networks. Alternatively, something like placemaking.

Jan 16, 13 7:52 am

I'm in exactly the reverse situation. I've been doing user experience design, furniture, temporary installations, and all sorts of other "tangentially-related-to-architecture-but-not-quite" things for the last two years. Now I want to get back into a de facto architecture firm.

I will definitely agree with previous statements that software / UX design is a lot like architecture. I've been doing it for a couple of years, I enjoy it, I don't intend to completely leave it behind, but at the end of the day I'm coming to the realization that I still want to be an architect more than anything. 

Jan 16, 13 2:18 pm

I am looking into moving towards Project management, currently in 4th year of B.arch and thinking about MS in construction management. I don't know where to start

Jan 16, 13 2:27 pm

thenewintern - 


do you have project management experience, at any scale?


I would recommend getting some experience in the field before investing in an education in it because the culture and type of work you do on the construction side can be quite a shock coming from architecture.

Jan 16, 13 2:40 pm

@ Nicholas Cecchi

I intern at a construction company and I do mainly logistics drawings. I work with a lot of project managers and that is what got me interested. I just talked to my supervisor and he said if project management is my goal then i should go for MBA instead of MS in Construction Management. He said I would start off working on submittals,RFI, keep records, talk to different trades,do scheduling, logistics, work as assistant to project manager etc.

Now I am thinking in MBA direction. I haven't done any research for that yet. i am in NY and would just like to stay here and work while pursuing MBA. thanks for comment. I really appreciate your help

Jan 17, 13 4:27 pm

Why did I not think of this before ?

I've just been informed that an architect friend of mine has learned to brew beer and is starting his own micro-brewery.

This is the PERFECT way to transition from architecture!

Jan 27, 13 1:50 pm


Jan 27, 13 2:03 pm

distant, I've been learning to brew too, but I would imagine starting a micro-brewery takes a HUGE capital investment.

Jan 28, 13 9:38 am

I often wonder if I would have been better served by pursuing a different course of study, perhaps Mechanical or Structural Engineering split with Business, or Construction Management, etc, but I am constantly amazed by the differences between people I interact with who attended Architecture school and those who attended every other type of school.


Those who have Architecture education are more focused, can concentrate for longer, take criticism better, work faster, respond to deadlines more efficiently, and they can apply design skills to every aspect of running a business (except accounting) from PR to social media, videography, logo design, etc...

As much as I (and everyone else on Archinect) loves to complain that our degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on, my Architecture degree(s) are the single most significant investment in myself I have ever made, and definitely the best choice from my options at the time.

What I'm trying to get across is that an architecture degree will give you an edge in any building or creative industry. What you do after your first degree will determine how you apply what you learned in architecture school.

Jan 28, 13 10:25 am

I used to work in the flight simulation industry and video games - the people with arch degrees where the ones who were the most efficient and innovative problem solvers and often became leaders - and it was because of them I too studied architecture then changes careers to architecture - 

Jan 28, 13 11:56 am

Some years back, a really smart guy by the name of Michael Porter wrote a book entitled “Competitive Strategy” in which he took a hard look at the factors that determine the underlying economics of industries. As it turned out, two of the most important factors turned out to be:

a) "Barriers to Entry" – i.e. the degree of difficulty experienced by new players when they try to enter a particular industry, such as large capital investment, specialized expertise, difficult or costly access to proprietary technology, etc.


b) "Barriers to Exit" – i.e. the degree of difficulty experience by poorly performing players when they wish to exit a particular industry, such as the inability to sell assets, lingering legal obligations, lack of solid business opportunities elsewhere, etc.

The most attractive industries (i.e. the most profitable industries) tend to be ones in which entry barriers are high and exit barriers are low. In those industries, few new players can enter and non-performing players can exit easily.

The least attractive industries (i.e. the least profitable industries) tend to be ones in which entry barriers are low and exit barriers are high. In those industries, many new players can enter without great difficulty and non-performing players find it hard to exit and continue to hang around, further driving down the industry’s economics through cutthroat competition.

I’ve often thought this concept held some important lessons for our profession. Despite a lot of complaining here about how hard it is to get an architectural education and license, the fact is that readily availability student financing has allowed many individuals to obtain architectural degrees. And, in the overall scheme of things, it’s really not all that hard or expensive to obtain an architectural license if properly motivated. These factors fundamentally confirm the low “barriers to entry” that exist in the architectural profession.

This particular thread brings into sharp relief the fact that it’s not all that easy to transfer our architectural training to other industries – there simply aren’t that many businesses other than architectural firms that will readily embrace someone educated only in architecture. Once we’re in the profession, most of us find it really hard to leave – primarily because, IMHO, without additional training, our particular skills are not all that relevant to (or respected by) other industries. 

But, we also don't leave architecture because many of us can't imagine ourselves doing anything else. In the end, we find ourselves in an industry with too many designers chasing too few projects, resulting it permanently low fees, resulting in permanently low wages.

So, why do I relate this sad tale? Well, for two reasons. First, I think it important that those still in school (or about to enter school) understand how the fundamental economics in our industry are impacted by supply and demand. These forces define the fundamentally poor economics of the architectural profession, are not easily changed and will continue in their current state for the forseeable future.

And, secondly, I think it important that those of you who are considering a move to another industry properly understand how this works so you don't jump 'out of the frying pan into the fire'. Select your new industry carefully.

Good luck.

Jan 28, 13 1:00 pm

and, in the overall scheme of things, it’s really not all that hard or expensive to obtain an architectural license if properly motivated.



It's only hard if you are not properly motivated

Jan 28, 13 1:45 pm

Excellent post, quizzical.

I've ranted extensively on this forum about how insanely stupid the IDP, educational, and licensing setup for architecture is. But that should never be taken to mean that I think the barriers to entry for the profession should be low. Rather, I think they should be better. The way they are currently does not work well at all. The problem with the system we have now is that it has a large incentive for schools of architecture to maximize revenue by pushing through lots of students who are poor candidates for success in the profession, which floods the market with prospective "architects." 

Then IDP keeps them limping along, extracting further rents from them while keeping production labor costs for firms artificially low. That's a problem for the profession because: we've become dependent on cheap labor, have poor incentives to improve our methods and systems for cost efficiency, have created a class of employees with very low loyalty, and have based our pricing structures on the wide availability of that labor pool (accelerating a "race to the bottom" on fees).

Frankly, there are way too many people out there trying to be architects. The market just doesn't support having them all doing it. Whenever you've got more supply than demand, you'll see prices drop fast. The market will balance, as it's doing now, but the pain associated with that affects all of us.

So, when I say that our barriers to entry need to be higher, what I mean specifically is that starting with the educational or apprenticeship path, the attrition rate for architecture students should be sky-high. There are lots and lots of people out there with architecture degrees looking for work. All but the most talented and dedicated of them need to be driven into other career paths and away from architecture. When that happens, everyone involved will be better off.

Where I disagree with quizzical is when he implies that an architectural education doesn't translate well to other arenas. While we haven't been making a good case for its value to the rest of the economy, a design education is tremendously valuable to them if you know how to articulate it. This is a subject I used to go on about at length with my students in studio: the business world is desperately in need of people who can be collaboratively creative in a focused and disciplined way. That's a very rare thing, which is in high demand nearly everywhere, and a good design education gives you all the tools you need to fill that niche if you know how to translate them. Who better to step in and address the demands of the Age of Design than professionally-trained designers?

Getting back to my general agreement with quizzical, the best way to leverage the enormous value of a design education is to combine it with something else. This goes back to an interview with Edward Tufte I read twenty years ago (would link it, but I can't find it now). Tufte, you may know, is the guru of graphic communication of information. In this interview, he gave a brief description of his personal prescription for success. Because small factors have a large influence at the ends of the distribution of career success, you need more than hard work, talent, and dedication to make it there. Those things will get you 90%-95% of the way, but beyond that you're much more dependent on things like initial starting conditions, luck, and other factors you can't really control.

What Tufte did for himself, and what he strongly recommended for everyone else who wanted a more reliable path to success, was to quit trying to get there by being the absolute best at any one thing. There's too much chance involved in achieving that for it to be a good bet anyway, and out of the millions or more people who want it, very few will actually get it.

Instead, find two things you can be reasonably good at, and find a way to put them together in an unusual and valuable way. Tufte will freely admit he's not the greatest graphic designer, nor is he a great statistician. But he's pretty good at both, and was able to combine them in a way that gave him a highly-valuable niche.

Being trained in design thinking and understanding how buildings go together is a valuable thing. You may not be the best at doing it, but if you can combine some aspect of that with something else in an interesting and valuable way, you won't have any trouble finding success. So, if you are wondering what alternatives you might have to practicing architecture in a more conventional mode, first ask yourself: what are my two things?

Jan 28, 13 1:59 pm

I have through no choice really of my own but really by necessity ended up as a Business Analyst for a a software company that provides construction management software to owners, architects and contractors (e-Builder) . I got the job because I was familiar with the construction industry not necessarily because I am an architect. I am the only architect here, most of the other BAs came from a  business background or were PMs for GC's, and I have to say they seem to fare better in this environment.

Given the economic situation I am surprised that there are not more architects here, probably due to the fact that they would really not think of looking in this sector. It is an interesting job and has taught me great deal about how projects get funded and managed but it lacks the inspiration and creativity that I crave.

During my time here I have met a lot of industry professionals across the country from owners to PMs GCs many consultant program manager and very few architects. The profession is changing my view is that architects have consulted themselves out of a job, even BIM (the great savior)  is being used more by contractor and subcontractors more than the architects. BIM is squeezing the architect to do much more work up front for the same price.

These are part ramblings and observations, but my point is despite my negative outlook of the profession I am still desperate to get back into it. What can I say Architects are masochistics!

Jan 29, 13 9:07 am

matthewwebb - do you mind emailing me offline? i'd actually like to talk to you about your current position more (without boring everyone here to tears). 

Jan 29, 13 10:39 am

Cab driver. Using your planning skills to plan effective routes to your destination.

Jan 29, 13 10:59 am


We're probably not in as much disagreement as our two posts might indicate. I tend to agree with you when you say "...the business world is desperately in need of people who can be collaboratively creative in a focused and disciplined way. That's a very rare thing, which is in high demand nearly everywhere, and a good design education gives you all the tools you need to fill that niche if you know how to translate them..."

The distinctions I would make are:

a) few within our profession are able -- much less motivated -- to undertake the translation you describe;


b) few of the organizations that might benefit from what we can offer hold architects in very high esteem -- our widespread reputation as "monument builders" and "poor listeners" and "budget busters" too often preceeds us (rightly or wrongly).

I absolutely agree with you when you say: "we haven't been making a good case for [our] value to the rest of the economy"

Jan 29, 13 9:34 pm

I believe that you can switch profession according to the reason why you choose Architecture education. I know my archenemy since grade school went to the top Architecture schools but his true heart was in the art of Architecture. He now works for a graphic design firm and does beautiful work and seems to be really happy. Some of my classmates entered Architecture school so that the can be better builders and designers. These students didn't care about a license and the idea of being labeled an Architect. They now work in construction companies, fabricators, and vendors.

Jan 30, 13 11:00 am


Jan 30, 13 4:52 pm

matthewwebb - I'm also interested in talking to you about business analysts in the field. If you could message me via email, i'd appreciate it. - Faris Faraj

Jan 30, 13 4:54 pm

Nomadic Hobo? Panhandlers make $12,000-$400,000 annually. (I completely made that up.)

Jan 31, 13 9:43 am

Building inspector. Supplement your income with bribes.

Jan 31, 13 12:30 pm

maybe doing something in civil engineering

Jan 31, 13 2:11 pm

I looked into Engineering during my own indecision about careers.

I would have to go back for 2 years minimum (and I have an engineering minor, so typically more school would be necessary) then graduate and do 4 years of engineering internship in a soul crushing beige (not even white) cubicle with a bunch of people who have casio wristwatches and calculator pocket protectors? no thanks.

Jan 31, 13 2:38 pm



depending on what company/industry you work for.. ie: working for an agency, automobile company, or gaming company might be more exciting than a back-end tech company... or working for say... Samsung/Google/Apple/Tesla is more fun than working for Oracle.. all depends..

Average Junior Salary for these positions: 50k - 60K

Average Mid level Salary for these positions: 75k - 85k

Average Senior level Salary for these positions: 100K-120K+


paying off my architecture school loans pretty well, with creative control on my projects...

Jan 31, 13 7:30 pm

do 4 years of engineering internship in a soul crushing beige (not even white) cubicle with a bunch of people who have casio wristwatches and calculator pocket protectors? no thanks.

I did too many years as a C programmer in a Beige cube in Teterboro NJ(Allied Aerospace) 

Jan 31, 13 8:01 pm

First, build a network.

Second, as someone pursuing it myself, is find yourself a passion  where your architectural skills can set you apart, and talk to people in that field. Lots of people around you are doing what you want to do, but don't have your skills. Leverage that, and learn from them, and try to grow organically. 

Have a friend that's a commercial realtor? Invite him over for a beer and talk development. See a sign for a property that's for sale? Call them up and ask them to lunch. Learn, explore, and see what interests you. 

If architecture has taught me anything, it's how to investigate and to learn from that exposure. It won't come as a surprise: developers don't think the way we as architects think. They see SF, $/SF, and parking as the Holy Trinity of all deals. Learn that. Learn how to do your own pro forma. Research it. Treat it like it's a design problem. 

What developers DON'T do, is add value. They think of architecture as a box, where money goes in, and money comes out, and that all architects do is slap a fountain on (ie waste money). Your goal should be to leverage what you've learned about good design and relate it in terms they can understand. Use your inexperience as a 20-30 year old as an asset, "I'm a 'young/hip/millenial', and if I could live anywhere, I'd live in a place like this". 

I think the architect as developer career is one that most architects today WISH they'd started, but because they'd invested so much of their lives into being 'an architect', they felt confined and never explored that alternative. So try it, fail early, and fail often, and someday realize not just being your own boss, but your own client. 

At least, that's the pep-talk I give myself...


Apr 5, 13 4:50 pm

House fluffer.

Apr 5, 13 5:16 pm

I think I saw a couple on House Hunters International where the husband did this professionally.


Construction management.  You can get a university extension certificate in this topic at many good universities which teach you the building blocks and then go work for a major builder ... the economy has to get better.  Ok if you're a bread and butter guy or gal, and NOT ok if you are more artsy.  You might tangle with them.  Some of them can be fairly doltish.  Worked with this CE grad in project management.  He asked me what I did over the weekend.  I told him I saw "Erin Brockovich."  Being a dumb small-town ex-jock, he said "Oh, that's a chick flick."  I told him it was a legal drama and if you like David taking on Goliath, and winning, it's a great flick.  He was too stupid to waste any more than that on him.

Other fields:  CE, with some additional schooling if no need to redo general ed, facility management, planning official (possibly), and a lot of vocational things and trades.  You've got to pencil it out.  It also depends on your age and how much you have left in your work life.

Apr 5, 13 5:37 pm

I hear you Pale...  It is wise to have a backup career to support you, whether full-time or part-time... Architecture is unpredictable and its always nice to have something to fall back on. 

I must add that many have this wrong perception of the profession.. drawing details and wondering what windows to choose IS a part of an architects job.  Design consultation, design talent, critical thinking are all over rated.

Apr 5, 13 6:24 pm

Admissions counselor at architecture school.

Apr 6, 13 12:00 am

Block this user

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

  • ×Search in: