A career journey: from admin to landscape architecture

Louise Ball, Cardiff-based Senior Landscape Architect, celebrates 18 years with Tetra Tech this month. We swung by to chat with her about her career and how she got to where she is today.

Where did you picture your career going 20 years ago?

After completing my GCSEs, I had no other ambition than to get a job, so I worked at various retail stores aimlessly. It wasn’t until my mother suggested an office junior position at Wyn Thomas Gordon Lewis (acquired by WYG in 2005, which in turn was acquired by Tetra Tech in 2019) that I jumped at the chance to do something different. That got my foot in the door and I found I could learn about the organisation and industry from within, while attending college every Friday to obtain an NVQ in business administration.

How did you end up in landscape architecture?

I wanted to progress my career outside of admin, so I started speaking to different teams which intrigued me enough to spend time in various departments. The landscape team stood out to me – there was a breadth of variety and depth to the work and the drawings looked great.  None of it made sense, initially, but I felt comfortable there, so I started providing drawing support to senior staff as a Junior Technician, transferring hand-drawn material into a computer drawing. From there, I gradually moved up the ladder.

How have you changed professionally?

I’ve gone from being a junior member of staff to supporting landscape projects on multiple levels. I’m chartered now and make my own decisions, so I have greater responsibility, whereas attending a meeting ten years ago seemed like a nightmare. Now, I love meeting people and contribute to many team discussions. Working here has boosted my confidence and independence, and I owe a lot to my colleagues for sharing their knowledge about landscape architecture and the various drawing programmes and tools I rely on.

What are you working on these days?

Most of my time is spent on preparing landscape schemes for housing projects, so if clients need to secure planning permission, I step in. I’ve been proud to get more involved working with other disciplines at Tetra Tech, from architecture, planning and ecology, to engineering and project management. It’s rewarding to personally inspect sites and be taken out of the comfort zone. It’s a complete U-turn from how I started out, but it’s only when you’re older that you realise what you want to do.

A built scheme Louise supported in Waunheulog

Why is the landscape profession important to the future of society and the environment?

The work we do is to protect, conserve, and enhance the natural and built environment for the public benefit. We contribute to projects like residential developments, retail, schools, and energy schemes by preparing landscape strategies, detailed design proposals, landscape and visual impact assessments, etc. It’s important work that promotes better, healthier places, so we need to champion the profession and inspire more young people in schools.

What do you find challenging about your field?

The job constantly changes due to world events, various trends, economic downturns, etc., so you’re always adapting. During the recession, I had to quickly learn how to provide technical support to the planning team. It wasn’t easy, but I had a lot of drive and determination to get me to where I am today.

Why did you decide to become chartered?

I wanted to prove to myself and my clients that I’m good at what I do, but I didn’t have a degree to gain licentiate membership with the Landscape Institute. I knew I had the knowledge and experience, and luckily, they told me about a portfolio route. I followed up by sending the full range of my work to them and soon afterwards I became a member, which let me work towards and pass my chartership exam last year.

Two drawings by Louise (Pylands Lane scheme on the left and Broughton scheme on the right)

What are the benefits of being chartered?

It’s the highest training you can receive. From a client’s perspective, you’re more credible, and you have more career advancement opportunities. It’s a minimum of two years’ study and writing various logs and submissions to the Institute, and every three months you’re reviewed by a mentor. Once you’ve built up enough knowledge, you take the exam.

Before, I didn’t completely understand how the information I prepared fit into the planning system or other areas of landscape practice, such as environmental legislation or contract administration. But now I understand the full spectrum and how it fits with other disciplines, too.

What do you think makes Tetra Tech a great place to work?

Over the years, I feel the company has grown more vibrant and staff who I’ve worked with for years  are more like family to me now. There are lots of younger staff members bringing new ideas, which has helped to create a great atmosphere.

But the best part about Tetra Tech is that they support multiple pathways for growth. There’s no ceiling on it. I’ve always been given opportunities to do what I want to progress, which is how I became chartered.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a landscape professional?

You really do have to have passion and drive for what you’re doing and take every opportunity that’s available. If you don’t experiment, you can’t truly know what it is you enjoy doing.

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