March 27, 2018
Two parents tell us how they got licensed, got promoted, and made time for their kids along the way.
After our February ARE Live Podcast episode, we heard from young professionals looking for advice on how to get ahead at work and still manage to be there for their kids. To show you how to take the next step in your career, we recently interviewed two architects who made big career strides while raising their families.
You’ll get to hear from Jennifer Penner, mother of one, Architect at Studio Southwest Architects, and state licensing advisor in New Mexico, who told us how to tackle licensure while raising a daughter. We also interviewed Katherine Darnstadt, mother of one and founder of Latent Design, who told us how she opened her own architecture and urban design firm after being laid off as an expectant mother.
First we first spoke with Jennifer to get her best tips and strategies for balancing parenthood and preparing for the ARE.
Black Spectacles: Tell us about yourself. What exam did you take and how did that line up with when you had kids?
Jennifer: I graduated with my master's degree in the spring of 2013 and had this idea that I was going to charge through the exams in just one year. But I couldn't really get into the content. In 2014 I bought a house, I got pregnant, and I switched jobs. In 2015, my focus was raising my daughter. But in 2016, that's when I finally planned to take the exams. I decided to take all seven exams in seven consecutive days by studying for one exam per week for seven weeks. My daughter was just starting in a public daycare, I was a full-time worker at my office, and I’m married. I had to contribute to the housework and be a wife.
Black Spectacles: With such a packed schedule and taking care of your daughter, how did you make time to study?
Jennifer: Video lectures are the only way to do it. Because it's an online delivery method, as long as I had an internet connection, I was able to listen to these videos. I was able to squeeze my study time into my commute and into any errand I was running. As soon as I hopped into the car, I turned on Black Spectacles and started listening to the videos. If I got a lunch hour, I would use that time to study. My firm did offer paid study time. They offer 40 hours total for each staff member to study. If you were on a normal eight hour workday, and you had a one hour lunch, you could essentially take the next hour and get paid for it, and have two hours of study time.
Black Spectacles: If someone’s firm doesn’t offer all of those benefits, what would you recommend?
Jennifer: You shouldn't ever be studying until all hours of the night, because what good are you on the job or to your family the next day? I would put my daughter to bed at 8 p.m. and then study from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. That's when I would do practice exams. My total time studying was three hours every day, because of the one hour commute in the morning, the commute in the evening and then one hour before bed. The beauty of Black Spectacles is that you can listen to the video lectures. On the weekends, I did not study from Friday evening to Saturday evening. That was my time for my family. Aside from that, if I was folding laundry, doing dishes, or something like that, I'd have my laptop next to me and watch the videos. Where if it's a textbook, I can't do that.
Black Spectacles: Did you have any setbacks at all? How did you deal with that?
Jennifer: I wound up passing four of the seven exams. I think it was disappointing for the firm because they just spent a lot of money on my time away from the office and the exams themselves. During the week I took the exams, my grandma was misdiagnosed with heart disease. It was an hour or two before I was going in for my third or fourth exam. I have life happening, crazy things going on even, and you just charge through. I did not study in the 60 day wait period because I wanted that break. After those 60 days, I did brush up on a couple concepts. I took the three remaining exams in one week and I passed them all. I recommend doing your testing in rapid succession because you get into that testing mode.
Black Spectacles: When you finally got licensed, how did life change for you?
Jennifer: I received a raise. I think that it’s becoming more common to get a raise when you get your license. And then as far as responsibility goes, I feel like there was a shift in respect for me. I think it lends an extra credibility to your voice.
Black Spectacles: After you finally got licensed, what did you do to celebrate?
Jennifer: My husband is the one who read the final exam results. When he told me, I just started crying hard. Because, boy becoming a licensed architect is traumatic. As a life goal, and you finally achieve it, it's crazy. To celebrate, we just went to dinner.
Black Spectacles: Do you have any last advice you want to give to any parents out there who are trying to get licensed?
Jennifer: I feel like for parents, Black Spectacles is a really good way to go. The videos are timed in short durations. I feel like the pause functionality accommodates all those day-to-day interruptions that you're getting from your family while you're trying to study. I would have an interruption but when I would turn back to the video I knew that I could just press "play" again. Sometimes the cost of the exam will keep people from going after licensure. I urge people to think about your return on investment in the long run. If you make that investment now, look at the pay increase you're going to see and multiply that over the life of your career. Make your decision that way. Don't put if off. There's never going to be a good time to get started. Life will always be busy and crazy. You're always going to have way too much work and not enough time. Just get it done.
We then spoke with Katherine and found ourselves inspired by her ability to take life by the horns after being laid off in 2010 while pregnant with her first child.
Black Spectacles: Tell us about yourself and your background. When did you get licensed and how did that line up with when you had your first child?
Katherine: I founded Latent Design in 2010 and that directly corresponded with my pregnancy with my first child. I was licensed when I was 28 and then after that I was promoted at work. I got married the next month, I got laid off the month after that, I found out I was pregnant the month after, and then I started the firm. That's a really intense six month pivot from licensure to starting your own firm. I'm walking into a profession that isn't going to pay a premium anymore for licensed architects. Going on interviews while being visibly pregnant, you knew you were having no's before you even walked in the door. So starting Latent Design was my "maternity leave." I had to figure out how to make money and have a career pretty quickly. Ultimately, I’m fortunate to have a firm that grows to this day
Black Spectacles: There's a lot of different responsibilities that come along with starting your own firm. What were your career goals during that time?
Katherine: Stay in business and have a job, and do what you do and make enough money to do it. When I started the firm, it was out of necessity. I felt like I wasn’t going to get hired during a recession as a pregnant woman. I think the industry is getting better and being more open and accommodating to people with families and to women in the profession. But we have to work significantly more. In my career I've had more push back from being a mom in the practice. Sometimes just being a woman in the field, especially, we have a construction company so sometimes you get push back on job sites. But the biggest barrier was being young in the profession. There were times even when I would go do to the building department for meetings, they'd be like ‘we need the licensed architect to be here. I'm like, “That is me! I'm the one!”
Black Spectacles: What was your strategy for making sure your business stayed afloat and making sure your child was taken care of?
Katherine: Very difficult conversations needed to happen pretty quickly about how we're a two income household and we're going to a one income household. Then we're adding another person to our household at the same time. I think without that honesty and support it wouldn't have been able to be fruitful to where it is this day.
Black Spectacles: How did your child impact your career, and in what ways?
Katherine: I essentially had to get another job to pay for childcare because architecture wasn't bringing in enough money. I had an opportunity to teach and took on that position. That teaching salary basically paid for any childcare to be able to do architectural work. Daycare is very expensive. If you don't have family to offset or support that. Looking at even the recent AIA small firm survey that came out earlier this year, sole practitioners are only making between $65,000-$85,000 a year. Childcare can very easily be $15,000-$18,000 of that per year.
Black Spectacles: What was the most influential turning point in your career? What was your “ah-ha moment?”
Katherine: I think it was a couple years into starting Latent Design. Seeing that the type of work and the social impact and community based work that we were doing, actually had a possibility to exist. That kind of work wasn't part of your studio briefs. Community was this kind of nebulous, derogatory term that was not associated with high quality, capital "A", Architecture design. To see, in reality, that I could have a firm that focuses solely on community and be successful and supported and sustain my own career was a huge ah-ha moment for me.
Black Spectacles: Do you have any advice for parents out there that might be in the same situation you were in?
Katherine: If you are looking to start your own practice, it is something that is absolutely possible for everyone. There is a huge amount of flexibility that comes with running your own firm or being within a small firm team. One thing that it took me a long time to realize and be rigid with is my own scheduling. For example, at the time I only had enough disposable cash to pay for two days of childcare. So those two days of part-time preschool or childcare were the only days that I could ever leave the house and meet people. You have to get people to fit within your schedule. You just have to ask. Planning my time allows me to plan better time for my family and know that I'm there for events and basketball games, and dinners, and everything else.
If I'm home, I'm not working. I might answer a couple emails toward the end of the night, which is a real shift that I think parents have. They have the 9-5 shift and then they have the 10 o'clock to midnight shift of answering emails once everyone's gone to bed, and dinner's made, and lunch is made, and quality time has been spent. What I've found is by scheduling my time and being consistent with it has helped make time for everything that I want to do.