Sydney Peña, Associate IIDA, the 2019 IIDA Student of the Year, and interior designer at Axis Architecture + Interiors recalls her first month on the job and shares her journey from graduation to the professional world.
I recently completed three enormous life moments in a matter of a few months—receiving my college diploma, marrying my best friend, and starting my first full-time job—things have been very exciting for me! So exciting, that I wanted to share with future designers a little bit about my journey from graduation, finding my first job, and my first month as a professional designer.
Know what you want, and build a community that can help you get there
I had participated in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program during my last semester at school, and my mentor helped guide me through the different phases of my job search. I decided to look at smaller to mid-sized firms in hopes that a boutique firm would provide different experiences and opportunities than the larger companies I had interned with. I wanted to work on many different kinds of projects and to feel more connected to my community and coworkers. Also very important to me was finding a firm with a culture that felt familial and collaborative and would provide opportunities to grow as a designer.
I found my job through a mutual connection in the industry. Although I didn’t know anyone at the time who worked at Axis Architecture + Interiors, my current firm, a designer I knew in the community did and introduced us. It’s crazy how your network really can open up opportunities.
Today, I am an interior designer at Axis Architecture + Interiors, located in downtown Indianapolis. Axis is a mid-sized commercial architectural design firm that serves civic, corporate, healthcare, housing, industrial, and retail clients.
Stepping into professional life is all about learning and goal-setting
I am on a team of four designers, three of whom are architects. I report to my mentor, who is a senior interior designer, daily, and every week I report to my project manager who is an architect. Since my firm is made up of a few dozen employees, the studio is organized into two large teams made up of different roles, that then break out into different smaller teams based on the needs of a project. Getting to work with people who have different backgrounds than me has been a wonderful learning opportunity.
My first week was all about feeling out the company, the structure, the people, and its leadership. I spent time getting acquainted with the way the firm operates and started familiarizing myself with the scope of the work. I was pulled on a couple of projects, met a ton of people, and had my first client meeting. I attended quite a few lunch-and-learns and set up a time with my manager to go over my short-term and long-term career goals.
During my second week, I dove a bit deeper into everything. With the first two projects I worked on, I got to work directly with the partners of the firm. Getting to collaborate frequently with leadership is a unique opportunity to have as a young designer and makes you feel more comfortable with collaborating, talking, and presenting in front of others—especially with people who are in senior roles.
Detail, specify, notate, and repeat
In my third week, I dove even deeper into the projects I was assigned, utilizing Revit quite a bit. I attended an on-site Revit training session and learned new tricks from my mentor to “work smarter, not harder,” which I enjoyed. For the most part, I felt like school had prepared me for the “real world,” but of course real-world projects are more comprehensive than school projects. I realized that school projects left room for things to get swept under the rug, but especially working for an architecture firm, I’ve learned you can’t leave things up for interpretation. Detail, specify, notate, and repeat!
By my fourth week, I felt that I was getting the hang of things, even though I still felt very new. I began to understand what my role was, and what everybody else’s was too. During this first month, I used a lot of trash paper; sketched concepts; took on a lot of “redlines”; pulled finishes; called on reps; created many renderings utilizing Revit, Enscape, and Photoshop; and created presentations to help communicate my design to clients.
IIDA student programs provide growth opportunities during and after school
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “drinking out of a fire hydrant,” that’s essentially what my first month was like. My advice to future designers is to spend your first month absorbing all that you can—be a sponge. Ask a lot of questions, listen, be patient with yourself, and find a person you can confide in as you navigate this new terrain whether it’s a friend, co-worker, or mentor. Write down your goals and keep them visible so you can refer to them as a reminder of where you want to be, and what steps you are taking to get there.
Involve yourself with IIDA while in school (and after!), because it provides you with community and opportunity once you’re out of school. Join this year’s IIDA Student Mentoring Program! You could gain a mentor that can help guide you through landing your first job and act as a valuable connection to the professional design community.