Whale, Medium or Small Fish – When you don’t know how hungry you will become in the future.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Whale, Medium or Small Fish – When you don’t know how hungry you will become in the future.

This topic contains 1 reply, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Leslie B Wagle 7 years, 1 month ago.

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    Andres F. Pineda

    I’ve noticed that this time of the year in particular, a discussion for new landscape architecture graduates comes to light.

    Many graduate students from what I’ve seen, don’t have a clear idea of what they would like to pursue, it being planning, urban, residential, commercial etc, and this is perfectly understandable. The task of finding their first job becomes more of: Where do you think I will get the best experience that will later allow me to elevate myself to a better position or going with that first job that knocks at their door.  

    YES, I understand that the economy is tough, and there is not many jobs available, but let’s leave that aside at the moment and turn to an “unrealistic world” for some, but not all in where an entry level job is available at your pick between a giant corporate, medium or small company.  

    Some examples that come to mind at the moment:

    Giant corporate: Aecom, EDSA

    Medium: Sasaki, SWA Group, OLIN

    Small: Landworks, MESA

    In essence, we know everyone has to go through same trenches of education and knowledge of basics to reach a certain position; it being project manager, owner of your own company, CEO and the list could go on.


    The question comes to those that have passed through this process and have found their best mistakes along the way and those that have been through the various corporate, medium to small company scales.

    I pose the following questions:

    1. From your experience, where do you think they will get the best overall exposure and well-rounded experience that will later allow them to elevate themselves to a better position?
    2. What positive and negatives have you found by working for a corporate that you did not find in a small or medium office and vise-versa?
    3. What would be your best advice to someone in this process? 

    Leslie B Wagle

    I’ve worked in a planning department and in teaching also, but if I think back and confine my answer to what I saw working in 2 very small LA firms and 2 medium sized architecture firms, along with being a consultant to a third in that category, here goes: 

    1) The amount of concentration on a type of project or client sought by the office probably matters more than the size. In all of the private companies, there was ample exposure to a variety of tasks that could make one well-rounded. This is probably because the LA was kind of a “specialty” even within the bigger offices. 

    2) The number of people you have to interface with is probably the major distinction that comes with size. In none of them did I have client contact like when I worked on my own, so you may be spared the “marketing” part (which is a plus or minus depending on your personality and ultimate goals). The larger offices tended to have the larger projects but all of them had “survival” stress and a sense of having competitors at their own level.

    3) I always could and did fall back on contacts for freelancing as a bridge across any disruptions from layoffs etc. but never had the luxury of debating between 2 or 3 offers; just took the only one in a linear pattern to stay in the black, hold onto the house and not have to disrupt the child and husband. So I guess I’d say if you want to put down roots, locate in an urban area that is more likely to provide multiple offices = chances to work, but where the economy could sustain you if you have to go solo. Realistically, once you’re past the single and free to move anywhere stage, it’s just plain harder to be in a low population rural area for that to happen. But you don’t have to be in the center of a huge city, either….just where there is a metropolitan type context.


    Tosh K

    I suppose there are different ways of going about getting to any certain “goal”.  As a few of my mentors have pointed out, a job is just a way to get your next job (unless you really happen to fall into your dream job right away.  The questions to ask, in my mind, are “what can I learn from this position that I can build on” and “am I going to enjoy working on this environment”.  In my experience, the personality fit is the most underrated aspect of work – being able to get along with everyone and vice versa is critical to a satisfactory work experience.

    To answer your questions:

    1. I’ve noticed a lot of my friends go through the sequence of: small office (1~8 person studio) to learn the overall workings from marketing, proposal, design, construction, documentation; “big name” office to pad the resume and get experience in intense (and long hours, though often with nicer paychecks); then midsize firm at management level to be able to rely on steady staff, standards, and non-design staff dedicated to IT and marketing.   In my experience and from what I’ve seen it doesn’t matter whether you go for the higher end offices (irregardless of size) or a small lesser known firm; you learn approaches to working, and the basics of design, construction administration, specs don’t change a whole lot (just mostly how it’s distributed internally that changes), just the pace.

    2. Benefits (pay sometimes, mostly insurance, etc) and often you had a larger entity to fall back on for staff help on projects or financials.

    3. Talk face-to-face with as many people as you can for advice.  To think about what you want in 5~10 yrs and to look for jobs/people that will help you get there.  Embrace every opportunity fully as a chance to learn and contribute (especially early on, it’s about being aware that you have a LOT to learn).  Don’t be arrogant, but understand that you do have value.  Keep a large and strong network of friends and business contacts – you never know who you’ll work with/for in the future.


    Craig Anthony

    1.   In my 24 years or so in the profession I’ve worked at ‘mom and pop’ to 300+ employee design/build outfits, as well as 3 person traditional design offices to 125 employee multi-discipline firms. I can’t really say which one of my experiences gave me the best exposure. I learned something extremely valuable at every place I worked.


    Working at a small d/b firm I learned the sequence and how the pieces and parts of a landscape project come together. I also learned how long it takes to do certain task, how equipment is used and how much logistics and weather affects a project. At the larger d/b firm I learned how to qualify prospective clients, how to gather pertinent information and most importantly (at this present time) how to close the deal.


    The way the tiny design only office was set up, I did a little bit of everything. I learned the basics of AutoCAD and spec writing, did construction observations, researched construction materials, worked with architects and even designed quite a bit. Working at the multi-discipline firm allowed me to interact with engineers and surveyors, taught me how to market professional design services along with picking up the basics of Autodesk LDD and 3D Civil.


    My diverse experience has molded me into being an LA that can talk the language of the architect, the civil, and even the contractor, along with understanding their concerns.


    2.  I found that working at a smaller office a junior LA can have more one on one time with the principal, but you can also pick-up their pet peeves and practices that they picked up from their bosses/mentors. At larger offices it’s easy to get pigeon holed into being the grading guy, the big box retail guy, the detail guy, or even the planting guy. This is why in both cases I don’t recommend someone staying at one office too long early in their career.  


    3.  Get ahead by working hard and doing good work, not by being a ‘brown noser’. Be easy to get along with, but know when to push back. That goes for fellow employees, allied professionals, clients or bosses. Understand that this is a profession in which you are always learning. Also, no one person is great at everything we LAs do.

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