The Career Diaries: The Architect

Architect Job


in Career

The career diaries profile different professions giving you an insiders view of various jobs and careers. The goal being to give you a better view of a potential career by giving you more than the 10,000 foot view offered in vocation guides and top 50 job lists. A job is much more than a paycheck, it’s an activity that consumes roughly half of your waking hours. So let’s take a look at our latest career diary, a registered architect from our special guest.

Career: Architect / Registered Architect / Professional Architect

I work in the field of architecture. In the U.S., legally speaking, an “architect” is anyone who holds a license to practice architecture in their state. (As a licensed architect in Florida, I can’t call myself an architect in New York without obtaining a second license).

Variations on the title include licensed architect, RA (registered architect), professional architect, etc. Again, states vary on the rules for unlicensed people in the field, but typically you cannot use any variation of “architect” or “architectural” in your title without holding an active license in that state.

What does an Architect do?

An architect has a pretty wide array of functions with respect to the built environment the public experiences in their daily lives. While we are traditionally concerned with building envelopes, architects can also dip into interior design, urban planning, and other related fields. Most architects work Monday-Friday, 9-5 (your typical work week), but we are prone to MANY late nights when deadlines come looming. Workweeks of 60-80 hours are not out of the question (for some people who work for big-name architects, this is NORMAL–that’s just nuts).

There isn’t really a “typical” day in the life of an architect, since at any one time we might be working on two, three, or even ten active projects, all in various stages of completion. Some of these “stages” might include preliminary programming (figuring out what the client wants), schematic design, design development, engineering coordination, construction documents (drafting), specification writing, bidding the project, permitting through local government, overseeing construction, and post-occupancy work.

Most of us work in the office 90% of the time, usually on the computer. Depending on the projects we’re overseeing, we may also spend a good portion of our day in the field.

What is the Pay Range for an Architect

Architecture interns (those just coming out of college) can expect to earn between $35-$45K, on average. It’s definitely not as competitive as other fields, like business and engineering, and right now–there are simply no jobs in the field for graduates.

After 10-15 years in the field, licensed architects who are also principals at their firms can easily expect to be in the three digits, and here’s where it can vary greatly–from $100K to $250K and up! Those who are not principals/part owners will probably hover in the $70-90K range.

What Type of Education is Required for an Architect?

I’ve outlined this in my advice section. Basically, a professional degree from an accredited college or university is required. This is a 5-year undergraduate degree, or a graduate degree.

How long have you been an Architect?

I’ve been a fully-licensed architect for a little more than 6 months. Prior to that, I was classified as an “intern” for about three years after graduation.

What Types of Traits or Skills Should you Have to be an Architect?

Architecture is a pretty broad field of practice with many various types of specializations. You can be an extremely creative person (and focus on design) or an extremely technical person (and write specifications) or an extremely organized person (and manage projects). The possibilities are endless.

Generally, architects are creative individuals who enjoy different daily challenges, can manage themselves (most are self-employed), are good with people (a.k.a. clients) and can grasp the basic technical knowledge required to design.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the variety. I never quite know what the day will bring, and it can change by the hour. The challenges inherent in creating something new every time we design a building are pretty cool. I also love that I get to learn a new skill almost every day just from being at work. Likewise, I can apply most of the skills I learn outside of work to my job. In what other profession is your  skill set that non-specific?

What Don’t You Like about your job?

Obviously, our dependence on the construction industry is not my favorite characteristic these days. But we can’t change things we can’t control. Of the things we can control–I could do without the traditional competition between architects, contractors, consultants, and clients. I try to take a more collaborative approach with every project we do.

Advice for Getting into Architecture

In the US, becoming a (licensed) architect has a fairly straightforward, although long, path–education, internship and examination. You must complete all three in order to become licensed to do architecture. Education can consist of a 5-year undergraduate degree or a master’s degree (number of years varies). Internship is called IDP (intern development program) and it consists of three years-worth of credits in various areas. Examination currently consists of a 7-part exam (each part is taken individually).

From start to finish, becoming a licensed architect can take as little as 5 years (very aggressive), to about 8 years (still aggressive, but how long it took me) to 10-15 years (for those who are taking their time).

If just getting into the architecture field is your cup of tea (you have no desire to get licensed), the opportunities will be limited, but they exist. You will be limited to doing technical and/or support functions like drafting, basic design, administrative work, marketing, etc. Educational programs for support functions like these exists in many local colleges and trade schools.

In the current economic climate, few firms are hiring, but when we emerge from the recession, architectural firms will be looking for all the help they can get. If you want to get involved on a volunteer level, look for the local AIA (American Institute of Architects) chapter in your area. They are always looking for help and put on great events.

Career Diary Biography

fiscalfizzleWojciech Kulicki is a twenty-something architect who also blogs about money on Fiscal Fizzle.  He is recently married, a soon-to-be dad and lives in Southwest Florida.

–Many thanks to Wojciech for sharing his story be sure to check out his fantastic blog.

Also if you work in a different profession and wouldn’t mind being interviewed for an upcoming career diary please shoot me an email and we’ll set up a time to talk.

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2009/11/19 at 6:32 pm


[email protected] 2009/11/18 at 7:05 am

Wojciech, If you have to be licensed in any state in order to call yourself an “architect” in that state, does that restrict you from working for a client in NYC for a building in that city if you’re only licensed in Florida?
.-= [email protected]´s last blog ..Envision a Future Without Debt =-.

Wojciech 2009/11/18 at 8:11 am

Exactly–currently, I can only design buildings in Florida. If I wanted to work in NY, I’d have to apply for a reciprocal license in NY State. It is typically not a big deal, but it is paperwork and it does take time (my Florida paperwork took almost a year).
.-= Wojciech´s last blog ..5 Ways to Get Ready for Worse Times Ahead =-.

Len Penzo 2009/11/18 at 1:35 pm

A really nice and comprehensive overview, Wojo. Like I’ve told you before, my original major in college was architecture, before I moved over to electrical engineering two years into my education.

As a kid, my interest in architecture was piqued by the Brady Bunch – those who were fans of that show knew Mr. Brady was an architect. 🙂

In an odd coincidence, even though I am now an engineer, I actually am classified as a “system architect” at my place of employment. System architects are responsible for the earliest stages of system design and engineering development.

Len Penzo dot Com
.-= Len Penzo´s last blog ..Flexible Spending Accounts Provide Free Money. Why Pass It Up? =-.

Wojciech 2009/11/18 at 2:38 pm

Cool, Len! My step-dad was an electrical engineer for a long time, so I got to see all kinds of fun stuff back in the day. My first introduction to CAD (I think it might have been R12 or R13 back in the 90’s) was through him.
.-= Wojciech´s last blog ..5 Ways to Get Ready for Worse Times Ahead =-.

Financial Samurai 2009/11/19 at 5:14 am

Yo Wojo, good stuff! Can you elaborate more on the relationships between architects and contractors you mention? Is it kinda like a fire and ice relationship?

Contractors have told me architects create impossibly different designs that are inefficient i.e. “whuh, you want me to build that in there?!” and architects grumble how contractors lack their eye and never get it right. Who’s right? 🙂

Also, are your designs/drawings 100% to scale, or is this something the contractor has to figure out so that structurally, everything is sound?

.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..My SUV Will Beat Up Your Hybrid & Save The World! =-.

kenyantykoon 2009/11/19 at 8:46 am

this is one of the professions that i totally respect. i am always in awe at some of the things that you people design. Some is not all buildings are in defiance to nature itself. This type of skill is on a unique kind. However i am not inclined to that career path because my major interests are in finance and investing. When i do decide to be a homeowner, i will want one of those architectural feats that i see in the magazines
.-= kenyantykoon´s last blog ..ADVANTAGES OF CONVERTIBLE BONDS TO AN INVESTOR =-.

Financial Samurai 2009/11/19 at 10:23 am

Hey FG – Just FYI, congrats on making it into the Top 10 in Wise Bread’s latest rankings! Check them out!
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..My SUV Will Beat Up Your Hybrid & Save The World! =-.

paul 2009/11/19 at 1:24 pm

I read your comment and said, “Say What?” and went out to check. You mean the top 100 I’m thinking. Currently show #87.

Financial Samurai 2009/11/19 at 2:40 pm

Damn, I went back, and now the rankings are all messed up again 🙁 You were at #9 all day today! I guess Wise Bread had a glitch in the system!
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..My SUV Will Beat Up Your Hybrid & Save The World! =-.

Ryan 2009/12/19 at 6:25 pm

Always dreamed of being an architect growing up, but decided against it when it came time for college.

I heard that a lot of beginning architects get frustrated because a large portion of the job is pushing papers and red tape. Is that true in your experience?

Ryan @
.-= Ryan´s last blog ..Stripping for a Good Cause ““ 7 Reasons Why I’m Flashing my Finances =-.

Neelesh 2010/08/16 at 1:27 am

read the reality of architecture profession here

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