A while back I wrote a post titled “Architectural Interns” where I stated:
Other than slowing things down, interns aren’t very useful in small firms because we run fast and lean. Everybody wears almost every hat and as a result (and despite them generally being the most interesting people in the office) summer interns are generally more work than they are worth.
The general consensus from the feedback on that article was that I was wasn’t completely wrong …
But things have changed and I would like to add a few more chapters to the topic of architectural interns and demonstrate that being an architectural intern doesn’t always have to be a mostly empty experience of model building and material library organizing. In the effort, I am letting our architectural interns take over the blog today and tomorrow to talk about their experience of being an architectural intern, what they have been doing … and whatever else they want to talk about. I did not edit these articles in any way and I gave them no boundaries, any sucking up they did was of their own volition. Today, you get Travis Schneider … a truly unique and interesting individual.
Hi, Internet! I’m Travis Schneider; born in 1992, raised in Dallas suburbia, and three years into a five-year undergraduate degree in architecture at UT Austin. I’ve written this because I have the good fortune to work for a guy named Bob that you all know and love.
So, I’m a college intern. I’ve known for a while that this period in my life would come, and (before I knew any better) I had no reason to doubt that it would be a fairly mind-numbing experience. Interns are popularly depicted as the copy-making, paper-filing, coffee-running servants of those who do the “real” work. Recently, Bob sat me down and painted me a similarly bleak picture of an intern’s typical job description and overall usefulness, based on his own storied past.
If the image macros agree, you know it must be true.
After experiencing many years of unimpressive interns, he is a bit shocked to find himself working with two interns actually capable of drafting, modeling, and designing at a reliable, quality level. With only three years of college under my belt, you might be wondering how someone so fresh to the architecture scene got himself into the position to do real, billable work, now for three years running. Or, at least now you’re wondering how, since I literally just told you about that…
Being from Frisco, TX (a 15-year-old suburb city with 500 sports fields and nearly as many schools), I had some pretty unique opportunities as a high school student. One was an independent study and mentorship program which required me to seek out professionals in my chosen profession (architecture) and interview them. Halfway through the year, I had to ask one of my interviewees to be my mentor, and I chose Michael Malone, AIA. You might recognize Michael as the namesake principal of the firm where Bob and I now work. You see, as I spent the spring semester of my senior year meeting with Michael, getting feedback on my design for a Frisco art museum, I found myself with the rare chance to prove my work ethic, skills, and potential to an established architect before even graduating high school.
Next, with the help of some strongly opinionated and solid advice from Michael, I decided to get my B. Arch at UT Austin. The first year of college flew by, but before summer 2012 arrived, Michael invited me to be an intern at his firm. So, the day after Memorial Day, I woke up obscenely early and made the fun-filled, hour-long drive down the Dallas North Tollway to Michael’s Central Dallas office.
While crawling along at 5 mph, I had to wonder what menial task I would be asked to carry out for nine hours; if it would be the same thing the following three days; if this whole “having a job” thing was going to be mentally survivable. To my bewilderment, when I arrived, Michael waited a whole ten minutes before assigning me the task of driving out, by myself, to meet a new client at her house and conduct an exhaustive series of measurements from which I would generate as-built drawings in Revit. This was the best slap in the face I had experienced in a long time; not only was I given the opportunity to apply my skills to billable work, but I was even trusted to take on a new set of challenges, by myself, in a unresetable, real world situation!
The rest of the summer was as unpredictable, challenging, and rewarding as that first day. A coworker took me under her wing and managed to alternate between teaching me Revit on the fly and giving me billable work to do in Revit; I sat in on a contractor bid meeting; I built massing models for a new client; I drew and annotated residential construction documents; and I measured a second new client’s house and digitally modeled it in Revit. At this point I was sold on the benefits of small firms, having witnessed first-hand how they, with the trust and push of supportive coworkers, can facilitate a thriving internship experience.
Michael essentially bought my ticket for me, enthusiastically inviting me to return the next summer. Seeing no rational reason to decline, and having already developed a sense of ownership over my work and a sense of pride in the firm, I did indeed return the next summer. During that time, I spent over two months working with John, the new intern, on a 72 square foot model, trusted with exorbitant amounts of our client’s money to produce a beautiful, accurate, finished model before returning to school, no screw-ups allowed.
Another year passed, the current summer arrived, and I again returned to Michael Malone Architects. I’m now being trusted to work on multiple billable projects at once, including a 50% work-share on a house in Oklahoma that is now undergoing design development in Revit.
Now, looking back at how positive and productive my internship has been, not only for me but, to an extent, for the firm as well, I simply do not understand why Bob’s experience with incompetent or unneeded interns seems to be so commonly shared. I am not at all unique in my academic knowledge or skill set; by the end of the second year of curriculum, every student in the UT School of Architecture has experience in Revit, AutoCAD, Rhino, Grasshopper, Photoshop, Illustrator, and the basics of construction and building codes. There are at least a thousand more me’s out there, looking for a gig like mine. The repetitive stories I hear about burdensome interns, to me, indicate a disconnect between the hordes of capable undergrad students out there and the professional opportunities they regularly struggle to find.
As an employer, providing internship opportunities to skilled, driven students is only the first part of the equation, though. I personally had the great luck of forging a valuable relationship with a mentor-turned-boss while still in high school; however, what has ultimately made my job a win-win for both me and Michael’s firm is the responsibility my coworkers are willing to bestow upon me. I hope all firms can give their interns chances to prove themselves, and support the growth of those who rise to the occasion.
I’d like to thank Travis for adding his experience into the architectural intern discussion. On Thursday we will get to hear from John Charbonneau, our other architectural intern. ~ Bob