According to the American Institute of Architects, an emerging professional is someone “considered to be intern architects aspiring towards licensure, as well as those who have been licensed for 10 years or less.”
Recently, on a call for another publication with which I’m involved, a contributor informed our team “technically I am no longer an emerging professional…” and announced his plans to roll off our committee in the coming months. What might be considered “unique” about this conversation is that this individual was in his early 40’s, had over 15+ years of experience ranging from intern to licensed professional to firm leader, as well as a myriad of other “adult-like responsibilities.” His omission and decision to mark a clear departure from emerging professional status seemed fair, and frankly, overdue.
After the call, I found myself once again revisiting a question that seems to remain ambiguous and unresolved: when, in architecture, are we no longer an “emerging professional?” When are we just a “professional,” that could strike out on our own, or lead, or feel content in our grasp of architectural skill and knowledge?
There are many milestones in life that mark when we transition from one life stage or level of seniority to another. From graduation to moving into a first apartment, jumpstarting a career, and achieving financial independence, many life milestones serve as small and large measuring sticks for personal self-evolution. In my own life, I distinctly remember the day I bought a “real” couch (I defined this as a furniture item that was not a futon or snagged from Goodwill or Craigslist) to mark a personal milestone of perceived “adulthood.”
Architecture, while seemingly marked with milestones (completion of internship, licensure, promotion, etc.) is a profession in which personal advancement seems to be measured by the acquisition of individual experience and a sense of self-awareness and progress, rather than a universal checklist of skills and accomplishments that lend themselves towards a sense of prescribed seniority.
This may be attributed to the concept that architecture typically demands a lot of in-put before one starts receiving tangible “output” in the form of two-pronged advancement. The first prong lends itself to the acquisition of relevant technical and design knowledge. This can vary highly from person to person in terms of how project experience is acquired and what its outcomes are. For example, someone might work on a large-scale project for the first few years of their career, participating in each phase. Others might work on a series of short, quick projects in which their contributions and learning experiences focus on a specific aspect of the trade.
The second form of “tangible advancement” could relate to leadership and, quite frankly, the often long-term process of building towards compensation opportunities that transcend a mediocre payscale in comparison to known hours of demonstrated effort and work. This issue is larger than the individual, and is being looked at in different ways as the architectural profession continues to work to redefine both its public perception and economic value to clients and society alike.
When I started blogging for the AIA Colorado Emerging Professional’s Blog almost four years ago, I was a fairly new transplant to Denver via Chicago. At the time I was still pursuing IDP hours, and had not even begun to take me ARE’s. As my career evolved in chorus with natural timelines, being able to put pen to digital paper regarding my experiences as a young architect felt just as important as the design work I was doing, and this continues to be true.
This blog has been a resource for me to discuss a wide range of experiences that range from profession to place to personal thought and forum. From “leaning in” to exploring “The Ego and the Architect” to exploring what it means to be an extroverted introvert, to covering the many important events and resources for young architecture professionals in the Denver community, each post has been a rewarding opportunity to distill experience and opportunity into a public format that is now hopefully part of a larger shared dialogue.
A little over a year post-licensure, I can still say that I am an emerging professional. From waterproofing to work authorizations, the peg board of gaps in my knowledge looks light a light bright waiting to be fully-illuminated, but a large enough surface area that I know I have to pace myself.
With that said, I’ve decided in the spirit of adapting to all of life’s change and milestones, to pass the torch to younger professionals’ with more early-career stories to tell and lessons to be learned. Thank you for your time, readership, and dialogue, and please keep reading the blog for important and relevant messages from our peers, co-workers, and contemporaries.