Architects are jerks (?)

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Posted by w0ep on May 14, 2019 at 12:46 pm

[Saturday: walmart route (7 miles?); Monday 3.4 miles]

It has been interesting in my progress through the job-hunt. People will ask me questions in interviews and sometimes my own answers surprise me.

I had a telephone interview last week with two people in my technical area (not HR people). One of them asked about a job I had in the past and my immediate answer was probably the wrong one.

He noticed that my route through college and my first job involved architecture. And he asked, I don’t remember the exact question, but he asked about what it was like to work for a big architectural firm.

My quick answer, said with a smile, is that architects are jerks.

I’m not sure where that came from.

My first job out of college was with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a big international architectural firm in Chicago. I worked on a software development project they were doing under contract with IBM. They were producing an updated version of their internal computer-aided-design system. There I learned how to program in C and edit with the ‘vi’ editor and do Unix things. That has pretty much been the foundation of my career.

I was there for a few months when I started getting calls from headhunters. One of them found me a position for more money, so I left.

I learned a lot about software development and I enjoyed most of the work. It was pretty intense. But the people were OK and the project was interesting.

So, how did I get “architects are jerks” from that? I’m not sure.

Architecture as I was taught it and as I saw it (mostly from the sidelines) at SOM, is a heroic thing. Some specific designer will set the tone for a big project. Big clients come for the big names as much as for the corporate competency. So there is a level of “popularity contest” going on, people jockeying for a part of the big project with the popular designer.

I say these things even though I was not myself involved with them. I was in a side-show on the software project. So I didn’t rub elbows with famous designers or do any hob-knobing of any sort. My perception could be totally wrong.

In my college days, architecture was a course of frustration. I enjoyed and did well on the courses in structural analysis and architectural history. I did not do very well at anything involving artistic production whether it was free hand drawing or architectural studio. I think I did OK in mechanical drawing/drafting.

But even then there was an undercurrent of the fashionable designs, the current popular designers, the current ways of making presentations, that I just rebelled against and didn’t enjoy. At the time a lot of it was a mystery to me. I didn’t read Architectural Digest or know any architects. I’m not sure why I was even there except that it seemed less formal than Mechanical Engineering.

So I was happy to move on from SOM and it turned out OK.

But his question had me revisit the idea. And I see how it would be like a dream to some folks to have landed their first job out of college at SOM where big-time architects were doing some big-time stuff. I probably should have appreciated it more when it was happening.

I haven’t heard back from that interview. I may have completely blown my chance at that opening, which sounded like an interesting gig. If I get an opportunity later I may talk to that guy some more about SOM and what I did there.

Probably the lesson to be learned is that a job interview is not a very opportune time for introspection or unusual responses.

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  • On May 14, 2019 at 9:40 pm Jonathan Howard said

    I don’t know if this is helpful, but negative responses of any sort imply an intimacy that is premature in a first (or second) interview. That can be perceived as being presumptuous.

    I am not looking for work so not the same thing but related – making an impression with people you don’t know. I find myself at work talking to people I don’t know on the phone often when they have questions about something I do (my company is a bit larger – 270K employees). So I use corporate-speak. Which is saying something to express an opinion but not really. I don’t have problems, I have challenges. I don’t have roadblocks, I have opportunities.

    Rather than “jerk” I’d say something like”fascinating culture” or “unique perspective.”

    I have a really super boss who I have worked with for over decade. I can tell her I think someone is a jerk. But only if I think she’s thinking the same thing.

  • On May 15, 2019 at 7:01 am w0ep said

    Maybe you are right. I expect it is so. I did feel a level of intimacy from the question, because he had an interest in architecture but ended up in computer programming, a similar journey to mine. I should have left it more formal.

    I don’t really think architects are jerks… maybe I do at some subconscious level and it came out under stress? The whole episode was very odd.

    My mouth says things sometimes that don’t seem to be well considered. My ear says, “where did that come from?”

    The frustrating thing about the current situation is that I feel constrained from contacting the young man who asked and modifying my statement because I don’t want to appear to be obsessed with the incident. At this point either it is completely forgotten on their end or I’m already seen as a nut. And to bring it back up would confirm the “nut” opinion.

    But maybe I should do it anyway in order to clear up the blight I’ve inflicted on all architects. My middling conclusion is to wait until the job thing is settled in one way or another, then make my apology toward architects. But at that point my opinion on the subject is completely moot.

    I find the question, my answer, and the compounding/rippling nature of the thing to be kind of fascinating. This is why I wouldn’t make a good politician or salesman (or prima-donna architect!): trying to control the impression I make leads to circles of apprehension and doubt. Which is the whole realm of job interviewing.

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