Discover how architect Ryan Hansanuwat went from drafter to Vice President of his firm in under 3 years.
Today's episode is all about career advancement in architecture – how to start out small and make sure you are on the path to success.
In this episode you'll discover:
- The one thing you need to know if you are thinking about becoming an architect
- How Ryan went from drafter to Vice President of the company in under 3 years
- The secret to getting a raise and promotion as an architect
- The strategy Ryan used to bring in new clients to his architecture firm (before he was a partner)
- Tips for getting through the ARE (Architectural Registration Examination) and IDP (the Intern Development Program)
Ryan Hansanuwat is the VP of Architecture at KAH Architects in Round Rock, TX.
Ryan Hansanuwat is also the author of “Beginner's Guide: How To Become An Architect”. Get it on Amazon by clicking here (before they run out).
This interview is on iTunes. Subscribe above, and be a hero! If you know another architect who would benefit from watching this video, share away using the social share buttons.
Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Hello, Architect Nation. I am your host, Enoch Sears. On this show you’re going to discover strategies, tips, and secrets for running a fun, flexible, and profitable architecture practice. So, thanks for joining us today. It’s great to have you here.
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Today’s guest is Ryan Hansanuwat. Ryan is a licensed architect and the author of the book “A Beginner’s Guide: How to Become an Architect.” He was recently selected as a finalist for the nationwide business plan competition put on by Charrette Venture Group. We had a chance to catch up in Chicago and I’m glad to have him on the show today.
Ryan, welcome back to the Business of Architecture.
Ryan: Thanks, Enoch. Glad to be here.
Enoch: Good. It is great to have you. Now, tell us a little bit about your story because last week we talked about the business plan competition, etc.
Enoch: I want to get a little bit into how you got started in architecture, what took you out to Austin, because that’s an interesting story.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s funny.. I wrote this on my blog. A lot of people said they knew they wanted to be an architect when they were five years old. I didn’t. I didn’t realize till much later that I wanted to be an architect, but looking back, I probably should have realized it earlier.
I spent most of my time doing accounting. My dad was an accountant. I was going to take over his business. My aunts were in real estate and business. I spent my whole life doing business because that was what I was supposed to do.
I don’t like to talk about this a lot, but it might help some people, so I just wanted to say that I was a high school dropout. I didn’t finish high school. I did end up going back and getting my GED. It wasn’t till much later in life that I realized I didn’t really want to do accounting. I wanted something more than just dealing with numbers all day.
So, for me, I took an Introduction to Architecture class at a junior college. It was that day that I realized, okay, this is what I was meant to do. So, I started taking more junior college classes in Architecture and then eventually transferred on to get my Bachelor’s of Architecture degree at Cal Poly Pomona. I guess I was making up for lost time. I decided to go back and get a Master’s degree in Building Science as well.
I spent a lot of years getting my degrees and doing everything in architecture after having spent many years doing something completely different. Looking back, you know, I drew floor plans when I was a kid, I played with Lego’s all the time, I built my tree house myself. I knew I always wanted to be an architect.
Enoch: Has it lived up to your expectation of what you thought it was going to be like?
Ryan: It has and, in some ways, it hasn’t. I didn’t realize when I was going through school how little design I would get to do. That’s a harsh realization a lot of people come to. “I went to school to design. I really want to design.” That’s not to say I never do it, but it’s such a small portion of what being an architect is really like, but, at the same note, that’s what I really enjoy about it is there are so many different things you could do.
What I always like to say on my blog, too, is that if you’re into architecture there are so many different avenues you can go into. If you don’t want to design all day, you don’t have to. If you want to design all day, you can probably find a job doing that as well. There are so many different things you can do as an architect, that’s what I really love about it. It’s different from what I thought it would be, but I still love it either way.
Enoch:Ryan, you mentioned your blog. Tell us what blog that is so people could go there.
Ryan: Yeah, sorry. It’s http://www.ArchitectureCareerGuide.com. I started that because when I first got in to a management position, I got a few interns. I realized I was spending so much time explaining things to them and trying to give them life lessons, if you will, that they said, “You should write a book.” So, I didn’t do that, I started a blog, and then I decided, “You know what? I might as well write a book too.” So, I actually have a couple of books that you could find through the website as well. The whole point of that is to give people the information that I didn’t necessarily have and a lot of people didn’t have when we first started in architecture – what it’s really like.
Enoch: What do you think are some of the key things that people don’t know about or that they didn’t understand?
Ryan: Well, you know, first off the design is a big one. You need to know a lot of different things to be an architect. It’s not just about design, but it’s also about politics: how to deal with people, how to deal with contractors, how to get presentations, technology obviously, using the computers, using software, how to market, how to meet people, how to run a business.
90% of my day is not doing what people probably consider architecture. I spend more time on the phone or with email than I do at the drafting board. Well, actually, I don’t know. People don’t use drafting boards anymore, but I do.
Enoch: We get the point.
Enoch: So, what took you out to Austin? Because originally you were in Southern California, correct?
Ryan: Yeah. I grew up in Southern California. When I moved out was during the recession. So, times was getting bad, jobs were hard to find, but it was also at a perfect time. I just got licensed and my hours were cut at my last firm. I had two young kids and they weren’t in school yet, so we figured if we’re going to make a move, let’s do it now.
I was able to get out to Austin, get a job out here thanks to the fact that I had a license and years of experience as well. It’s weird because moving to a new city, all the connections you made are gone and you have to start over again. That was the hard part for me – all my clients that I dealt with in California, I couldn’t lean on them for more work anymore, I had to find new clients out here. It actually helped me grow quite a bit to be able to start over in a new area.
Enoch: Is this the firm you’re currently working for right now?
Ryan: So, currently, the firm I’m working for now, we’re a small firm. We do mostly commercial work. It’s funny because I started as a drafter at this firm. The recession times were hard, I had to take whatever job I can get. So, I started as a drafter and a couple of years later, I was Vice President of the firm. So, I was able to move up pretty quickly there, but, you know, when times are hard, you’ve got to take whatever job you can get.
Enoch: So, tell us what’s your advice for moving up the career ladder so quickly?
Ryan: Yeah. For me, I was lucky because I actually had quite a few years of experience before I got my license. I was working full time while I was at school. So, I actually finished IDP before I finished school. I started taking my tests and got my license before I finished grad school. I was, kind of, double-duty for a little while there, but I was able to get a lot of experience really quick.
Once I had that experience and I had the license, I was able to take it to the firm that I was at and say, “I really would like to have more responsibility.” I wasn’t shying away from anything they asked me to do. If I was just a designer and they asked me to go manage the project, I would do it and chalk it up to a learning experience.
The trick is to understand your limits. If they ask you to go to a job site, go do it, but if you’re not comfortable, don’t. Make sure you’re comfortable with it, but get out there and take the responsibilities as they come. If they don’t come, ask for a little bit more responsibility.
My first job when I was out there, when I was at this firm as a drafter, I actually started managing the project. It was from that that I could prove that I knew what I was doing, so I eventually became a Project Manager.
I had a great opportunity when I was in California – this is when I was still in school. I was just a drafter for the firm, but we had a project that was going after a LEED certification. I had my LEED accreditation at the time. I knew the point system back and forth, so I basically said, “Let me take on this responsibility. Let me take on this role of doing all the paperwork, everything necessary for it.” Because of my efforts, we were able to get LEED Gold on the project. It also showed my bosses that I was able to take responsibility and run with the project that they weren’t able to do and I was able to prove my value.
I’m going to use that work a lot because it keeps coming back. If you want to move up, you have to show value to the company more than just somebody that they could find to draft for you, somebody that could design. What are you doing to bring value to the company? Had I not taken that LEED project on, we may not have gotten LEED Gold and it was a big deal for the company. So, I was able to show them that by my abilities, I’m able to add value to the firm.
Enoch: Excellent. Yeah. I’ve seen that that’s a key. I know there are a lot of people who are anxious. They want to move ahead, but they don’t want to take on the responsibility; maybe they want a raise, but then they…
Enoch: Like you said, you’ve got to bring in the work and put yourself out there.
Ryan: Yeah. Any opportunity that came to my door whether it was my job title, in my description or not… I did it even if I didn’t get paid for it because my thought was I’m going to learn something at the minimum. I may not get paid in dollar value, but I’m going to get paid in knowledge which can help me later.
Enoch: So, in your specific situation then, Ryan, with that kind of mindset, how did you go from being a Project Manager at the time to having the position of Vice President of the company you’re with?
Ryan: Yeah. That’s a bigger jump because what you need to do is, again, when you’re providing value as a Project Manager is one thing, but to provide value as a partner, you need to start bringing in work. That’s the key there: finding your own clients.
So, the way I was able to do that is: Obviously, I was doing really well managing my projects and all my projects were going fine, but I took it upon myself to go out there, get in to the community and get to know people, and show that I’m entrenched in a certain area, I have certain clients that I’m bringing with me. A lot of times people may even move firms and bring their clients with them – anything you can do to bring projects in to the firm. That shows you’re more than just somebody who’s managing the projects, but you’re actually invested in the firm itself.
What I did is I went out and found some clients. Sounds real easy, right? I just went and found some clients.
Enoch: Yeah, right.
Ryan: The way I did that is just… Again, I was in a new area, so this is a little hard for me to get to know everybody. One thing I’d recommend for anybody out there that’s looking to get out there and, kind of, make connections in the community, if you have it, if your town has it, is a leadership program. I was pretty lucky to go through one in my hometown of Cedar Park where I actually live. They had a leadership program held by the Chamber of Commerce.
So, you pay. I think it was a couple of hundred bucks. You get through the leadership program, but you get to meet the Mayor, the Council Members, the City Managers, so you have the city people, but then you start meeting the banker, you start meeting the lawyer, you start meeting the accountants, and you start making real friendships.
That’s, kind of, where it starts. Get to know who the people are and get them to be friends with you. I still talk to a lot of people in my leadership class and we’re still friends, but through them – they knew somebody that needed work, they needed an architect, and they put me in touch with them.
I’m able to bring this client in to my firm now and say, “Look, through the things I have done, I am now helping the firm get more money, get more clients, and I’m actively involved in getting more money for the firm.” It just, kind of, slowly progressed from there to where I wasn’t managing as many projects as I was bringing in the clients.
Enoch: So, that first project you brought in, can you tell me about how that happened?
Ryan: Yeah. So, this one was, again, through the leadership program. I have met somebody. She was a banker in the area. She had a client – again, it was a small project. They worked for a non-profit and they wanted a pavilion, just a shade structure coming in. They wanted it, you know, pretty high design from what they’re used to doing in the area, so she just put me in contact with them.
I was able to sit down with them and just, kind of, get some ideas out and sketches. I did this all on my own time, on the weekends, whenever I had time. When the time came for them to move forward, I said, “Hey, you’re really going to need an architect on this. Make sure you come by office and we can talk about it some more.”
So, they came in and I had my boss come in. I said, “Hey, this is…” so and so, and they want this one project. That project ended up turning in to more buildings for their non-profit, which tied in to a local YMCA that we’re doing. So, it, kind of, escalated from there, but it all started from that one little project that I was just willing to take my time to go talk with the guy about doing, and next thing you know it’s turned in to bigger projects.
Enoch: Awesome. So, to-date, what would you say has been your biggest win in business development? Is there something that jumps out?
Ryan: We’ve had quite a few. One that actually that I’d say the biggest win for me – I don’t know from a monetary standpoint, because from a pride standpoint… It’s this local rental facility that we just finished. It was owned by a pretty big name in the city. She had donated it to the city to rent it out for weddings. That place ended up getting flooded and getting torn down.
I was able to get our firm in there to design the new facility for them. So, we were able to complete the project – I think it was, like, $2 or $3 million project which for us is about normal size, but for me the greatest thing was… We had the grand opening just a couple of weeks ago, that’s why it sticks to my mind. We did the ribbon cutting and the former owner said, “This made my day. I never thought we’d have something as nice as we could have.” All the community members were just so glad to have the design that they did.
Money-wise, it probably didn’t bring too much in to the firm, but from a pride standpoint and from being connected to the community, it made a big difference for us.
Enoch: Awesome. Ryan, if you have the opportunity to sit down with someone who’s just starting out in Architecture school, what would be the main two or three points that you would want to let them know to help them be successful?
Ryan: So, yeah, if they’re just starting in Architecture school, obviously you’re going to be taking a lot of time in design class, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your fellow architecture students, but the biggest thing you’ll probably do is to get out of the studio. Go take business courses. Go take any other courses that you can and get to know people outside the studio because the friends you make in the studio, they’re going to be probably your friends for life, but the people you meet that aren’t in an Architecture program, they’re going to be your future clients. They’re going to be the people that you turn to later on that have jobs that are going to be looking for you.
From a career standpoint, you’re not going to get any jobs from fellow architecture students; you’re going to get it from people who aren’t in the studio with you. But, at the same time, just enjoy the studio because when you’re going to architecture school… We all know somebody who’s done it. It’s almost like hell sometimes, but once you’re out of it for many years, sometimes you wish you were back there, as crazy as that sounds. Sometimes I wish I was just free with no restrictions, to just design free, and just do whatever I want.
First off, get out of the studio, but at the same time, when you’re there, really enjoy it.
Enoch: Awesome. Any other advice, Ryan, that you have in terms of the business of architecture in general?
Ryan: Yeah. It all depends on your personality. First, you’ve got to find out what type of person you are. For me, it was all about learning fast and quick, and doing everything I can to get the information as quickly as I can. So, for me, it was a matter of not just going through school, but going to places like Business of Architecture, and listening to the podcast – anything from any books that you can read, anything you can get out there to get more information.
I’d rather know something for the future and I’ll be able to do it, rather than being stuck in the situation not knowing what the hell is going on. I’ve had many situations when I was still coming up in the career that I got way above my head, but I was able to fall back on the things that I learned through a book to at least fumble my way through it. But, you know, you just got to get out there and learn as much as you can, and not be afraid to take chances.
Enoch: Do you have any of your favorite business books that you can recommend to us that have influenced you personally?
Ryan: I love “E-Myth Revisited,” if anybody is familiar with that. It talks about setting up standards, how to set not specifically for architecture, but it’s one that I think anybody should read. “Good to Great” is another great book as well. I like everything from Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t know if anybody is familiar with “Outliers,” that’s also a good one.
None of these are really specific to architecture, but they do, in some way, relate to architecture. If you read it with that mindset, you can spin it around and understand how it could relate.
Enoch: Excellent. Alright. So, I’ll put links to those in the show notes.
Enoch: Is there anything else that we left out, Ryan, that you think we need to talk about? We’re talking about career development right now, or thoughts about people who are looking to advance their careers in architecture…
Ryan: Yeah, a couple of things. There’s a lot about IDP, a lot about the ARE. The thing is… I don’t want to say none of it matters, but you’ll get through it. When you’re doing IDP, you have a lot of hours that you need to get – just be proactive about it. Don’t stress so much when you’re not getting certain hours of certain areas, that you’re not going to get it done on time. Just sit and talk to your supervisor, talk to your boss. If they’re any good, they’ll understand.
Be proactive about it because, for me, personally, when I have an intern, I always sit down every month with them and go through it, but not every boss is like that. So, you’ve got to take the bull by the horn and say, “Look, here’s what I need to do to finish IDP. I’m short in these areas. Is there anything we could do to understand these areas?” With IDP you need to be proactive about your own growth and your own learning.
With the AREs, it’s, kind of, hard because they’re changing every couple of years. People stress about what order to take the tests in, what study material they need to get. You know, first step is just scheduling a test. The second step is learning about the test. The hardest thing is that first step – just scheduling it.
Ryan: It seems so hard, but you really can get through it, you just got to have a positive attitude all the way through. Then, once you get that, and you get your license, and everything is awesome, you’re great, you’re a starchitect, then the real education begins on how to actually practice as an architect.
Enoch: Yeah, no kidding. Well, Ryan, how do people get a hold of you and find out more about your books and what you’re up to?
Ryan: Yeah. I’m easily accessible through Architecture Career Guide. You can drop me a note there. It also has links to the book that I’ve written for that. I also have the Architecture Business Plan website as well that we mentioned in the last episode. So, yeah, just get me through that or on Twitter. I’m on Twitter quite a bit as @ArchCareerGuide, or Facebook – just about anywhere. Definitely shoot me a note. Everybody who’s interested and has questions, you know, put a comment on page, send me an email, I’m glad to help out.
Enoch: Alright. Ryan, well, I remember we touched bases and we scheduled this back at the AIA convention. We were sitting there in one of the rooms in the hotel designed by Daniel Burnham right there in downtown Chicago.
Ryan: Yup. The Reliance, yeah.
Enoch: Yeah, Reliance. I’m glad that we had this opportunity to make it happen.
Ryan: Yeah, it was great. Thanks a lot.
Enoch: Alright. Okay, Ryan. Take care.
Ryan: Alright, bye.