15 Steps to become an Architecture Intern of Awesomeness

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

I have had a few conversations lately about what it means to be an architectural intern and the issues that today’s freshly graduated professionals have to endure. So I decided to compile a list of guiding principles for intern architects around the world. (And let’s not start the debate about nomenclature of this group, I know.) Just to be clear, this list is aimed at those just diving into the shallow end of the architectural profession. I promise that if you follow these phenomenal suggestions, you will soon be ready to rule* the domain of architecture.

How to become an Awesome Intern (in no particular order) . . .

1:  Do not use headphones in the office. You will learn more with your ears open. The conversations that go on around you and not specifically with you still provide benefits to your increased knowledge. So be aware of the little discussions around your desk.

Headphones in the office?

Headphones in the office, not the wisest use of your ears or time.

2:  Never promise what you can’t deliver. This one is simple. (relates to item #12) The basic rule is that don’t say you can finish X by time Y when that is not reasonable for you. There are those above you that are taking you at your word and pass along that information. It is just the start of a snowball of repercussions. Don’t be the first flake!
3:  Listen more than you speak. Again this is one that allows you to learn. And for the first 2-3 years you should still practice this daily.  If you really feel the need to speak, refer to item#4.
4:  Speak up when you don’t understand. Maybe not in the moment, but at some point. It may not be appropriate time to ask, like in the middle of a client meeting or other inappropriate time. Allow a person finish explaining before the questions begin. So don’t interrupt, but when there is time, ask so you can understand.
5:  Find answers to your questions. Much like #4. Find your answers through any means. And surprisingly to most younger interns these days, the internet does not have all the answers. Talk to someone about your questions. Even if it’s to someone outside your firm. Mentors are cool and great mentors are awesome!
6:  Watch how your superiors interact with others.  Take your behavior cues from the higher ups in your office, both in how they interact with others in the office and consultants, clients, and others outside of the office. This is how they will most likely want you to act as well. Let them set the tone (unless they are just terrible).
7:  Be dressed for a meeting. Always dress in a manner that your “boss” would for a meeting, even if you do not have one. If you are ready, you may get to go. If you consistently show up in overly relaxed clothing, you will never get an impromptu invite to a meeting. Unless your boss is wearing flip flops, don’t even think about it.

They are all black . . . But not all appropriate for meetings.

They are all black . . . But not all appropriate for meetings.

8:  Do not over estimate your knowledge. I know you just graduated with a degree from a prestigious school . . . and you had a 3.8 GPR, but you do not know anything. (Anything practical) That is not your fault, still do not make the assumption that you know or understand what is happening. It will bite you in the ass.

9:  Why? That should be your new favorite word. And not in a smart-ass rhetorical way; but in an “I really want to learn” way. This is another easy way to increase your knowledge and therefore your usefulness. And it allows your boss/supervisor/colleague to feel useful as well. At times, those above you like to explain architecture too!


Ask why. . . It will help you learn all types of knowledge. Ask sincerely.


10:  Learn about materials of the industry. Those are your real tools. You have to comprehend how materials go together before you can create new ways to assemble them. Sure your 3D rendered model looks amaze-balls, but how is it held together? How do the materials behave? How is that detail flashed?
11:  Always take notes. You are on a whole new learning curve. So take notes. . . about everything. It will help you in the future. You may also remember it a bit faster from writing it down. Then you can look back later without having to ask the same question again. That will impress your supervisors.

Take Tons of Notes

Take Tons of Notes

12:  Expect things to take you twice as long. Period. Allow more time than you feel a task will take to complete. Twice as long as you originally think. It (you know) happens. Other items can get in the way of task completion. But if do When you complete it early, it feels better than finishing late. Usually someone else is counting on you to deliver when you say you are, so make it a bit easier on yourself and others.
13:  The profession is not all glamorous. Just realize and accept this.  Even your boss has to do things they don’t want to deal with. That is why it is work, not play. So get over the fact that today, or even this week, all you did was boring redlines or filing papers or some other trivial task. Everyone in the office deals with that in some form.  There are just different levels of tedium.
14:  Don’t make excuses. Ever! If you did not get your task completed, or you messed it up, or you just did not really know what to do, take responsibility for your actions. Don’t say well “John did not get done so I could not.” Just stand up and take responsibility and the negatives that come along with it like an adult. It will just make you a better person. And a better employee.
15:  Don’t Give Up.  The first years of your professional life are likely to be difficult and trying. No matter where you work, you may still feel like you are not in the right place. Don’t give up on your chosen profession. You may just have to find a new firm, studio or group. But don’t throw in the towel on being an architect because your first job was garbage. It happens, move on. Now that is not to say if your first month is horrible it’s time to go, that is not good either. Give each position a chance before you decide to move along. And a chance is between six months to a year in my book.
Bonus: Work towards licensure. I know this is a sensitive topic. Yes, it may cost money, and take time, and require effort, yet it is what you went to school to become. Still don’t whine about it. Just make sure you are moving in that direction as soon as you can. Since you are going to be in the profession, you should attain that status. You may not care about getting that certificate, but it will invariably be to your benefit. So set that as a realistic and attainable goal; to become a licensed, test-proven, capital “A”, Architect. It is not impossible, I promise.

Get your license!!

Get your license!! That is the point of it all.

So there you have it. Some tidbits of advice from an person who is not so far removed from intern, yet has supervised and employed quite a few over the last 8 years. Use at your own discretion, but I will say it’s best to do them all. It will make you awesome!

(*Disclaimer: there is no single ruler in the domain of architecture, so result will vary)

– Andrew Hawkins, AIA

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