Masters? Bachelors? High School Dropout?

This morning I woke up with the sort of dull and unsatisfying sense of closure that often comes from leaving an otherwise interesting conversation, for the reason to avoid a flamer. If you don’t know the feeling, then I certainly hope you never do.

The actual flaming occurred over a week before writing this post, went on for a period of time ( as flaming generally does ) and culminated with a family argument that transpired as a result of all the negative waves.

The flaming headache began about a week ago, continued off and on until I realized it had become intolerable, and finally dissipated sometime early this morning; perhaps as a result of a strong cup of Valerian Tea , Origins Peace Of Mind™, and a big bowl of brown rice with olive oil I had before retiring for the evening.

The difference between this flaming, and the sort we have all grown to recognized, is that it didn’t happen online. It happened in person, and in what I innocently thought was a professional office. In an effort to avoid further issues, I will not be including any names of offices, nor people within them, in this post; however, the experience is one that inspires this blog post.

The entire adventure began when I answered an ad on craigslist. The poster explained that a job was available in a California architect’s office to work as a cadd drafter. Coincidently enough, I have an architect license myself, which was quite time-consuming, expensive and personally traumatic to obtain … this license is presently hanging on my wall, collecting dust.

In the process of acquiring said license, I spent upwards of 40 hours every week, for nearly a decade, drawing for licensed architects. At first, the drawings were done in graphite, or what was known at the time as ” plastic lead “; a dark-black substitute for ink, which was used on special paper which required special erasers ( this learned the hard way ).

Other unique adventures in hand drafting were learning the difference between ” erasable vellum ” and non-erasable photocopy paper. My right wrist still clicks oddly, since the week in which I was assigned the task of erasing on photocopy paper. At the time, I thought it was all worth it. That architect’s license was a golden ticket to employment security, right? Right …

Anyway, eventually cadd drafting came along, and with it the advantage of expanding my office fashion to include long-sleeve white blouses … something practically impossible in the days of graphite drawing. Those long sleeves which used to attract long gray stains up to the elbow, stayed white as pure driven snow, when working behind a computer keyboard.

The icing on the cake, happened way back in the days of typed in commands and ms dos ( remember Microsoft before Bill Gates? Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? ). As a former classically-trained pianist who had taken a typing class in high school, I was super-mistress of project completion. I’m talking smoke and flames flying from my fingertips, I was the ace of architectural production.

Then came the sobering  “New and Improved” point-and-click technique, which leveled the playing field … as far as production pace was concerned. But, like most programs, the commands could still be typed in or done with keyboard shortcuts, which was still quicker than finding icons and matching commands to the drawing. But, the writing was on the wall.

I needed to pass the professional exam and move into management. Soon, instead of drawing, I was checking and coordinating work and drawings created by junior level drafters, who were at the same level I was only a few years before … in the days when I was unlicensed. This is what is termed ” mid-management “, and the perks were minimal:

Being on salary instead of hourly, which meant I wouldn’t  be paid for overtime, and couldn’t leave early even if I had no tasking

A red pen

Receiving marked-up corrections on my drawings, by a supervisory licensed architect wielding a red pen, was something I endured throughout the beginning phases of my pre-professional internship.

Now I was the one with the red pen. Believe me, the luster dimmed a little, although I truly enjoyed sharing my knowledge and organizational skills. For managerial pay, anyway.

Then came that moment in time, when I relocated out of state; lured by the white beaches and low prices of northwest Florida. I signed on with an architectural firm, ready to transfer my license, based on a bachelor degree in Architecture and passing a national exam for professional competency. Piece of cake, right? Actually … wrong

When I sent in my materials to the Florida licensing board, I was informed that only persons who had a five-year or master’s degree in architecture would be considered for reciprocal licensing. Despite nearly a decade of experience. Despite passing a national exam. Despite relocating cross-country to work in a respected architect’s office.

I began to wonder … hm … what is the issue about a master’s degree? What makes it so darn much better than a bachelor’s degree, a decade of experience, and the blessings of a west coast state and a national exam? That master’s degree must be something darn magical. At least in Florida … and the rest of the ” conservative ” back-east states.

Flash back to high school. I was never on the top ten list of academicians, and never even came close to being voted prom queen, yet I was super-successful in my carefully crafted niche:
When my more ” popular ” counterparts were being voted into SGA ( student government association ), I was elected ” keeper of the records ” for our sci-fi / fantasy fiction club. ( yaaa! )

When our cheerleaders were going to parties with football players, Iwas volunteering as a backup pianist for aspiring singers, dancers and musicians. One my my talents went on to be a contestant in the Miss America competition, another won a role as ” Mary Magdalene ” in a college production of JC Superstar, and then there was the first place state champion trombonist.

When I wasn’t being a pre-cool-era geek, or a backup musician, I was writing poetry and short stories. In fact, the last two years of our literary annual were practically written by me. Anyone who still has a copy of those vintage publications, will certainly recognize my byline ( which is a variant of my present nom de plume )

You could say, in a way, I was creating my own ticket to success in high school … as do many teenagers with various talents. When my pianistic talents earned me a fee-waiver scholarship to the nearest University, I was more than excited. It was like a dream come true.

I wasn’t the oldest in my family, nor was I ever a leader of any kind ( outside of my small circle in high school ), and I was the first of my generation to be offered college. It was … like the old tv show says … a place where I had never gone before. And, with a fee waiver, I could see my future path paved with success and $$$ signs. Yea, baby.

Flash forward to last week … that ad on craigslist, and the ongoing obsession with the ” current version ” of autocadd. Well, the truth be known, program upgrades generally have a little bit of a learning curve. And, truth be known, that learning curve rarely takes more than a week full-time to get up to speed. Autocadd upgrades are no different than any other upgrade.

Well, I got ahold of the architect, he seemed nice enough on the phone, and he scheduled me to come in at 8 the next day. I was there on time. The architect didn’t show up, but had instructed his staff to keep me busy getting up to speed with their current version of cadd until he arrived … several hours later.

When he arrived, he instructed me to ” shadow ” one of his employees, which again took a few hours. During that time, I was entertained by helping the drafter select landscaping and observing a unique tasking:

To discover whether there were any utilities in an easement.

What was the point of this tasking? Apparently, a site plan had been developed without any consideration for existing easements. The result was, despite enough land to properly situate buildings, all the plans had been drawn with one building located atop what turned out to be an easement. The goal was to attempt abandoning the easement … perhaps before the boss ( or client ) found out.

I watched the efforts of the employee, patiently, without comment.

After this, came a ” cadd test “, given by the architect. It consisted of drawing a standard footing detail, to prove my ability to draw. As he handed over the drawing, this architect had one thing to say:

“I don’t think you can do it.”

Wow. Here I am, trying to respect this dude. I’ve told him the exact truth of my abilities and experience. In my mind, I’m thinking how disrespectful. You know? Who needs to hear this guy’s doubts? Is this supposed to inspire a prospective employee? Is this the expectation he hopes for? The failure of a fellow professional to perform cadd drafting? What the … ?

So, here was my first hint at the flaming that would be developing over a period of days.

As happens with any new program upgrade, I had a couple of logistical questions. The first was how to come up with a new file, and that function did not seem to work. Wanting to prove my abilities, I brought up a similar, existing drawing, and renamed it.

The detail was nearly finished, when the architect arrived, and showed me the office’s icon for new drawings.

“Would you draw that over again?” he asked.

Beginning to see the writing on the wall with this dude, I went ahead and redrew. A couple of other program update questions were easily answered by staff, and eventually I had the thing redrawn perfectly. Staff was pleased, and compared one drawing to the other, commenting on how it appeared to be exactly the same as the example.

Then I hung out waiting for the architect to arrive (again).

After another half hour or so, the architect reappeared in the office, yet refused to look at the test … nor did he provide any sort of positive comments on my efforts. It was close to 5 o’clock when the flaming began:

“Well, it looks like ( the employee with the easement issues ) had to explain everything to you. It looks like his drafting slowed down while you were shadowing him.”

I’m thinking … that’s your employee. What about the cadd test?

“I’m not going to look at that now. Come back again, and I’ll give you a real cadd test. A little project we have in the office.” says the architect.

“Okay, I guess that test was kind of theoretical” I said. “I’ll be available again in a couple of days, and we’ll see how it goes.” I had plans for the next day and, to be honest, I find working for free kind of exhausting. I was beginning to wonder how long this little employment interview was going to take.

So I came back in a couple of days, bright and early, and although his polite staff was available … you guessed it … again, the architect wasn’t there on time at 8am. Neither was there a working computer available at a standard station. I was situated in the boardroom, craning my neck to one side or the other, with a monitor about three feet away.

The task was to draw as many sheets as possible for a simple house addition, with examples of existing projects so I would know the office standards. Fair enough. I got started right away, and the polite staff person explained how he was working on getting his license ” the hard way “.

” Every license is hard to get, ” I said. ” What’s this ‘ hard way ‘ you’re talking about?”

” The same way the boss got his license, ” he answered. ” I have to work for eight years, because I didn’t go to college. ”

I had heard of such things in the past, and had even interned under the direction of someone who had been through this style of internship for a couple of years. He had worked with a college-educated partner, and I don’t remember seeing him signing any official documents. I was told the loophole for this type of certification had been closed many years ago.

Well, going back to the drawings at hand, there were a few errors by his staff … which is fine at the beginning stages of a project, when these types of things are best caught … long before any detailed or complicated drawings are produced. I began developing the plan, and correcting some of the discrepancies between the plans and the other drawings.

Eventually the architect arrived. He seemed okay when I mentioned that the entire set of drawings could not be produced in one day, so I kept with the task … surely I’d get some sort of paying work as the result.

I had been forewarned  the architect was likely in a bad mood, because his favorite football team ( located somewhere back east ) had lost to a west coast team the night before. This seemed odd, because his office and team is located on the west coast.

Honestly, why would any decent team leader expect his entire office staff to walk around on eggshells when a local ( ish ) team won a game? Didn’t make sense to me at the time … doesn’t make sense to me, as I write today. Company morale, team effort, and quality production go hand in hand; keep your personal team preferences out of the office, is my opinion. But I digress …

This architect’s office was full of memorabilia from this out-of-region football team. Why, I can only guess. Perhaps he was playing his ” version ” of someone who graduated college in another state, and continued to personally back their college team. Be that as it may, I’ve NEVER seen a principal architect with out-of-state college football memorabilia in his office. NEVER.

In my opinion, being the head of a team of workers is a pretty serious responsibility; distracting the workers by imposing unnecessary out-of-state issues; issues that they can’t relate to in the office, in their work, or in their communities, is really immature. And, in my opinion, immaturity and professionalism are opposite ends of the pole.

What’s the point here, anyway? Does it make the ” boss ” feel special to have everyone in his office team walk around on eggshells when a non-local team loses? Does this type of leadership belong in a professional office?

To me, it comes down to: this was an office run by a person who got a professional degree without having a university diploma; someone who hasn’t proved to me or anyone else that he even graduated high school, got a GED, or has any respect for education whatsoever.

At a minimum, it appears to me that an non-college-educated California ” architect ” has proved two things: he worked for a certain period of time doing tasking for at least one office, under the direction of at least one architect, that he passed a national exam, and that he passed testing for related local legislation. That’s it.

Compare this to worrying over the difference between having a bachelor degree and a five year or masters degree? In my opinion, there’s not much difference between 4 years of University, and 5 or 6 years. Sure, there’s a minor difference. But, my friends, here we’re talking about a very special situation.

Imagine this:

High school drop-out works on a construction crew for a few years, gets friendly with an architect and offers to do do drawings for his office. The wise-guy learns to kiss up to this one architect, as his sole contact person, for almost a decade.

After passing a test, this former crew-mate/drafter is now calling himself an architect. Bingo! Now he has his own office. The nice architect who trained him, is now left in the dust; nowhere to be found. Partnership? Ha! Don’t kid yourself. Maybe this wise-guy is in this to be the only big shot in his office.

Compare this to:

Several years of University training for architects: sharing studio space with 30 or more students who show project ideas to each other, under the direction of several professors of architecture; learning to get along with peers, and exhibiting respect for the ideas and abilities of fellow graduating students, administrators, and learned people in decision-making roles.

Maybe it’s not rocket science, and yet maybe it in fact does have some things in common with rocket science. Graduating from a 4, 5 or 6 year university program kind of guarantees that a person experiences a variety of opinions, many personalities, has developed a certain amount of people skills, and has a certain respect for authority.

How can we complain about an architect with a four-year degree, as compared to a 5 year or masters, when a high school drop-out can get an architect license to practice in California? Is it high time we embraced the 4 year university degree as a national standard?

Anyway, back to the second cadd test. Eventually … around 1pm … a computer at a regular station comes available. Several hours later the architect shows up again. You guessed it, more flaming:
” It looks like there wasn’t a lot of work that got done. ”

At this point, I just smile. ” I’ve worked in sales, ” I said. ” I’m going to let that remark just pass right over my head. ”

Then, he notices an error made by his own employees, and points it out to me. I tell him that’s the way the drawing came to me, and I had already told him I wasn’t going to finish everything in one day. I also state what the correction is for the error, which he agreed was accurate.

I also mention I was at a makeshift computer in the boardroom most of the morning, which would obviously slow down production. Already, I’m aware I’m in the presence of a flamer, so I toss out a gem:

” I had a question about this other drawing, I noticed it didn’t match the plan, but that’s okay. This guy’s house sucks so bad, anything you do would probably be an improvement.” It was true. The addition did nothing to improve the house, except for expand it. The entire house needed a remodel.

” Yes, this client’s house sucks, ” says the architect. I’m secretly chuckling, because this is obviously his level of communication. ” Hey, look at how I can run this autocadd. Look at how I put in all this fancy texture.” The dude’s on a roll. He loves all the bells and whistles of the recent upgrade. He’s gone … in his own world.

” Yea, look at this part, ” I say. I’m being his buddy now, showing him a discrepancy between the floor plan and the exterior view of the house ( what we call ” elevations ” in the business ). ” What did you want to do with your design? ”

He starts drawing, and notices what I’m talking about. His cute design, centering the doors in the addition, stops being so cute. The doors aren’t centered anymore, based on the plan. Now he’s drawing the roof line he designed in plan, and I can’t help myself.

” Look, your design sucks as bad as his house now. ” Yep, that’s a great strategy. Flame the flamer. ”

Look where the doors are now, it doesn’t look as good anymore. ”

He keeps drawing. It’s looking worse and worse.

” Well, did I pass the cadd test? ” I ask. Don’t hold your breath.

” I have a few more people to interview next week. I’ll call you. ”

Right. The ” I’ll call you ” line. Now he’s talking like a guy who made a fool of himself on the first date.

So, I wait a couple days, and send him an email offering to come in and do peer reviews for his staff at full, professional price. I suggest that he shouldn’t worry so much about whether his staff draws quickly. He should be sure his staff takes the time to draw correctly, and understand everything they’re drawing.

I’m being honest. I’m trying to help, and yep I’m being blunt. He’s blunt, so I’m blunt. What do you expect?

What does he decide to do?

He decides to be offended. He calls me ” disrespectful ” and turns down my offer.

I’m laughing. Flamers always think other people are disrespectful … haven’t you noticed? The only thing that isn’t funny, is I’ve spent two full days of my time, for FREE, helping him out and giving him my honest opinion. If I had been charging him by the hour, maybe he’d taken my advice seriously.

So, I ask you: How many things have you been doing for free? How much is that truly appreciated, and how much more would you be appreciated if you had charged full price?

Life is too short to put up with flamers who want something for nothing.