CSI Director of Marketing and Communications Matthew Switzer sat down to interview Michael Riscica AIA, founder of YoungArchitect.com, at CONSTRUCT 2019 in October to discuss the state of the construction industry, and especially how he uses his online-based platform to help architects succeed passing tests for licensure and beyond. Here are the top 10 takeaways from that conversation.
Tell me about how and why you started YoungArchitect.com
I got my license as an architect 2013. When I started the process, it was nothing like what I was led to believe it would be. I was told it was going to take about six months and was maybe a 200-hour project. It ended up being a four and a half yearlong project, which took well over 2,000 hours. So as soon as I was done with my exams, I said, ‘This isn't what you guys told me it would be.’ No one was really talking about the Architect Exam from a realistic human point of view, so I got online and just started ranting and raving and blogging about how I study for my exams, how I passed the test, my thoughts about the profession, and where I think everything’s going. It ended up taking off like a rocket.
So it resonated?
It resonated with a lot of people. It took me a while to figure out why. Eventually, I realized that in a weird way, I was the first person to come along to say, ‘Hey, I'm not the smartest guy in the world and I'm definitely not the dumbest, but if you want to get licensed, you can achieve this goal and you just have to be persistent with it.’ I kept writing and blogging, and eventually ended up writing a book that helps people pass their exams. What ended up happening was people started to read the book and say, ‘Mike, I need your help. I need you to coach me.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to work one-on-one with people.’
Architecture is highly collaborative. In architecture school, we’re a group of people that are moving through a program with deadlines and milestones. In the office, we’re working with coworkers, contractors, and owners. Everything's working collaboratively. And then we get to this Architect Exam process, and it’s a self-guided process with no clear deadlines for people that are 100 percent deadline-driven. So I created a whole program that helps people get started with their exams. It essentially teaches them how to teach it to themselves.
What about your experience with the CDT?
When I took the CDT a couple of years ago, I looked at it from a perspective of, ‘What can the CDT learn from the Architect Exam, and what can the Architect Exam learn from the CDT?’ I loved studying for the test. It was a really beautiful example of understanding project delivery. One thing I really like about the CDT compared to the Architect Exam is it’s so well organized. The Project Delivery Practice Guide looks at it from many different perspectives. One of the things with the Architect Exam is we’re always looking at it from the architect’s perspective and that just gets eliminated right out of the gate with the CDT, as you’re looking at it from the owner’s point of view, the contractor’s, the engineer’s, the product rep’s, the manufacturer’s, and you’re getting all the different rules and responsibilities and relationships and really seeing that through. I had such a wonderful time studying for it, and really enjoyed it. I took the test, and I got a 92.
When you get done with the CDT, you can actually apply what you've learned in your day-to-day life.
Absolutely. I don’t think anyone should be working in the AEC industry without this knowledge. Whether you get the certification and you don't, we all need this knowledge. We need to understand the roles, relationships, and responsibilities between all the different players at the table.
You participated in the young professionals day at CONSTRUCT, and one of the things they discussed was around mentorship. Can you talk about that?
I’ve written a lot about mentorship. I’ve always looked at it as rather than having one magical mentor who’s going to help you figure everything out, I believe people should have a lot of mentors for a lot of different things in a lot of different areas of life. So one of the things I always advocate for is to look for many mentors and to really specialize as to who that mentor is.
What value can younger professionals get out of an organization like CSI?
I think CSI has been more forward thinking than other organizations that have focused on what’s happening now and what happened 25 years ago. I like to look into the future. I feel like CSI, from all of my interactions with this organization, has always welcomed me with open arms, embracing me, embracing how the industry’s changing, and really acknowledging it. So I think CSI’s role is to always acknowledge the future, and younger professionals, and where the industry is going.
CSI has a broader reach into the AEC industry than maybe some other organizations do, do you see that as one of the reasons why they're able to do that?
Absolutely. I think one of the beauties of this organization is there are so many players coming together to work collaboratively and figure out solutions. That’s the beauty of it. Rather than just bring a bunch of architects in a room who are all in competition with each other, there is so much more we can accomplish when we get an architect, a contractor, an engineer, a subcontractor, and an owner at the table. What I've always loved about CSI is it’s from all perspectives.
For younger professionals coming into the industry, what advice would you give them?
One of the things I wish I realized sooner is that this profession and the whole AEC thing as a whole is so broad and vast and there are so many different little pockets of it. Every day, it just gets wider, and faster, and bigger. I started off pursuing the dream of a traditional stamping architect. And I accomplished that goal. But on the journey, I figured out this little side path that took on a life of its own. What I love most is that there’s room for everyone. There’s room for people to experiment and see what their passions are and what they really love and to pursue that. Let’s do the stuff we like doing.
Looking at architecture today, what are the styles or things that are interesting you the most?
I think the people. Architecture for me is not really about buildings anymore. It’s more about the relationships. I went to architecture school for a long time, learning how to design. I got really good at it. I fell in love with the craft and art of design. Everyone who graduates architecture schools is an amazing designer. And then when I graduated, I was working in a cubicle, pushing paper, doing red lines, kind of having a bad attitude about doing all this busy work. There was a moment when I realized that the design was just the first step of the education. Architecture is really about execution. Design’s just a small piece of it. For me, architecture is more about working collaboratively, and making things happen. It's about people, and design is just one small piece of it.