On my next birthday, I will celebrate 49 successful years of surviving my yearly journey around a 1.392 million kilometer ball of hot plasma that burns at a temperature exceeding 10,340°F … more commonly known as the sun. In addition, I have been out of college and in the field of architecture for 24 years, 6 months, and 14 days, and a licensed architect for 14 years, 2 months and 3 days … and this weekend, for the first time ever, I worked on determining the utilization rate of my employees and billing efficiency of the projects that those same employees work on day in and day out.
Can you tell I’ve got numbers on my mind?
So. All weekend working on accounting. I did not like it … but I didn’t hate it either. When I graduated from college with my 5-year professional degree in architecture, I only had three goals, (for the full version, go here – very inspirational) but for those who don’t want to sort through all that, here is the abridged version of those oh-so-important life goals:
It’s been over twenty years since I graduated from UT and if you had asked me then where I thought I would be in twenty years, I don’t think I would have had an answer for you. I only had three goals when I graduated; the first was that I wanted to make $100,000 a year. I chose that number because it seemed outrageous to me at the time, but also because I thought it represented success, which somehow meant that I’d made it. My salary upon graduation turned out to be disappointing $22,000 that year but luckily, things have improved for me in the last two decades. The second goal I had for myself was that I wanted to have a project that I had designed make it into an architectural history book – that’s a lofty goal. In the years after graduating, I amended that goal to simply getting my work published. My third goal was that I wanted to buy a jet ski.
I never did buy that jet ski … in fact, I’ve actually never ridden a jet ski and looking back, I’m not sure why I made that goal. I was able to achieve the other two goals, turns out they weren’t as difficult as I had originally imagined.
So why did I include that previous paragraph? Because “accounting” was not one of my goals. Nowhere in my future did I ever foresee spending my weekend reading financial books and pouring through tax returns and bank statements. I can barely tolerate addition and subtraction so sorting through all the financial data my firm has collected and trying to make sense of it was literally like death from a thousand
papercuts. But, I can’t help but acknowledge its importance. This is something that I need to get a handle on and based on my current level of accounting knowledge, I am running an intellectual deficit.
The good news is that we have all the data I need to evaluate where we are and how we can make sure that we are making smart decisions moving forward. When I was coming out of school, I didn’t think owning a firm or running a business … it literally never crossed my mind. Now, those things occupy a large portion of my time. Staffing, cash flow, savings, bonuses, new computers, software license fees … it’s almost paralyzing and it’s easy to either a) ignore it altogether, or b) spend an unhealthy amount of time focused on it. I say “unhealthy” because I don’t really want to be doing it at all and I didn’t go to architecture school to run a business, but here I am.
I like to tell myself that one of the things I am really good at is asking questions. I have collected stacks and stacks of financial data, timesheets, reimbursable expense reports, monthly bank statements, and payroll slips. I have read and reviewed. And then I reviewed and I reread. After waking up from my boredom induced nap, I highlighted figures in yellow, circled entries in red ink, paper-clipped this month of “x” with that month of “y”. After hours and hours of data entry and creating umpteen thousands of excel spreadsheets, I formulated my first question:
“Michelle! Can you come here and help me, please?!”
Which, of course, was the best first question I could have asked because my wife is a lot smarter than I am … and has advanced degrees in Mathematics. Her brain is perfectly optimized to process and organize financial data, so I asked her to help me sort through everything. Within a ridiculously short period of time, she had most of it analyzed and organized … explaining to me what she was doing was the hard part.
But that’s okay. I will get a handle on this because that’s what I do, I learn new stuff and try to make things better. In this case, it’s not design work, and it’s not anything related to the practice of architecture; it’s completely new and unchartered waters for me. My business partner has been at this for almost 25 years and he knows how to do all sorts of financial things that I don’t – but he doesn’t want to do them even more than I don’t want to do them. On the day when he does the billing, everyone in the office hunkers down just a bit lower at their desk and we try to stay out of his way.
Then = Published Architect, enjoying his $100,000+ salary while riding a jet ski.
Now = Part-time accountant/Human Resource and Part-time architect.
Didn’t see that coming … I should have taken some accounting classes.
Today was the 22nd installment of #ArchiTalks – a blogging event with other architects where I provide a word or concept and let them interpret it however they want. The topic was “Then and Now” and the idea was that I wanted all these different architects to tell their story of what they thought they were going to be doing when they graduated versus what they are actually doing – along with all the twists and turns the journey has presented to them. It should make for some interesting reading and give you an idea just how varied the profession of architecture can actually be. If you would like to jump down into this Rabbit’s Hole and read how other architects responded to today’s theme of “Then and Now”, just follow the links below.
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
then and now
Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
#Architalks 22 – Then and now
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Where It All Went Right
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
From Then to Now…Residential Architect
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Well, How Did I Get Here
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
then and now
Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
The Biggest Surprise of My Life as an Architect
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Then & Now…and the middle
Nicholas Renard – Renard Architecture (@dig-arch)
15 Years of Architecture
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
then and now: #architalks
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Then-Now: A Schematic Story
Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Big Ass Buildings
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Pens & Fizzy Drinks: Or How to Set Measurable Career Goals
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
How did I get here?
Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Reflection on My Wonderful, Unexpected Career
Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Joys of Being an Architect
Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
Then and Now
Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Career Path: Follow Your Heart
Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
Then & Now : Still Chasing the Dream
Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
The Reluctant Code Guru
Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
10 Lessons Learned from a Young Architect