Architecture and Basketball


You might ask, “Why do you have a picture of a crusty old basketball official on your architecture blog?”.  It’s a fair question.  To explain, we need to go back a few years.

I wasn’t very good at structures in college.   At least not to begin with.  Ironically, the structures courses for architects at KU were largely algebra based, and I had always loved algebra.  However, for some reason it just took a while to click with me.   There were four courses at KU, each a semester.  I took the first, found I wasn’t doing so well, dropped it, tried again the next semester & dropped it again.  I ended up taking it over the break in a intensive summer course with a class of about 8 people and knocked out the first two courses before August, with B’s in both.

“Well yes, but what does that have to do with the crusty old official?”

Well, that crusty old official is actually Dr. Thomas E. Mulinazzi, a very esteemed member of the Engineering faculty at KU and a volunteer scoring official at KU basketball home games. But, more importantly, Dr. Thomas E. Mulinazzi was my engineering school liaison advisor, and the man I had to go to as part of the formal process of withdrawing from my structures course when I dropped them originally.  I remember very clearly, talking to him that day.  He had made it a point to be very stern and disapproving about the whole thing.  At the time I thought that, as an engineer, he was just delighting in dishing it out to an architecture student.  In retrospect, I rather think he was just being a good advisor, trying to keep me on track, even if I do disagree with the method.

What he said stuck with me, however (it’s been a few years, so I’m paraphrasing):

“Are you sure you want a ‘W’ on your transcript?  I would never hire a prospective employee that had withdrawn from a course.  It shows you can’t finish things.  You’re not going to succeed in the real world if you can’t finish things,”

Now, this isn’t me looking back and shooting him a big “Well I proved you wrong Dr. Mulinazz!” (ok…maybe a little) but it is a curious bit of reflection for me on the disconnect between university life and the real workplace.

I’m interviewing prospective hires constantly, and it is the very rare exception that puts their GPA on their resume, much less provides their actual transcript.  There’s a good reason for that — no one cares.  Architecture is far more about what you can do than what you can’t.

I’ve recently had this crystallized for my in the form of non architect friend who lost his job and has been set on the daunting task of looking for a new one.  In the vast majority of instances, resumes at many companies are filtered through a litany of computer software searching keywords in an attempt to find any reason to exclude applicants from consideration. Fortunately, architecture is not (by and large) this way for one reason — the portfolio.

A well constructed portfolio of good content can make up for a whole host of poor decisions or shortcomings in college or past work history.  It is a perfect medium for the promotion of what an applicant can do, not what they can’t.  It provides examples of why a person should be included in your organization, not reasons why they should be excluded.  Sure, some portfolios are hard to discern, others are [not intentionally, mind] a misrepresentation of the applicant’s true skill, but all are an amazing glimpse inside of a person.

So, I’d just like to take a brief moment to note, Dr. Mulinazz, that if you or any prospective employer had judged me based on what I couldn’t do, instead of what I could do, you’d have missed the opportunity to work with one hell of an architect.


01 2013