Is a Lighting Career a Journey or a Destination?

In the “Emerging Professionals” column appearing in the March issue of LD+A, Kacie Stigliano writes about the career-path decisions younger lighting professionals face once they enter the industry. An excerpt follows:

The lighting industry brings together artistic creativity, technical engineering, scientific aptitude and business savvy to create one exciting entity. Now that we’re here, how do we determine where we want to go? The lighting industry is unusual in that most of the professionals have incredibly diverse educational backgrounds and job experience. The multitude of firms and positions ranges from product design, project integration, controls and engineering, to design consulting and energy management. This explosion of career paths dates back to the 1930s, when Richard Kelly became recognized as one of the first lighting consultants; until then, the industry had been comprised of scientists and inventors. By the end of the 20th century, however, the lighting industry had become an established branch of the architectural design industry and attracted professionals with backgrounds in architecture, theatrical design, engineering and fine arts.

For those entering the workforce, the goal, naturally, is to get a job associated with the degree they obtained in school. But once that goal is achieved how does one direct their career? As young professionals, we receive advice from different mentors and established professionals. Their advice can be contradictory, such as “Know where you want to go, and you’ll get there regardless of the route you take” and “It is not the destination but the path that matters.” Both approaches can be successful, but for either to work emerging professionals must do all they can to learn about the opportunities the lighting industry has to offer.

To do this, one must get involved. By attending lectures, programs, conferences, industry events and manufacturer’s trips, Emerging Professionals gain exposure to established professionals’ experiences, advice and particular areas of expertise. The topics at a lighting conference can range from an Underwriters Laboratories representative explaining how the UL label was created for the very first LED luminaire, to a lobbyist who works throughout the country to assist with legislation on lighting-related matters. There are so many industries which architectural lighting affects, and it is easy to discover new avenues to take if you are in the right place. Most lighting professionals did not start out in the positions they currently hold, but used their experiences along the way to build the platform of knowledge that they stand on today.

The cross pollination of backgrounds and experience within the industry is what made it grow in the second half of the 20th century and it continues to make the industry more robust. Who could be a better sales rep for a manufacturer than the engineer who designed the system? Who could better offer insight into fixture design/engineering than a lighting consultant who has dealt with all the obstacles a construction site can offer and understand architectural intent? The possibilities of where one can go within this industry are endless.

THINK BROADLY
The challenge is to not be afraid of taking a chance. At the beginning of a career, different positions and roles should be explored in order to gain experience and determine what you like and do not like. As much as possible, try working on different teams and project types. Gaining a variety of experiences will help reveal where we want to arrive, and those experiences will help get us there. As Emerging Professionals begin their careers, they should take advantage of the industry events that are available. These events can help us discover new paths, perspectives or relationships that may lead to an unexpected career choice.

April 2015