Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Topical Tuesday

Colin at Topical Tuesday says

This week’s topic is about the first job you had. No matter how big or small, it was a job. It was possibly a job that hardly paid your rent. It might have been a job that defined your future career. Whatever it was, the time has come to share with the world the intimidation, excitement and your story of your first adventure in the grown up world of money-making.

As is usual with this kind of thing...I have three answers.

"Three?" you say with some well-deserved incredulity.

Sure. The first job I ever had that I got paid for was a summer job for the State of Hawaii. The official title was "Student Summer Hire," I think, but if you think of it as a paid internship, you wouldn't be too far off the mark. Basically, you apply for the job and they put you pretty much wherever. I did this for four years and never worked the same office twice.

That first summer, I worked at the State Department of Health, Communicable Disease Division. My supervisor was named Alvina, and she was really cool. I was one of three or possibly four student hires that year--two guys, George and Glenn, plus one girl. She may have actually been a full-timer; her name was either Mary Ellen or Maria Elena, depending on who was talking to her. There were probably a couple of other people, but since I was basically a glorified assistant secretary, I stuck with the secretaries.

All I can remember doing is filing. Lots and lots of filing. I guess nobody really likes filing, which kind of creates a problem when you're looking for a particular item. Also, there was copying involved. I liked the photocopy machine, mostly because it gave me a chance to get out of the office and upstairs to the copy room--it's the simple pleasures, I guess.

Also, I learned Wordstar. At least, I think it was Wordstar. We collaborated, under the noms de plume "Baghwan Booblakahn" and "John Cheever Steinbeck Smith," on an elaborate story filled mostly with foul puns. I believe I still have that story somewhere.

Minor note of trivia: Glenn ended up transferring from Purdue to Grinnell.

So that was the first job I ever had. But depending on my thought process, I sometimes don't count that as a real job. I was still living at home, and those four summer jobs (DOH, Department of Accounting and General Services, Department of Business and Economic Development, and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands) were really just time-killers between school years. Also, I was working to earn money for plane tickets. I may also have had to pay for textbooks, but I don't remember.

My first job out of college was one I took out of desperation. We had just moved here, and pickings were unsurprisingly very slim for someone with an undergraduate degree in German and four summers of basic secretarial work. I tried to pick up work as a secretary, but never got a call. So I went to a temp agency to try to get placed as a temp. Nothing, even though I type somewhere north of 80wpm, can answer the telephone, make copies and file.

"I have something I'm desperate to fill," the temp agency person told me when she called me a few days after telling me she didn't have anything. "It's only two days, and it's light industrial work."

Turns out it was working for one of the State's print shops, loading something into some machine so that the machine could do something. Yeah, I know, it's pretty vague. This was a second-shift job: eight hours of "pick up bale, cut open bale, load paper into hopper, repeat."

I had to wuss out of the second day. I could barely get out of bed, and there was no way I was lifting that shit again. I never even got paid for the eight hours I did, and I totally didn't care.

But I don't really count that as a first job either. How can you count something that you only did for a day? real first job out of school, the first one that mattered, that I got all by myself and that I actually used to pay bills, was working for The Music Store Which Shall Not Be Named. I started at $5.25 an hour, processing outbound orders. I cannot think of a single good thing to say about the three years I worked there, other than that it was A Job and I needed A Job. (I did work with a couple of good people, but by and large the store was populated by vapid assholes. As an example...we figured out how to program the function keys on our terminals so that we could reduce a bunch of data entry to a single keystroke. "You don't look like you're working," was what we heard from management. Not, "Hey great, what a time-saver.")

I'm still bitter about that place. I can't even set foot into it, so I'm really glad that we got a Guitar Center in town. Even if it did (probably) shut down at least one local music store, possibly two.

Out of all of this, I've taken a few huge lessons.

First: I had an intern of my own this summer, and, drawing on my experience as a summer hire, my first goal was to make sure not to give that intern bottom-drawer shit work. I tried to put him on several different teams to give him a taste of what working in software development is really like, and I hope I succeeded.

Second: I remember what my managers at The Music Store were like, and every now and then I try to make sure that I, as a manager, am the polar opposite of all of them. Well, almost all--I did have one good one for a short while, and I really think that it was his recommendation that helped me get my job at The School District. (He also asked me the best question I've ever heard in my entire life. Speaking about The Music Store, he asked me point-blank "What the hell are you doing here?")

Third, and most important: when I look at resumes, I don't automatically set aside people with no degree and no experience. Someone took a chance on me, and I was able to get out of The Music Store and into The School District. Someone else took a chance on me, and I was able to get out of The School District and into Persoft. I have a responsibility to pay that forward.


  • Great post. It looks like you got a lot out of your not so good experiences.

    I totally agree with you. Someone without a degree or work experience deserves to get a decent place in a company. People can surprise you with how much they give back when they are treated with respect and are not pushed aside for the already accomplished people. They appreciate their manager and job more this way. I know I would too.

    By Anonymous Colin Brooks, at 6:34 AM  

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