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Joe Fisher, AIA
Studio 355 Architecture
I moved to Austin from Vermont in late 2014 after having lived there my whole life. As an architect and a blues musician, Austin carried a lot of appeal for me. The fact that “winter” lasts for about 6 weeks with an average temperature in the 60’s the whole time was also a plus. Three years on I haven’t regretted moving one bit, and the firm that I started upon moving has continued to grow every year.
What sort of job opportunities are available?
Austin has been booming for years and shows no signs of stopping. There are opportunities in almost every type of architecture or design discipline available. Various international design firms are represented in some of the large commercial projects in the growing downtown, and there are numerous small firms like my own working both commercial and residential jobs of varying scales. As one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in Texas, Austin presents a unique opportunity for young professionals to jump into a thriving market right out of school. In addition to the robust private sector, Austin’s position as the capital of Texas allows for opportunities in state and local government.
Tell us a little about your internship and exams. What were your successes/failures?
I completed my internship and exams while working with Birdseye Design in Richmond, Vermont. I took advantage of the ability to take exams congruently while completing my internship hours, and was able to finish the program and pass all seven exams within three years of earning my M.Arch degree from Norwich University. My biggest asset in the process was an employer who was willing to give me responsibilities and opportunities in the profession not normally available to some young professionals. When I started my own firm, I wanted to make sure that all of my team members have the same opportunities available to them, and don’t feel trapped in menial drafting tasks for the first part of their career.
How did you overcome your failures with the ARE?
I found my ideal strategy for progressing through the IDP program and the ARE examinations was expediency. I pushed myself in the first three years after school to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to accrue hours and gain as much experience as I could. During the test-taking phase, I found that a 3-4 week timeframe between exams was the most efficient, as it allowed me to retain information more readily and hesitate less when taking the timed exam portions.
What kind of firm support did you have for the licensure process?
Birdseye Design, the Richmond, Vermont-based design-build firm I worked for during and after school, was instrumental in allowing me to achieve my goal of licensure by the age of 26; a landmark I had set for myself when I started architecture school. The intimate size of the firm (4 members) and the talented leadership of Brian Mac, FAIA were elements not available to some of my former classmates working in larger firms. Working for a small firm allowed me to learn more quickly, and take on more responsibilities directly out school. Birdseye was open to providing me opportunities to view elements of the design, contract negotiation and pricing process often not available to designers until later in their career. I most definitely would not be where I am now without their help and support.
What is there to do during nights/weekends?
Austin is the live music capital of the world, but there’s much more to it than that. There’s plenty of opportunity on any night of the week to get out and see music, dance, enjoy some seriously amazing food, cocktails and craft beer. Add to that: festivals like the Austin City Limits music festival in October and SXSW in March, and there’s never a shortage of things to do. It’s also a young city, with a large segment of the population made up of late 20’s/early 30’s professionals. The presence of the University of Texas at Austin only adds to the vibe of Austin being city still growing.
How did you manage to make friends the first few months?
As someone who runs a non-traditional firm (we don’t have any physical office), I didn’t have any co-workers to commune with and had to seek other ways of meeting people other than industry connections. The best way I found to meet new people was to get out in town and start socializing. Given the relatively young age of the population, it was a lot less intimidating to approach people since we were all in roughly the same age range. There are so many opportunities in this town that you can really pick whatever interests you and be guaranteed to find a good group of people who are passionate about the same thing. Since I moved here, I’ve taken up salsa dancing, rock climbing and hockey and have established a great social circle through those interests.
How did you find your apartment?
Since Austin is growing so fast, there are new apartment complexes being built in seemingly every corner of the city. When I needed to find an apartment, I went through an apartment location service – there are more here than I could possibly list given how fast the place is growing. I gave them my requirements as far as rent, location, pets, etc. and they were able to find me a great spot within three days. Since the location services are paid by the apartment complexes, the entire process was 100% free!
What is your favorite part about Austin?
It’s tough to say one thing that I like best about Austin, but if I had to pick, I’d say that it’s the fact that you can never get bored in this town. Any night of the week, I can find something to do until at least midnight, without fail. Given how much the architecture market is booming here, the combination definitely leads to some late nights coupled with early mornings, but it’s a wild ride and all worth it in the end!
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