Career switch lessons: from Architect to Digital Marketer

I was having drinks with a friend whom worked in HR, in which we were discussing the future of careers and how we’re essentially entering into a jobless economy.

Although I’ve been leaning towards this concept for a long time, the trend was really validated when I recently attended a talk by law-firm director Jeff Dennis on the landscape of VC funding in Canada. He said to the room of eager-eyed start-up entrepreneurs, “people in your generation need to figure out how to be self-sufficient and secure in a jobless economy, where soon tasks and employees will be replaced by robots.” Coming from a well-respected lawyer, one of the most traditional & longstanding careers in our country, that wa saying something. Jeff recognized the trajectory early on (as early as the 80’s), becoming a serial entrepreneur and now investing in start-ups across the continent.

Essentially, the traditional path of obtaining an education, securing a good job, working your way up in a career, and staying in on one industry, is dead. Or atleast, soon will be.

Instead, people are pivoting. They’re eschewing the 9-5 in favour of working for themselves, within whatever schedule works for them in order to live a more fufilled life of freedom.

Myself included.

How it all started

I began my career in architecture. Fresh outta architecture school (arguably the most gruelling program in the entire formal education system), I had tunnel vision entering my first job. It was at the largest architecture firm in the country, and I was the youngest to have ever been on their payroll. (I wasn’t even legal drinking age yet, and prayed that I wouldn’t get carded every time my colleagues and I went out for after-work drinks for fear of my actual age being exposed). I quickly had to learn the real-life ropes of what working in the industry was actually like, compared to the creative almost art-like studio courses I was used to.

I continued working there over the course of 5 years. Given the substantial size of the firm, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a wide variety of project types from commercial to transit to residential, and even worked on some fun cultural proposals. I learnt an incredible amount from project bidding & proposal submission, to state-of-the-art designing programs & the construction process, and made some really great friends there.

As time ticked away, however, the reality of the industry and the career I had chosen started to sink in. All I had to do was take one look around at the desks next to me to see exactly where I would be in 10, 20, hell even 50 years from now. There were guys in their 70s – even 80s – still showing face! (Note: I say “guys” because the traditional realm of architecture that those order colleagues once entered was an incredibly male-dominated profession, so there are few women ready to retire.) And while that may have served them well, it was a stark realization for myself that was not whom I wanted to become.

Around this same time, I read Tim Ferris’ infamous book The 4-Hour Work Week. It needs no introduction, since its garnered a cult following and has been dubbed the 21st century business bible. It was a blueprint on how to become remote and earn passive income allowing you to live from anywhere and work minimally. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the entire notion of minimal work hours from a laptop on a remote beach somewhere, it was completely eye-opening and solidified the idea that I did not want to sit at a desk slogging away on someone else’ dream for the rest of my life, as opposed to my own, and on my own schedule.

So I quit. I packed up my shit. And I moved to a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. I physically forced myself out of my suffocating situation, to try my hand at starting something for myself.

lesson 1:

leap. Sometimes, you need to completely remove something from your life in order to create space for something else to enter it, even if that something isn’t apparent yet.

Career v2.0

Prior to the move, I started freelancing as a graphic designer on the side. Part of the issue of becoming an architect (and what prevents people from leaving the profession) is it’s all you know. Every course you take in school is pre-determined for you, tailored to specifics of the industry with little exposure to anything else. You do your entire undergraduate program alongside the exact same classmates in every single course for four years. So when you graduate, there is not much else you’ve been exposed to, as other undergraduate program students may have been via their multi-disciplinary electives. Architecture is all you know. Furthermore, you have dedicated years of actual blood, sweat, and tears to a program that has likely significantly impaired your health and possibly even shaved years off your life (think multiple all-nighters a week, but everyone is doing it so that’s normal right?). Talk about a fucked-up institution.

My point is, architecture is its own little bubble, and it’s hard to get out simply because you don’t have much knowledge or skills in anything else. I found lots of what we did as students in architecture school was kind of like glorified graphic design. Every assignment was accompanied by a presentation that had to be visually stunning. Except we were all self-taught. I’d put an Architecture students Adobe Creative Suite abilities up against that of a Graphic Design student’s any day. Coupled with our abilities to think and draw three-dimensionally, and you have a unique approach to design that could lend an upperhand in any marketing campaign.

So, graphic design was a natural progression. I started taking on freelance clients, developing their branding identity designing logos, book covers, web elements, social profiles, and various brand collateral. I loved it, and found it extremely fulfilling as a creative outlet.

lesson 2:

if [insert whatever profession you do] is all you know, learn something else on your own. Start with transferable skills, and build upon those.

A blog is born

By this time, I was living the expat life in Malta – that tiny European island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. My family and friends were curious as to what I was up to, and with frequent trips throughout Europe, I was eager to share my adventures. Being a visual person, a photography-based blog seemed like the ideal way to capture the beautiful moments I was experiencing. I launched an Architect Abroad in October of 2014, while living a stint in Ukraine. I had a lot of cool things to share, and finally had a platform that fulfilled all of my creative desires!

The brand gained momentum and eventually I was being frequently asked about travel tips, my outfit deets, recipe shares, and more from complete strangers. Not only did it provide me a platform to share my varied interests and build a personal brand, it allowed me to experiment with social media strategies and pinpoint what was working for me.

lesson 3:

start a “side hustle”. while you’re friends are getting wasted, use that time to build something worhwhile.

Career 3.0

When we eventually moved back to Malta, I had to get a job. The one-off freelance projects were just not sustainable. By this point I had built up my graphic design portfolio with enough experience to warrant a professional position doing such, without necessarily a direct education pertaining to it. My clients were all within the health & wellness space – a serious passion of mine, and a niche I carved out for myself – and so I easily secured a position within a similar vertical for the largest spa & weight loss company in the country.

I also negotiated the fuck outta them from the get-go (if you are currently applying & interviewing for positions I highly recommend Ramit Sethi’s course from I Will Teach You to be Rich of Find Your Dream Job). I positioned myself from a point of authority from the onset, and by doing so, I commanded respect that continued througout my role at the company.

I worked my way within the umbrella company redesigning all their brand collateral, establishing new practices, implementing innovative ideas, and eventually with the success of my campaigns, I was promoted to Marketing Manager.

Now, I know this is not a traditional trajectory. I MADE it such. I took on projects beyond my job description’s scope, and ensured that every project was seriously successful with proven ROI reporting directly to all stakeholders. I proved my worth on a tight leash, so imagine what I could do when given more responsibility? I made the decision for them a no-brainer.

lesson #4:

go above and beyond. push the envelope of your job’s container. if you don’t ask, the answer is always a no.

Experience trumps Education (IMO)

After a couple more years of experience in marketing under my belt, we made the move back home to Toronto. After living in Europe for so long, I had collected so much cool content and had accumulated a healthy loyal blog audience. I was working incessantly on the brand, but wasn’t seeing a payoff in terms of dollars.

So, I found myself once again looking for a position, but this time specifically in digital marketing, with the hopes of trying my hand at an agency. I wanted to explore multiple verticals and work alongside a talented team and be exposed to different projects. It was not easy, and I was losing hope in the daily uninspiring slog that is job hunting. Finally, I was connected to an agency through a mutual friend. I went in for a meet and greet, without any particular position in mind, and we all hit it off.

The company not only admired my transition from architecture to design to marketing, but they saw my own personal brand, an Architect Abroad, as an asset. This was hugely refreshing (and frankly, relieving), as I no longer had to separate my side passion project from my day job. Instead, it was seen to go hand in hand with what my full-time career would be. A position at the agency opened up, I was a perfect fit, and once again, negotiated my way through the contract signing process. Remember – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Soon I was working on really interesting multi-faceted projects with clients that spanned various industries tailored to my interests from travel to wine, fashion to fitness. I was starting to feel as if I was doing exactly what I was meant to be working on, and it showed through my work.

lesson #5:

only once you are able to share all aspects of your varied interests, will you be satisfied enough to enjoy it.

The blog rebrand

Having no longer been living abroad (nor working as an architect), I feared my brand an Architect Abroad was misleading and no longer sustainable. I struggled with this for a long time. I did not know which direction to take it, and was even considering just letting it go. With not much travel plans in the foreseeable future, I was feeling uninspired and lost.

no lesson here.

just a reminder that we all go through periods of utter uncertainty.

Where I currently am

After working at the agency for a year and a half, I went fully freelance. I now consult as a Digital Strategist under my own sole proprietorship. I gained unprecedented freedom and flexibilty in both my career and schedule. For the first time in my life, I could truly work from anywhere.

So I did.

On a whim, I decided to temporarily relocate to Portugal this past Fall. I had some friends living there, and was able to flatshare with one of them. The experience was incredible, and I’ll spare you the potential jeaoulsy-inspiring details, but it surpassed my wildest dreams. I came back to Toronto with a completely new outlook on life. And I even had my next trip already booked only a few weeks later – to Asia for my very first time no less! Which was also a super cool experience. So cool, in fact, that I am going back again in a few weeks time!

This is my current life. The one I’ve only dreamed of sitting at my desk at the architecture firm, wondering to myself is this was it.

No, Cassie, it definitely was not.

There was so much more in store for you.

final lesson:

Nothing is “it.”

Unless you make it so.

cassie drake, architect abroad

'Career switch lessons: from Architect to Digital Marketer' has 2 comments

  1. February 17, 2019 @ 2:14 am Dimitra

    Wow, this is so AH-MAZING! What a journey it has been for you. I admire you for taking a chance on yourself. You have given me some really great tips as I am also looking for a new job but also thinking of how and what to do with my blog as I really love it but don’t get much engagement. Thank you for this eye opener. Thank you for being YOU! Xx

    D , xo


    • May 6, 2019 @ 10:24 am Cassie Drake

      Thank you Dimitra! It was a big leap but has definitely paid off 🙂


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