Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Architect pay, professional pay...same difference

A reader recently emailed me to ask if the pay for architects is truly as abysmal as it sounds. The succinct answer is yes, it sucks for the first few years, but getting licensed and/or changing firms can help increase your income. However, everyone getting out of college for the past several years—regardless of their major—is getting paid crap compared to the cost of living. It just hurts architects more because of a) the professional costs of continuing education and professional dues and testing and so on and b) the business costs of all the special software we have to buy and insurance we have to have in order to practice. I have two previous commentaries on what architects make here and here.

Another question I received recently regarded how much it’s worth slogging through architecture if the pay is crap and you have behemothesque student loans. First, let me say that again, like everyone else, your student loans are out of scale with your out-of-school income. Again, it’s the whole cost-of-living thing. Second, and more importantly, how much it’s worth it depends on what you put into it. There is indeed some luck involved in how well you do in your profession; for example, if you get out of school and join a firm that lays you off after six months and you spend the next fifteen months on unemployment (which happened here in Denver a great deal), then you suddenly find yourself behind in the game with regard to getting experience so you can get licensed faster. But that’s if you even come back to the profession at all—this economy is going to make architecture lose some pretty good people. But if we set aside luck and the nature of the economy, you really only get out of architecture what you put into it. I’ve seen interns and architects thrive and do well in nearly the same environment as other interns and architects who are barely hanging on and self-medicating every night at home out of misery and disappointment.

So, the short and simple (but not easy) answer about architecture as a job, a career, and a profession is: it depends. Which is probably true of a lot of professions. Is it true of yours?


mizscarlett said...


and no.

engineers, especially those with relevant experience, aren't hurting too bad. when I got laid off in rural NC 3 yrs ago, I had another job (local even) with in 2 weeks - didn't have to move.

But I, like Pixie, am an outstanding specimen of my profession. :)

Also - Daddy always said, "Every day is a holiday for a man who loves his job."

It would be totally cool if we all got compensated for doing what we love financially. But look at teachers - they don't. But there's something more that drives them. I think with Architorture its much the same - you better love it because its not worth doing otherwise.

engineering - nah. easy. boring sometimes even. AND the pay rocks. There have been many times (60-70 hr weeks, falling asleep on the way to work and almost killing someone in a car accident) I have determined it wasn't worth the $$ or the fun. But overall, the $$ is the shizzle.

Agent M said...

I've been working for only two years at an architecture firm by downtown LA. I've had to cut back on spending since the recession is starting to hit our firm. I'm forced back to frugal ways in college which isn't so bad. Somewhere I read that a single individual can live comfortably with only 40k and since my parents made a combine of 60k with three kids, I think I'll be fine.

I suppose to me this is a job until the economy picks up and I land at another firm that help me find my focus. It is a damn shame to see my fellow peers who did go straight to grad school to only hear that they are unemployed. I hope to keep their heads up and not lose hope.

gumper said...

I've doing this now for 39 years and, now that I'm laid-off, wonder what else would be a fun career, profession, job. It deserves considerable thought.....
My spouse's answer is much more quickly delivered..."You should have become an Electrical Engineer"! Yeah, like I'm gonna start listening to that NOW???!!!???
So, 2 more years of Architecture (Healthcare & Educational no less) or retraining as a Pharmacy Tech.
Hmmmmm, kinda did that in the 60's to get through school, but it wasn't called "Pharmacy Tech." then.
I'll keep ya posted.