Q&A: Qianqian Cai '13, Senior Architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Feb. 22, 2019

Qianqian Cai
Qianqian shares what drove her to a career as an architect and advice she has for students breaking into the field. 
What does Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) do?

SOM is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering and urban planning firms in the world.

Since its founding more than 80 years ago, SOM has earned a reputation for design excellence with a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries. SOM has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm’s long-standing leadership in design and building technology has been honored with nearly 2,000 awards for quality, innovation and management.

One of the most valuable experience I gained at SOM is the opportunity to collaborate with talented professionals from different disciplines–urban planning, structural engineering, MEP and civil engineers, as well as interior designers. To brainstorm a project together from different perspectives helps form a more integrated and higher quality design.

What experiences did you consider to be most valuable to prepare for a career? 

For me, internships are incredibly valuable experiences. It’s a great opportunity to get know the culture and working environment of a company and offers great exposure for you in the company and start to building professional relationships. Many SOM interns return as full-time employees thanks to the skills and expertise learned during their internship.

What advice do you have for a student contemplating a career in your field? 

Architecture is a service profession and it can take years for professionals to gain and master technical skills–a commitment that requires both time and money. The good news is that basic business skills and leadership skills can be acquired quickly through an active approach. These technical skills are essential for young professionals looking to succeed