21 February 2010

A (Mini) Existential Crisis

I have studied buildings formally for eight years of my life now. I have been in the field of building design for the last 13 years. It has always been a professional goal of mine to become a licensed architect.

But now, at this point in my life, I'm not so sure anymore.

I STILL believe that being a licensed architect would be the culmination of my studies. I STILL believe that it would lend me a certain level of authority that I cannot claim without it. And yes, I STILL would like to pass my exams and get that stamp. I'm just not sure if I want to do it RIGHT NOW.

There are several reasons why trying to take my exams this year (and probably next) seem like an attractive option: I just got out of grad school, this stuff is still fresh in my mind, I have the money to do it, it would be nice to put those letters on my business cards...

...er, IS it fresh in my mind? DO I have the money? And do I NEED those letters on my business cards?

Frankly, now I'm working for a company in which being a licensed architect is not necessarily value added. I am the only trained architect in a company of over 300, a good portion of which are professional engineers, which is necessary for our work. Consulting is only part of our business, but it IS a part. Designing buildings is not. I am valuable to my company because of my building science knowledge, of which there is currently no meaningful certification.

Despite all that, it was still a personal goal of mine, so I was pursuing it... until I started to feel like I was being ripped off. Getting your architecture license involves the following:
  1. Being a member of NCARB who administers your records for $60 a year;
  2. Paying to have NCARB send your record to a state;
  3. Applying to the state to accept your record;
  4. Paying the state up to $100 to apply;
  5. Having the state send your approval to a testing agency;
  6. Paying at least $200 to the testing agency to take your first four - or six - hour exam;
  7. THEN paying at least $200 each to take each of SIX additional four or six hour exams;
  8. After you get your license, there's the fees you pay to join the AIA, the fee you pay to get your stamp, the fees you pay to take continuing education credits, and other fees that I'm probably unaware of.
To become a professional engineer, you have to do the following:
  1. Pay $20 a year to maintain your records;
  2. Take one day-long exam (let's assume it costs at least $200);
  3. Put the letters P.E. behind your name and move on with your life.
Soooo... I guess what I'm saying is, if this isn't necessarily value added to my company, why would I bother putting myself through this right now? Maybe I'm wrong and maybe my boss will tell me they want that, and if so, I guess I could put out the money for it, but that's a lot of dough to dish out for something that I won't necessarily be using anytime soon. And maybe if they DO want it, they can help me pay for it, which would be nice and a motivator. I really like my job, and I feel fortunate to be with the company I am with, so I'm willing to go the extra mile for them.

But this red tape I have to wade through is a real de-motivator. Especially when I feel like, "what have all these groups done for me lately? The profession is dying, unemployment among architects may be 50% and they don't even have an aggressive stance on green building, and I'm supposed to want to be a part of this group? And pay out the wazoo for it? WHY?"

Anyway, if anyone has an opinion on my mini-existential crisis, please leave a comment below. I could use the input and I love second opinions!


namhenderson said...

Well, if as you put it is [/]still a personal goal of mine[/i] than you should. I think that is what it comes down to. You don't want to be a professional engineer do you?

I totally understand re: money thing. Didn't realize it cost so much for the ARE etc though.

Ultimately if it doesn't add value at your current job and you don't see it adding value (compensation levels) to your future professional direction than maybe you want until you have a boss that will pay for it or when you have extra time and money.

Scott said...

I completely understand what you are going through right now. I have a BS and an ME in engineering and my goal was to get an engineering job and finally get my PE and that would be the culmination of my education.

Now that I am in a company that gave me a chance to be an engineer, the more I do it and see the design and the true hard engineering that happens, I don't know if I have the drive or attention span to get back into it. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to stay technical and be in the engineering field, but maybe not as a hard engineer, and not with my PE.

It is kind of disheartening that I find that what I was working so hard for is not something I want to do, but I'm not completely worried. I've found my niche in my company and I've fooled people into thinking I do a good job, so as I work I just keep looking at what other people do and see if that is something that interests me.

For instance, now I know that I don't want to work in a federally regulated job for the rest of my life (FDA is a pain, and clueless), and I'm not fooling myself that I'll work here forever, but it gives me some perspective.

You never HAVE to do anything, but only the truly rich get to do whatever they want.

Still jealous of you on the west coast. Want to get out there some day.