Crossing the Line


For those who have not read my previous blogs, I have worked in Construction, Architecture and Engineering for the entirety of my adult life. The longest stint in this career journey was in a small architecture firm for 23 years that specialized in K-12 schools.

Because it was a small firm, I was fortunate enough to wear many hats. By the time we closed the doors in 2008, I had done everything from accounting to negotiating contracts.  I could be writing specs for a project one day and preparing marketing materials or an RFP the next. With the exception of actually working on drawings, there was little I did not do during my time there. I was lucky enough to work for three men who were willing to teach me anything that I wanted to learn and who encouraged me to constantly take an expanded role in the firm. I had no idea just how valuable that would turn out to be.

To be brutally honest, when we closed the firm I was terrified that I may have limited opportunities in AEC because I had pigeon-holed myself in a small firm for such a long period of time. I couldn’t even go into a bar when I started working there. Then, 23 years later, I found myself unemployed in an economy that was in the toilet. During that time, absolutely nobody was hiring in AEC which left me working in my mother’s resale clothing store until the economy started picking up again. That is another story.

Eventually, the economy did start to pick up. During a slow period at the shop, I was perusing Craigslist for jobs in AEC. To what did my wondering eyes appear but a job at an MEP firm that my architecture firm had used for many a year. Because of my past role, I knew many of the Principals at this firm. In my typical fashion I completely ignored the requirements for applying for this job and emailed one of these Principals. My question was “Do I want to work there?”  Apparently, he thought I did because he took my resume (prepared in about 30 minutes) straight up to HR and told them to put it on the top of the pile. That was my first indication that just maybe I hadn’t made a mistake staying in one (small) place for such a long time.

Long story short (OK, that’s a lie), I had two interviews and a job a week later. One of my current bosses still says that I interviewed him more than he interviewed me. This July, I will celebrate five years with this firm. Because of my background, I have been able to craft a position that is customized to my experience.  This is a unique position that you don’t find in many design firms. I get to help make some of the rules.

This opportunity came because I crossed the line. It came because I was not afraid to venture out of the discipline in which I was most familiar and take a crack at it from another angle.

It turns out to be the best thing I have ever done.

It turns out that my exposure to the inner workings of a construction company and what it takes to actually construct a building made me look at my work in a design firm in a different way. It turns out that wearing multiple hats in my small architecture firm gave me a perspective about coordinating the design team and a project that few people in our industry have. It turns out that I have a much deeper understanding of what it really takes to get a good project out the door than I ever realized. I turns out that I did have something to offer.

3-1/2 years ago, to add to that melting pot of experience, I finally had time to join and get involved with CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) as I vaulted toward an empty nest. CSI welcomes all disciplines in the built environment as equal members. This has translated into having opinions, feedback and advice from all members of the project team at every chapter meeting and educational event that I attend. I attend a lot of them. I learn more at one meeting/event than I can in months in my day-to-day work. This only helps me do my job better and without tunnel vision.

Just for giggles, throw in my social media activities (Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogging) and recent foray into public speaking, all of which would typically be considered “marketing”. I am not a marketing professional. I do these things solely to build relationships with even more people in different disciplines.  I now have access have a brain trust that spans every corner of this industry and this country because I crossed this line.

Now if I was really being honest my dream gig is to be Queen of the World. Since that appears unlikely at this juncture, it is a good bet that I will continue in AEC throughout the remainder of my career. If I was asked to give only one piece of advice to a young professional starting out in this business, it would be to CROSS THE LINE.

  • Don’t work in a bubble.
  • Understand the roles and responsibilities of the rest of the project team.
  • Know how, and more importantly why, other disciplines do the things that they do.
  • Step way far outside your box.
  • Try a job in a discipline other than your own.
  • Get involved in an industry organization outside of your specific discipline. Discipline specific organizations are absolutely necessary to your craft but less likely to give you real world exposure to the way others work.
  • Talk to other disciplines, ask questions, understand their specific process.

In my 30 year career, I continue to hear the same complaints (first hand).  Contractors don’t read the specs, consultants don’t understand the documents, architects do not communicate project requirements, etc. etc., yaddah, yaddah, yah!

We can keep bitching about it and continue to have the same conflicts, errors and omissions or we can change it.  The first step toward that change is to CROSS THE LINE!


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