Leaving LA for Civil

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    After 5 years of school and 4 years of professional practice I’ve decided to throw in the towel on Landscape Architecture. There is massive disconnect between what the University’s teach and what actually happens in the real world. Why on Earth anybody would take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order sit on their ass in front of a computer drafting fences and handrails is beyond my comprehension. I’ve even had opportunities to work on genuinely “cool” projects and I’m still bored out of my mind.

    I figure if I’m going to be sitting on my ass in front of a computer all day I might as well be making twice as much money. I’m not willing to wait 20-30 years to start making real money. Has anybody here made the transition to civil engineering or a related type field?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Are you taking a job in a CE office or going back to school? You should be able to get in without going back to school unless you want to be on the license track. I believe that my second CE employer not only hired me for my experience, but that he also knew I was not training a future competitor.

    I did 12 years full time in two different small CE office with a BLA degree. I was initially upset that I could not get into an LA office (due to poor hand drawing skills and an abundance of ivy league applicants in my area vs. my U Idaho degree), but the work was very diverse and challenging which made it anything but boring. The knowledge and skills that you acquire are very transferable to LA if you ever decide to get back into it on your own. Another huge benefit is that almost all permitted work goes through CE offices and you interact with everyone involved, so you get a good uncensored and unbiased look at who is doing what and how things are getting done. It is easy to see opportunities to provide the right amount of services to make future clients value you over others. You also learn what others have to deal with when working with LAs and remember how not to be “that guy” if you ever go back into LA.

    The most important thing I learned was to understand many ways to make others more money or to make things easier for them- be they architects, engineers, builders, developers, or property owners. That gets them to do the marketing for you.

    I’ve been full time as a one person LA office for about 8 years not and most of what I do is really aesthetic site planning for higher end homes. It is much more of using my CE work experience, but done with the thinking of an LA. Having to “settle for” working in a CE office was the best thing that could have happened for me.

    And I would not be upset if I remained working in CE. It was usually interesting and challenging.


    Well, considering you ONLY have (4) yrs. of exp. practicing Landscape Architecture…I feel sure you’re NOT making very much $$$. LAs do start out @ pretty low salaries. However, after you have gained substantial experience designing a variety of projects & have 6 to 10 yrs. of design experience…you should have opportunities to earn a higher salary (at the same firm or at a NEW LA job).

    However, that being said, I believe that in our profession, the BEST way to earn a TOP annual income is to “go out on your own”…not working for other LA’s. I put in close to (15) yrs. before going out on my own @ age 41…took me (2) yrs. to get my (1) man start-up practice up and running. I found a niche with Multi-Family projects (as I got a ton of experience designing with a Dallas firm for 14 yrs.). Then, was getting well over a 6 figure income for (17) years…before I began to slow down.

    I don’t know WHY you’re doing just “autoCAD” drawings of fences and rails??? During my LA career, I have designed Single Family Homes (all sizes and price ranges); Upscale Multi-Family communities in 8 different States; Commercial Office Developments; Hotels; Restaurants; Shopping Centers; University Athletic Facilities; Streetscapes; University Student Apartment Communities @ 8 major Universities…just a wide variety of project types…many interesting projects.

    When I began my LA career in 1977, there was no such thing as “autoCAD”…but, even when I started my own practice, I was just too busy to stop and learn “autoCAD”…so, I stayed with what I know I did best “Hand Drawings”. Never had a disappointed client or one that asked for drawings to be on “autoCAD” either. I have designed well over (500) projects to date…all “By Hand”. And, I don’t regret my LA career…it’s been very good to me.

    Now, I don’t HAVE to design anything…but, I do continue to design Upscale Residential Projects as I really don’t wish to give up designing just yet.

    I would suggest that you at least “consider” looking around at the LA job market out there…look for a descent sized LA firm in a location that’s desirable to you…one where you could “learn & grow” your experience. Then, you could consider “going out on you own”. I have some good LA friends who went on their own…have 5 to 12 LA’s working for them…and I have no doubt that they are sitting on major 7 figure bank accounts. So, I KNOW…it’s a “myth” that you can’t make a seriously good annual income as an LA. I just believe that you probably NEED about (10) yrs. of solid design experience to make that happen for yourself…not just 4 yrs.

    IMO, if you abandon you LA career and go to work for a CE firm…you very easily could “forever” be stuck doing “autoCAD” production drawings & zero design…..with no real future.

    Good Luck!


    I wouldn’t get in the mindset of you are leaving landscape architecture, you are just picking up an additional set of skills. Alot of firms do both LA and CE.

    I think the new generations are starting to see the writing on the wall and are getting supplemental education/training in interrelated fields (arch/CE/plan).


    To WBS……What do YOU know??? You’re a “Student” in California. IMO, the biggest problem with the “younger generations” is they lack a “work ethic”. They want everything handed to them…even FREE, if they can get it. The point I was making above is….having ONLY (4) years of experience in the field of Landscape Architecture is really STILL at the “entry level”. AND, a lot of LA firms do not have LAs & CEs.


    You wouldn’t be the first to switch to civil engineering from landscape architecture, although I have no idea how much more fulfilling the civil side might be for you. To be fair, I’ve only known one person who made a similar jump. She is now in a leadership role in the public sector after a successful consulting career.

    It’s been a while since my graduation; however, I had a pretty good understanding of what the consulting side of the profession was long before I entered it. I am interested to learn what you thought the LA profession would be, versus your actual experience.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There is a big overlap between the two professions. Civil is a more technical discipline, but depending on what types of projects the CE office does you can be pretty well prepared to be an asset right away in a CE office. Also, depending on what types of projects an LA firm does or an individual wants to do, you can have a competitive advantage over other LAs moving forward than those that don’t have that experience in a CE office.

    I’ve read so many posts on this and other forums of LAs bitching about other professions doing “our work”. I believe a lot of that is because the LA profession no longer holds its ground as a profession solely based on pretty renderings and planting plans. Those are now more easily done by other professions than they used to be because of technology. Many LAs rely on others for the more technical aspects of site planning which isolates them as a supplemental design asset rather than a full asset. When that happens there has to be a lot of revision or additional communication with other design team professions than necessary which slows down the process and can be more frustrating to the design team than bypassing the LA and doing it themselves. I know this because I was on the other side of it for 12 years. …. some LAs are a PITA to work with.

    You don’t surrender your landscape architecture education and experience by working in a CE office. You build on it. You also bring something into the CE office that they might not have. I don’t understand the us against them mentality.


    Thanks for your thoughts everyone.
    In school LA was spending 3-4 weeks on a single project doing as much research as possible on the site, history, context, geology, everything, and then pitching the coolest idea I could think of with illustrations, sketches, concept statements, renderings, etc to demonstrate the idea. It was all about ideas. This was between 2008-2013 and I applied for over a hundred unpaid internships and maybe had 2 phone interviews that resulted in nothing. So unfortunately I wasn’t able to even get a glimpse of what a Landscape Architect office even does. Not to mention I was naive in general.

    Here’s how I see it: I paid over $100,000 for a degree that pays the same as an Uber driver. Sure after 6-10+ years I’ll make more. But I could make more right now by making the lateral move to an established CE firm. I’m talking an immediate 50% pay raise and more room to grow. As I get older, money, respect, and power are more important than vague notions of “making a difference” or “being fulfilled.”


    IMO….LAs and CE’s are like the “oil & water” analogy. VERY, very different professions! Andrew probably understands this better than most of us. LA’s are creative, we actually know how to draw, and just think differently than CE’s think. Civil Engineering is all about “math” and “computer software”. Personally, I wouldn’t in a million years considered being a CE.

    CE’s here in The State of Texas are (by law) allowed to produce Planting Plans…which is ridiculous. Unless a CE firm has a qualified LA on staff, they have no business doing “Landscape Architecture” related design work.

    I have worked with dozens of CE firms during my LA career…some were good, others were not. I’ve surprisingly come across some CE Grading Plans on large sites that were VERY problematic…where they made my job creating a Landscape Architectural Grading Plan very challenging. And, I can grade ANY site, no matter how flat or steep it is. Then, you have CE attitudes to deal with from time to time…where they look down on Landscape Architects…this is well known throughout the Landscape Architecture profession.

    I agree with Andrew…switching from LA (after a 4 yr. LA degree & 4 yrs. of experience) wouldn’t be a very wise move. You need to spend a few more years accumulating solid experience as a Landscape Architect…even if you have to move to a different LA firm to get that experience. IMO, if you’re an LA and you go to work for a CE firm, you will most likely be looked upon as a “second class citizen”…you’re NOT one of them. Just an opinion.


    To “bd”…just read your most recent comment.

    Well, I definitely “understand” where you’re coming from. I invested (4) years of my life by enlisting in the U.S. Navy (served on board an Aircraft Carrier in the Mediterranean Sea)…so, I could use the G.I. Bill to help me get my (4) year LA degree @ Texas A&M University. I didn’t take out a Student Loan, still, it was a very financially difficult time for my wife & me. I did managed to graduate with ZERO debt, so, that was good. Then, designed for (2) different LA firms for about 14 years (plus 2 yrs. worth of over-time hours)…and the PAY was BAD. I left the 2nd LA firm in 1991 @ age 41…took me 2 yrs. of marketing & taking on every little design job I could get to FINALLY start earning a six figure annual income. Just 2 years after leaving that 2nd LA firm…my annual income went up 5x to 6x what they were paying me.

    At the 2nd LA Firm (which specialized in designing Multi-Family Developments…I did gain a great deal of expertise with that type of project (being able to design every aspect of those projects)…so, in 1993, at age 43, I began picking up major Apartment Builder Accounts…and that’s a really great design niche! For the next 15 nonconsecutive years, working on my own and focused primarily on Multi-Family Projects, it was well over six figures every year; But, I was working 10 to 14 hours a day and sometimes 7 days a week.

    Note….I think today, for entry level LAs, the starting salaries are around $40,000.00 regardless of what city or State you’re in. And, some cities/States have high cost of living and high State income taxes. To me, those were always important considerations back when I was looking for an LA firm to join.

    I think the KEY in Landscape Architecture, really is, getting to the point where you can design “on your own”. I have an LA friend in Florida who (with only 2 years of design practice under a Licensed LA) has his own LA practice…now in his 7th year and doing very well, and is very busy. I have helped him on and off over the years…as I just felt he needed more than JUST (2) years of experience to go it alone….but, it is possible.

    I know of a Freelance Website called “UPWORKS”, that you might want to check out. It’s almost FREE to submit proposals for Design work…even for autoCAD work only. There are many Landscape Designers and LAs earning a lot of $$ from that website…UpWorks pays you directly (they take out a percentage of the fee for their profits). But, even you have a FULL-TIME job, you could still earn $$$ from this UPWROKS website @ home. Though, you might need to have “autoCAD” on your home computer. I think the KEY with UPWORKS is to keep your fees as low as you can. Check it out.

    Hey, good thing that you can increase your SALARY @ a CE firm by 50%…reading what you’ve written, I think that sounds like the way to go for you, at least for now. You can always “quietly” be on the look out for an LA job…but, unfortunately, LA firms don’t pay all that well…until you have at least 10 yrs. of design experience. STILL, being “freelance” and on your own…IMO, might be a “goal”, because, designing for other people is making THEM wealthy, not you.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m not sure why Bob said he agreed with me about not switching to CE. I thought that I made a really good case as to why I think it is a good idea. I think it is a good idea even if you want to practice as an LA later on.

    If someone can not get hired as an LA for whatever reason, why wouldn’t that person entertain a different field?

    If landscape architecture is such a strong discipline, why would we not be able to thrive in a related field?

    If you got paid better why wouldn’t you switch?

    If you were to learn more why wouldn’t you?

    Landscape Architecture is not a religion. It is a gray area profession caught between landscape design and civil engineering. Individuals within it can be somewhere nearer to either end of that spectrum or right in the middle. Individuals within the profession sometimes choose to be nearer to one end or the other. That is the beauty of this gray profession – it is diverse.

    The thing that goes with that is that this gray profession is overlapped or encroached from both ends. I for one don’t have a problem with any of that. Be good at what you do and try to do what you are good at no matter where in that spectrum that lies.

    It is all good!


    Spot on. To sum this up — I’m in it for the money. Being paid and doing good work makes me “fulfilled.”


    No….it’s NOT “all about the money”. But, I totally understand, you have to earn a living.

    IMO, the main reason you had so much trouble finding an LA job (between 2008 and 2013) was because, Obama wa our President during that period….it was a difficult time for EVERY Landscape Architect & design firm. If you’re in the LA profession long enough…you’ll experience UPs & DOWNs in our economy. The U.S. economy is doing much better now and unemployment, in spite of the virus scare, is doing very well.

    Personally, I still don’t understand WHY anyone would spent $100K and study Landscape Architecture @ a University & then, just throw in the towel after a couple of years. Even though I put in close to 15 yrs. designing for (2) different LA firms (for less than I believe I should have been earning)…I hung in there and was just a “sponge”…learned everything I could from every LA around me. It paid off when I went out on my own…which was 28 yrs. ago & I have MORE than made up for those “too low salaries” from my first 15 years in the LA profession. Sometimes, it just really takes “perseverance” to reach your goals.

    Nothing in this LIFE comes easily, at least, nothing worth having. Even if I was SUPER talented with “autoCAD” and had an opportunity (at an earlier age) to join a C.E. firm…..no way. Early on, even while @ Texas A&M, I had a very strong “passion” for Landscape Architecture…now, 43 years later, I have absolutely no regrets.

    However, that being said, everyone has to find their own PATH to follow….whatever makes you happy.
    Enjoy the “journey”…..times goes very, very fast! GOOD LUCK!



    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    You’re right nothing comes easy but some jobs do pay more for the tremendous effort and work. Some work is more important than other work. Some work is more valuable than other work. I’ve come to the realization that landscaping is mostly a joke that people ignore. . . and that’s reflected in the market value of landscape architecture services. Landscaping is really one of least paid and respected consultants in the A&E field.

    I’m throwing in the towel because the work that I’m doing professionally is not what I signed for in school. Long hours, low pay, low impact. This profession is a total joke.

    Corby Rust

    Throwing this out there…My first job with a CE firm was the worst, terrible culture and horribly uninteresting work. My current job with a CE firm is the best. A LA is second in command and the work can be very interesting. I, unfortunately, spent a few decades in sales. The good news is there are CE firms who value LAs.

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