Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Facing Early Career Decisions

Facing Early Career Decisions

Photo by Ian Schneider at Unsplash

Every year, I take a week in the summer time to relax with my friends by renting a house, home cooking meals, and spending time together. This year, our theme was “Lake House”, and last week we finally went on this much anticipated vacation. During my time there, I thought about where I started, how far I’ve come, and where I’d like to go with my career as an architect and creative professional. In short, I felt like I was reaching an “early life crisis”. Let me explain.

Starting My Career As an Architect

When I graduated from architecture school in the summer of 2013, my primary focus was to be employed by an architecture firm where I would be able to develop all of the essential skills and get licensed as an architect. A month after graduating, I was fortunate to find a firm in Buffalo, NY where I went to college that offered me a position as a young architect. This firm is filled with great people who create an inviting culture where ideas and questions are freely shared.

Within a year of practicing at this firm, I gained so much experience in the various areas of practicing architecture. From developing proposals for projects to being part of the design team on a $30 million project, I was quickly gaining more experience and my passion was strong! I was so engaged in learning as much as I could about architecture that I started pursuing design competitions and inviting students from my alma mater to join me on my pursuits.

Two years into my career, I completed all of my architecture experience hours that are required for getting licensed. Early in my second year, I started taking the seven architecture registration examinations (ARE 4.0) and passed all of them within several months. During this time, I met other young architects in the local emerging professionals group and developed lots of great friendships.

By the third year of my career, I finally received my architect license in New York State because the state requires 3 full years of employment to qualify for getting licensed. Soon after I got licensed, the emerging professionals group and I organized a successful event called “Planning a Practice” where we brought together a successful architect, two lawyers, two accountants, and a strategic marketing professional to give a daylong seminar on starting an architecture firm. Along with this event, I started this blog, Journey of an Architect, to help me find my calling as a creative professional through the design of 30 theoretical projects. I was also working on multiple projects at the firm where I’ve been employed and I was still eager to take on as much responsibility as possible.

In the fourth year of my career, I was still at an all-time high where I was working on lots of exciting projects at the firm, developing my projects for Journey of an Architect, and pursuing competitions with local students.

It was at this point where my early life crisis began.

All of the things that I’ve been pursuing up to this point were the best that I could put forward. Every day, my goal was to do more than the day before and to learn as much as I could about architecture. By this time in my career, I started to feel like I was slowly falling into a routine that focused on the constant pursuit of more. At some point in the year, I started asking the question, “What am I pursuing?”

You see, the idea of pursuing “more” was enough to get me out of bed every morning and to rebel against sleeping at night. I wanted more knowledge, experience, responsibilities, roles, and so on. At the end of my fourth year, I realized that these wants were all infinite. Without any clear direction, I would be in an endless and unfulfilling pursuit.

That Brings Us to Today

By the fifth year of my career (middle of 2017), I decided to stop thinking about my pursuit of more and changed my direction to focus on following my heart and gut instincts. I also started working on a very complex renovation project that was just beginning construction. Both of these decisions were the best ones that I’ve made at this turning point in my career where I’m slowly transitioning into a project management role at the firm and pursuing new endeavors in my personal life.

Starting with my personal life, I took on a new hobby of leatherworking in late 2017 where I started hand making small leather goods. I decided to pursue this new hobby because I thought it would help me decompress after a long arduous day at the office working on the construction project. Little did I know, my decision to pursue leatherworking would grow into a company that I started just before the 5th anniversary of my architecture career.

While working on my leather projects, I continued designing architecture projects for Journey of an Architect and I also decided to write a book based on the seminar that the emerging professionals group and I organized a year and a half earlier. After finishing the book, my friend Mike LaValley from Evolving Architect and I decided to start a podcast called Unpacking Design.

With all of those passion projects going on behind the scenes at night, I continued working hard on the construction project at the firm. There were lots of moments where I encountered some growing pains because I had to learn project management software and other essential skills for administering a project in construction. By early 2018, I was comfortable with the project and I reached a point where my day to day life as an architect returned to a typical routine.

Facing an Early Career Decision

Now that I’m starting my sixth year of my career as an architect, there’s one big question that I’ve been contemplating for some time. I know that I want to eventually start an architecture firm, but there’s one last thing that I’d like to do before taking that leap.

I want to work at an architecture firm with the portfolio of work that inspires me.

With all of the experiences that I’ve had working on both private and public projects, I’m finally starting to find the area of architecture that inspires me. There are many firms whose portfolio, firm culture, work ethics, and current projects I admire. I want to learn more about these firm’s operations and design process. In other words, I’d like to gain a variety of experiences working at different firms that will influence the firm that I eventually start.

However, this decision to pursue those experiences at the firms that I admire is a difficult one to make. The biggest thing holding me back is that I’m really enjoying the firm where I’m currently employed. I’ve had so many great opportunities at this firm and I’m getting even more opportunities every day. The firm culture is also inviting and it often feels like everyone is part of a family.

So What Do I Do? Where Will I Go With My Career?

During my time at the lake house with one of my closest friends and my girlfriend, I did some thinking about the next steps in my career. I’m at a point where I should start becoming an expert at some area of architecture. I’m also working on a project in construction that should be over by the first quarter of 2019 and my girlfriend should be done with her PhD at the university by the summer of 2019 or 2020.

Planning ahead, I want to close out of this construction project because it would be my first complex and large scale renovation project where I’ve been able to develop the essential skills for project management. Once my girlfriend is done with her PhD, she’ll need to start her career off at one of a handful of places around USA.

At that time, I will also be taking a big step in my life to transition to an architecture firm in the city where my girlfriend will be located. This will be my opportunity to apply and hopefully be brought into a another firm that I admire with a culture similar to my current firm. In the meantime, I’ll continue developing my side projects such as Journey of an Architect and my Mars Leather Company.

Conclusion

When I started writing this post, my goal was to get everything related to the ideas and decisions that I’m currently facing in my career out of my head. Now that I’ve written it down and shared it with you, I actually feel like I’ve found the road that I want to travel. If you’re in the same situation where you’re thinking about moving to another architecture firm or city or even switching your career, I suggest writing it down and/or sharing it with someone else. Feel free to share it in the comments section below!

Thanks for reading.

Tim


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