Apr 27, 2016
THEME: Point of View

Five Reasons for Emerging Architects to Attend the AIA Convention

Before attending my first AIA National Convention in Atlanta last May, I was under the impression that it was mainly geared toward senior-level practitioners as a place to fulfill those pesky licensure requirements, as many of my peers also feel. While browsing the conference schedule, I discovered there were plenty of sessions intended for emerging professionals as well. Sessions like “Developing Rock-Star Presentation Skills for Emerging Professionals,” “Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: Career Development Skills for Emerging Professionals,” and “The Collaboration Generation: Project Communication for Young Architects and Contractors” are definitely in the service of fostering an emerging architecture career like mine.

After attending, all of my previous perceptions changed and I truly believe emerging architects actually have more to gain from the conference than those looking to check items off a list. I benefited in so many ways from the experience, personally and professionally, that I make it my mission to encourage and inspire friends and colleagues to invest in attending as well.

While individual experiences will vary widely based on interests and eagerness to learn, there are a plethora of reasons any young architect should consider attending the upcoming 2016 AIA National Convention in Philadelphia. Here are five to start with:

1) Expand Your Network: The wide variety of architects and professionals in related fields in attendance provides the perfect opportunity to connect with colleagues and experts as well as make new contacts. I found that the impromptu encounters – the 5-10 minute conversations before a workshop or during social events – often resulted in new connections with peers who have shared interests or expertise that I may call on in the future. On several occasions during those four days, colleagues introduced me to someone with similar pursuits and I would return the gesture in kind.

Every year, there is a networking party dedicated to emerging professionals where you can eat, drink, dance, and schmooze the night away with hundreds of peers at one of the coolest venues in the hosting city.  I returned home from the convention with a much larger network and tons of untapped resources.

2) Design Your Path: As my mentor likes to remind me, a career in architecture is a marathon, not a sprint. I tried to keep this in mind while conversing with fellow attendees who shared their career paths and revealed how each found their way into work specializations or distinctive niche practices. I discovered the great variety of paths architecture has to offer.

Upon reflection, the takeaway from these conversations is that we all need to try out a diversity of career roles – try on a bunch of different hats. Many of the successful professionals I talked with found their way to a sector or niche by taking a chance and moving outside of the familiar. They only learned how much they enjoyed (or were proficient at) a practice area after being exposed to it along their varied journey.

3) Gain Valuable Knowledge: The diversity of learning opportunities offered by the AIA was impressive. I dove eagerly in by arriving a day early and attending pre-conference sessions on “The Art of Influencing Stakeholders” and “Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!”

The first was a highly interactive half-day workshop that explored the skills and strategies of influencing decision makers to achieve the desired outcome – a win-win solution.  Architects are often challenged to keep a project moving along the sometimes unpredictable path of stakeholder review and approval.  As an emerging professional, it can be difficult to gain this sort of knowledge in the office.  This session, which was tailored for architects, provided a foundation for getting key stakeholder buy-in and support in our industry.

The EQxD Hackathon was a half-day workshop that began by reviewing the findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey, then we broke into small groups to discuss and propose a solution to various popular break-out topics from talent recruitment to work-life balance.  Needless to say, this was one of my convention highlights and I’ll be participating again this year as a scholarship recipient!  You can visit the Equity by Design Blog for additional information and to learn more about our own hackathon solution.

4) Discover Cutting-Edge Technology: Almost every product manufacturer, software company, and specialty vendor in the industry is at the AIA conference. For me, this delivered an invaluable hands-on learning experience, unavailable anywhere else. I could test drive new software technology like virtual reality (VR), see products from around the world, and talk to manufacturer’s representatives about how their product might provide a solution to a project issue or just build a connection for the future.

As an example, one of my greatest passions is wooden skyscrapers, so I made it a point to talk to wood manufacturers and other tall wood champions such as Woodworks while at the conference.  I also happened to be working on a project that was looking at using solar tubes, so I connected with a few reps for those products. Once I returned to the office I followed up with these new contacts so that in the future they might be willing to assist with wood-related questions or solar tube needs.

5) Renew Your Passion: I was so excited by the time I returned to the office that I was bursting at the seams to do great work. The experience of attending, learning new things, engaging my peers and making connections energized me then – and it continues today. I feel a renewed passion for architecture every time I reflect on what I learned at the conference or when I call upon a contact I made there.

We all work hard in this field – deadlines, budget constraints, and the undeniable stress of trying to balance work and life can be challenging. I found that the AIA experience provided a renewed sense of value in what I do, why it’s so important, and how much fun it can be. I’m confident that other young architects will have a similar recharge and renewal outcome if they make this investment in themselves.

If you are a new AIA member (joined between May 17, 2015 and May 21, 2016) then you are eligible for free convention registration!  And even if you aren’t a new member, attending the convention is a worthwhile investment – you may consider asking your boss for support or invest in yourself.  However you fund your trip, this conference is for YOU.  I hope to see you there.

This post authored by Shawna Hammon.

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