when to relight the architectural candle, and when to let it burn out


I’m having a bit of a crisis and would love to hear your thoughts. Sorry it's a bit of a read! I’m 29 years old and have dreamt of becoming an architect for as long as I can remember. I went to school for it and loved it. I've had a few jobs in the field and loved them as well. I did very well and was confident in my ability and future. I felt like one of the lucky ones who “knew” where he was going in life.

...but that was then.

I worked for a small firm the last few years. A very small firm. Like 3 people small (on and off). My boss worked exactly like I hoped all architects would- with enthusiasm, vision and passion. He wanted his spaces to be perfect- and we spent a lot of time trying to make them so. During one push, I ended up working the last 45 days without a day off, and put in on average a little more than 70 hours a week. 45-55 hours was typical for a non-push week. Studio hours indeed, but it was inspiring to work towards something great! I sacrificed relationships, sacrificed health, but made it work. Dammit, I wanted to be an architect!

However, as I spent more time with this guy, I became less and less enthusiastic based on the way he ran the office and treated others. He always looked to find an edge or angle over other people, like we were going into a battle and needed weapons, not into a meeting where we needed pens. He abused his employees, manipulated his neighbors, lied to his clients. When one of my co-worker friends tried to leave, he dragged her into a two month tug-of-war contest loaded with a lot of ‘You can’t leave me!’s’ and, ‘You owe me!’s. In my eyes, he sees the world as his personal toilet. He will smile at you and shake your hand with enthusiasm, and once you've left, mock you while he wipes mud on your drawings.

The work we did was always over budget (even though we didn’t bill for the ridiculous hours), and because my boss was ALWAYS battling, we had cutbacks galore. Not so inspiring to work those sleepless nights when you see all those moments you worked so hard on, decapitated one after the other.

Later, when we were basically out of work, he hired another guy who had worked for him in the past, had me train him and then shortly later, abruptly let me go. I’m not complaining- its a relief to be free of him.

So I’m happy to be out, and I’m blessed to be getting lots of interviews from some truly outstanding firms. But I have this negatively charged cloud over me now. I don't know Revit as well as most since we used alternative software (I was a rhino, 3dmax, vectorworks, formZ guy in college), but am confident I can learn it. More worrisome in my mind is that I am now just sickened by what I’ve seen. I know he doesn’t represent the industry, but in a way, to me, he does. And I want no part of it.

In the last half year, along with applying for jobs in architecture, I've found it easier to teach myself how to program than to update myself on Revit. I am very new to the art of coding, but I see a potential in that industry I no longer see in architecture. A glimmer of hope just around the corner. I am beginning to think I might be happier giving up on architecture and working towards a job in IT. But for so long, architecture has been all I've ever known.

So I guess I’m looking for advice. Was my experience unique or familiar? Are any of you sucessfull and happy, even though you may not be following the passion you once might have had? Have any of you been able to capitalize from an unfortunate work experience? If anyone with programing experience is reading this, is the programming industry the white knight I want it to be?

If you were me, and had the opportunity to try your hand in a totally new industry, would you?

I appreciate you taking the time to read this. Thank you.


Apr 22, 14 7:12 pm

i worked for a guy like that which was really shitty, but that doesn't mean that all architects are going to be like that.  

If you want to leave to become a computer programmer, I think you would have to narrow down what area of programming  you want to be in, for what applications, what programming languages you would need to learn.  Chances are, the self-taught programming you are referring to, would not cut it in a real world workplace setting.  You should take a few classes at a local community college and see if it is really something you want to do.  You can also try to talk to professionals in the field and see how they feel about their work and workplaces.

Apr 22, 14 7:42 pm

I can easily see a situation where an IT guy had an abusive boss and is now seeking a career in architecture. You should not put up with abuse no matter the industry. I know it is easy to say but you should have left way beforehand and found another job within the architecture field. I think IT would bore the dead, but that's just my opinion.

Apr 22, 14 7:43 pm

Good luck with you.. The computer field is no walk in the park either and can be pretty demanding but atleast you will get paid a heck lot better then you probably ever will in architecture.  I think most of us wouldn't mind the demands of architecture, but its not fun and downright depressing when there is so much uncertainty about keeping jobs and what one would earn even after years of work.  In IT atleast, you know your pay is only going to go up with more experience and as long as you work hard. Switching jobs if you don't like one won't have all the downsides like in architecture either. 

Apr 22, 14 8:18 pm

Your boss sounds like a total loser.  Don't let his assholery force you to give up on the profession of which you've dreamed.  Try to find another job in the field - it seems the market is way up! Lots of job postings on Archinect! - in a different culture than your current firm.  if you still aren;t happy after a year, then think more seriously about a career shift.

Good luck! Seriously there is no excuse for the prima donna behavior your boss has submitted you to, and there really *are* good firms out there that will respect you as a human.

Apr 22, 14 8:23 pm
curtkram seems to have a pretty good reputation for teaching coding.  also,  - both are free!

as far as i can tell, it isn't so much about learning the specific language as it is about learning the logic.  you'll probably pick up the language once you know what you're doing.  sometimes i get a bit tired of what's going on around me in the profession. i think i'd switch if the opportunity presented itself.

Apr 22, 14 9:16 pm

There are plenty of different types of offices and office cultures - don't let the one sour you to the whole profession, but if you choose to stay in it look carefully (and ask current/past employees about the culture in the studio).

Apr 23, 14 10:02 am

If this last gig I'm about to start doesn't help me feel comfortable, I'm definitely getting out.  I'm willing to give it a last chance, though, and the firm culture does seem laid back, which would be nice.

Apr 23, 14 10:17 am
pale shelter


Last fall, after getting laid off a second time in my 6 year career (it's not me I promise lol - both firms have lost 50% in employees) .. I had one week until I started my next arch job. My g/f and I went signed up for Startup Weekend ( I went as a "designer" and she went as a business developer (she does tech sales).

From Friday night to Sunday night you either pitch a startup idea (usually web-based or application mobile based) - then and create a team or join a team. 150 people went; 45 ideas filtered to 15 ideas for a Sunday presentation. We got 4th place, and were selected as 'best design honorable mention' with the restaurant app I helped fabricate.

My point it: if you get out there in some of these meetup events or StartUp weekends; you meet a bunch of people... you'll learn that design skills are needed in the tech world... and they get paid (of course) better than architects. If you know photoshop and maybe indesign, illustrator; perhaps do some of your own app ideas to show a portfolio... you can get offered $65k as a designer somewhere ... or do freelance at very nice hourly rates. I haven't gone that path yet, not my thing but the option is out there.

Apr 23, 14 5:43 pm

Once you go freelance you'll never go back.  It's brutal at first but if you stick it out for a year or two it pays off... If you can bill even only 50$ an hour and work 30 hours a week...that's 75k a year.  If you can bill 100 and work 40.  That's about 200k.  Working for others sucks. Period. 

Apr 23, 14 7:51 pm

Don't be afraid to try something else.  You can always go back to architecture, and if you did it would be with a renewed commitment knowing that the grass wasn't greener after all.  And if you find that the new career is better, then you will have the immense satisfaction of knowing you dodged a bullet that many people don't.  When you get to be an old fart like me you regret the chances you didn't take, not the chances you did take that didn't work.  It's the what-might-have-beens that haunt you on those sleepless nights.

Apr 23, 14 8:22 pm


I sort of made the switch you're thinking about.  I did some drafting for architects, but mostly for engineering firms.  Decided to go all in and spent 3 years working towards B.Arch.  I switched to studying web development during the big down turn a few years ago.  If you like architecture try to find a good office.  I like the ability to work for myself without a 3 year internship that takes 10 years to complete, the licensure test, and all the bureacratic road blocks in architecture.  I do miss all the 'hot drama' on the archinect forum and come here once or twice a year to remind myself why I switched. (that would be the working conditions... There are several posters here who deserve an award for all the advice and help they give to the people coming up.)

Apr 27, 14 9:02 pm

Block this user

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

  • ×Search in: