Recently I had a conversation with a graduate of Dalhousie University, School of Architecture in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Mindy Gudzinski graduated with distinction in 2011 and today is at the threshold of starting her own Architectural firm . I wanted to get to understand her perspective on recent graduates planning to start their own practice, and how she perceives the obstacles they will encounter.
1. While you were in schools, were you thinking about starting a business in architecture – setting up you own practice? Did you feel you were lacking necessary skills to start a business
- MINDY – Even before I began studying architecture, it was always my intention to start my own office. I felt I needed to develop my skills in marketing, business development and financial management but I’d do that once I had completed architectural school.
2. Were you concerned that you might be unprepared to start your own business when the time came?
- MINDY – I new I lacked business skills but I also knew that I could develop them when the time came, but I did not have a clear vision how I would acquire these skills.
3. During your apprenticeship, did you employers teach you anything about how to do the business of architecture?
- MINDY – No my employers were not concerned with teaching me about business. Because, I was learning the fundamentals of practicing architecture and until you understand the fundamentals you cannot offer the services in a business framework. Also, I think, employers do not teach business as their employees may evolve into their competitors, so they figure why help them in this regard?
4. What did your employers, during your apprenticeship period, teach you?
- MINDY - They permitted us to develop our skills in real life situations. They showed us how to work on a team.
5. Did your Professional Practice exams help prepare you for practicing architecture?
- MINDY – Ethics and the laws and responsibilities of an architect were thoroughly taught, however the practical aspects of starting a firm were almost non-existent in the academic portion program. One positive aspect however is that Dalhousie is one of the few schools left that offers a co-op program as part of the curriculum. In this program, practical real life experience at an architecture firm is a requirement to graduate. I feel this aspect of the program better prepares students for what is to come in their professional life than those with a purely academic focus.
The Professional Practice exams are academic by nature and do little to help the new young professionals in business. For the most part they seem focused on the employee architect so he does not, through his work, get his employer into trouble which they undoubtedly will without proper guidance from someone with experience.
6. What would you like to see changed in the Professional Practice program?
- MINDY - The Professional Practice Program should be of a more practical nature, to help the new professional begin his/her practice with knowledge and confidence. There is much knowledge and many skills that are required to be successful as a businessman.
7. What are your 3 biggest concerns going into business?
1. life – work balance
2. managing distractions – emails for example
3. procrastination because of lack of confidence on how to do business
8. What 3 skills do you need necessary to learn to startyour ownbusiness?
1. financial management
2. systems writing and management
3. marketing and business development
9. Do you feel schools of architecture should teach the business aspects of starting your own firm?
- MINDY - It would be difficult, as learning design and architecture is a full time, demanding program. During architecture school starting a business is not at the forefront of most students minds so many may not take these topics seriously. But, when the time business skills are needed, the need is critical. Kind of ‘chicken and egg’ question - which comes first? I have talked to many would-be practitioners and they are all apprehensive about their lack of business skills.
10. You have worked both large and small firms during your apprenticeship; what are the benefits and drawbacks of each?
Small firm benefits: drawbacks
- more friendly - lower wages
- less structured - less systematized
- closer to the front line - smaller projects
- more emphasis on design - less resources
- less supervision
Large firm benefits drawbacks
- higher wages - impersonal
- more systems - less creativity
- larger projects - more control
- more resources in house - separated from front line
- slotted into doing the same thing
11. What advice can you give your colleagues who are enteringan apprenticeship in an architect’s office?
- MINDY - be grateful to your employers for giving you a chance
- be humble – “he who humbles himself will be exalted”
- and “ he who exalts himself will be humbled” - don’t act like you know everything
- go the extra mile to help the office and those who mentor you.
- there is a lot to learn ask questions and actively listen
- choose a mentor within the office if you can
This discussion with Mindy, graduate architect completing her apprenticeship, is typical to many recent graduates. Some begin practicing architecture with limited business skills and plug along with limited success. Some step back and acquire the skills they need for success. And some quit returning as an employee and give up their dream of their own business so they can design and work in the hands of their employers.