I’ve got a lot to learn

I’ve been involved lately in a bunch of conversations about the changing role architects are playing in a typical project.  You used to be able to go to an experienced architect and be able to ask them about design, drafting, flashing details, or numerous other things that are involved in projects and you would get a pretty good answer about what they had seen and what has worked best.  Today we have envelope specialists, aquatic specialists, etc.  You name it and there is probably a specialist/consultant that is there to help you figure out exactly how to do it right.  We rely on these people as the buildings we work on have become increasingly complex and standards have become extremely more difficult.  But if we are relying on these specialists more and more, who does someone that is fairly new to architecture actually go to when they have questions about how a building works?  Ok, for me that’s still an easy answer – an architect, but it does mean that today’s architect has to adjust the way they mentor the next generation.

This is the 27th installment of #ArchiTalks, a monthly post on all sorts of topics that relate to the architecture profession.  Created by Bob Borson, each post is on a single subject from the point of view of some very different people within the profession.  This month’s topic come from Michael Lavalley and is all about mentorship.

So instead of doing the typical ‘Being/Having a mentor = Good’ subject we have all seen before ( I’ve done it my self – here ), I thought I would take some advice we all received and write about my own journey of being a mentee, mentor, and back again.

First Job

During my undergrad years, high school years too, I worked at a grocery store.  Everything from sacking groceries to stocking shelves to spilling a hundred gallons of orange juice on a freshly waxed cooler floor.  Yes it really did happen.  One year though, somewhere around my sophomore/junior year, some of my friends told me about a student internship at one of the local bigger architectural offices.  It would only be a couple of days a week, but it was a chance to work at a real architectural office and finally get to do first hand what I had been studying.  It wasn’t going to be enough to completely quit my other job, but there was no way I was going to miss a chance like this.  So fast forward a bit, I got the student internship, and was ready to take the world of architecture by storm.  Oh wait, first day is always paperwork stuff, meeting everybody already there, HR department stuff, etc.  Ok, maybe on day 2 I could storm this castle and show them what I’ve got.  I show up a little bit early…. and basically have to sit and wait because nobody remembered I was coming in that day.  It was only a couple of days a week, remember.  Finally some more people showed up, and I was informed to go to the front desk as they had some stuff for me to work on.  I rushed up there to see what project I was going to work on.  A hospital, some of the airport work that was keeping everyone so busy, a cool office building, what, what?!?  I got to the front and was greeted with “Let me show you where the mail room is so you can pick up all of the office mail.  Oh and here is the company gas card, you will need to fill up the company car before the partners get back from their meeting.”   …….Say what?……  Ummmmm… Ok.  I’m the new kid around here, I have to take my lumps, right?

img_1870   img_1871

Needless to say, after a few month of this, it got a little old.  I guess they finally thought I could do more than just that.  I mean I did graduate to transferring redlines of shop drawings from the one the architect looked at to the other 6 sets.  Of full size submittals that had dozens of pages… My eyes are getting blurry just thinking about it again.  Some things going digital didn’t happen fast enough.  All in all, it wasn’t that bad of an experience, I did a lot of listening and got to see a lot of different things; I just wouldn’t say that it ever turned into a true mentoring opportunity. Oh well, back to school, I had a degree to get.

Second Job

In case you were curious, I got the degree.  I know it was a big cliffhanger.  And by this point, I had really had enough of scanning barcodes.  I put my portfolio together, scanned the AIA job board, and began making phone calls and writing e-mails.  Somehow it paid off and before I knew it, I landed an interview and a new job.  Scratch that, I started my career.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still the new kid on the block compared to everyone else, but this time I wasn’t the office gopher, it was time to start working on those bathroom plans and details.

Yeah, we all go through it, just remember to place the joint in the mirror correctly.

I worked here for eight solid years and went from a really green employee to managing projects on my own.  Well, at least with a long leash.  A lot of what I think about architecture I can point directly back to something I learned here.  Drafting lessons, layering of facades, rendering techniques, it’s all in there.  It was some of the most formative years of my professional life in terms of how I go about working on projects.  And even though I reference back to this time a lot, I can’t really point to a singular person that you could say was my mentor.  I’m not so sure that’s such a bad thing either.  When I look back, there are stories and situations that I remember from all sorts of people that I met there.  I’m not sure they even realize how much of an influence these people had on me.  Just about everyone has moved on and landed in various places, but I know all of them are still involved in architecture, and all of them are still making a difference.

Here and now

Ok, lets fast forward a few years.  There is no reason to talk about the “Now you’re liable” years.  Maybe one day.  I find myself now at the biggest firm I have ever been at.  We float somewhere around 100 people working here at 3 different offices across Texas and I have the opportunity to not only work on some really cool projects but get to meet a lot of movers and shakers around the area.  I find myself in a position that I have never been in at any previous firm.  I’m actually one of the people with more experience than a lot of the people I work with.  Wait… when did that happen?  So I guess it’s time for me to be the mentor instead of the mentee.  You mean someone is actually supposed to listen to what I have to say?  Oh boy.  Well… Yes and no.  You know that saying that the more you learn, the more you realize the less you know.  Don’t I know it.  It’s actually a really cool feeling when people in the office come to you and ask how you would do something or showing someone how a detail is supposed to go together.  When they take that with them and apply it, it’s even cooler.  So that’s the mentor part (still getting used to it) but what about that mentee status?  I’m still there, and looking at it now, I don’t think I really will ever be rid of it.  The difference this time, there is a very specific person that is actively helping me in taking my career even farther.  It’s a situation that I am not accustomed to, and it has it’s own learning curve that I’m still figuring out.  Having discussions about how to improve the office and what my role will be in that.  What I can do outside of the office to help me out.  Just talking about what’s going on in each others lives.  I guess it’s never to late to get a mentor.  If I plan to take my career to the next level, I better make sure I am doing my listening now.  I’ve still got a lot to learn about this profession, and that’s the only way I’m going to learn about it.


If you areas curious as I am to read about what everyone else in the #ArchiTalks crew wrote about mentorship, check out all of the links below.  I know there will be some interesting stories.

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why every Aspiring Architect needs SCARs

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Mentor5hip is…

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
My Mentor

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Mentors that are in my life

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood – Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)


23 Replies to “I’ve got a lot to learn”

  1. This is a pretty solid story Brian – probably similar to what a lot of young(ish) architects have gone through. I will be interested in seeing how things continue to evolve for you in your current role and whether or not you decide to seek someone out who can provide you with some guidance on how to shape your career. As I am in the twilight of my 40’s, I think that ship has sailed for me.

    Interestingly enough – at least from my perspective – is that while I make the distinction between “advice” and guidance” (a good friend provides the former and a good mentor provides the latter) putting yourself in a position to mentor others simply by trying to educate them will force you to seek out alternative paths that lead towards personal growth. What person who views themselves as a teacher doesn’t worry about being asked a question they don’t know the answer to? This is what I have started thinking of as “community mentoring” and as our society becomes more and more digital, I believe this will be a reasonable way for people to connect with people they admire who have a skill set they would like to develop … which leads to growth and isn’t that a large part of what mentoring is all about?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an excellent point. And I think most good firms (maybe they need to be larger, there’s a point to be made there possibly) provide a non-digital vehicle for “community mentoring”. Every year at our management meeting we color code everyone as to where they sit and how much experience they have. If there is too much consolidation of experience we mix things up, ideally getting a pod of 4 desks with a person newly out of school, one with a couple years experience, then a couple more, then a couple more, so everyone has immediate resources to help them in their daily habits. Managers are always available, but we’ve found this allows for more organic mentoring as well, at all levels.


      1. Does the shuffling of people ever cause a problem to an established mentor/mentee relationship? I could see a possible disruption of causing the time investing into a certain person having to shift once the more experienced person is surrounded with a group of new less experienced people. Just trying to see the other side, perhaps you’ve never seen or have been able to overcome that issue.


    2. Thanks Bob, it surprised me to hear that so many others had similar experiences of not being able to point to a single mentor in their career as well. I’m really liking the idea of “community mentoring”, allowing mentors and mentees to seek out and learn/teach to a larger audience with similar goals and aspirations.


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