Reflections On My Career

Posted August 31, 2016

Last week, I started a new job. The third of my professional career, and what appears to be the most serious and legitimate of them all. This is the job that will truly propel me into the second stage of my career journey, and I couldn’t be more excited. As I start to have some substantial meat on my resume, I can’t help but reflect on where I’ve been and the multitude of positions I’ve had. The most interesting part to me is looking back and seeing the life/workplace skills that I gained in the most random ways, the things I learned about myself, and the red flags I learned to avoid. What follows is a short description of each position I’ve had, in chronological order, and the valuable lessons I learned during my time there.

Caddie/Bag Room Attendant - The Minikahda Club
This is where it all started, and ended up lasting a decade. A decade. I could fill five pages with stories and thoughts on Minikahda, as it was a defining factor in my life in many ways. Starting at age 14, summers were spent at the caddyshack and lugging around heavy bags in the sweltering heat. While my friends biked around and spent entire days at the beach, I was “looping” each and every day. Sure, it was manual labor, and sure the caddymaster was the worst person in the word, but I had a generous flow of cold hard cash that lasted me just about until the next summer. It ended up netting me a full-ride scholarship to college too, so that was pretty good. Halfway through my tenure at the club, I gave up caddying and switched to being a part-time bag room worker. I highly recommend this. I would come in at 530pm and go straight to the driving range, where I spent an evening lazily driving the ball picker, while taking breaks to get stoned and have closest-to-the-pin challenges with my fellow coworkers. Every day that I didn’t work, I would still show up at 530, hit balls for an hour, then play 9 holes of golf by myself on one of the nicest courses in the city. Other perks included: free golf lessons, free golf equipment and unlimited networking opportunities. It was a good deal. I had to give it up after having a full-time job on top of it was just too much, but it’s safe to say I’ll never forget those years and the great friends I made there.

Skills gained: getting up early AF for work, saving money, schmoozing your “clients”, dealing with a terrible boss, a great short game and a tight draw.
Lessons learned: never let a bad boss get under your skin, being someone that everyone likes and respects at your workplace will benefit you in a million ways, never give up free golf. Seriously, don’t do it.

Bus-boy/Prep-chef - Pi Beta Phi Sorority
Being an Evans Scholar landed me a job with the best sorority chef on campus, who turned out to be a lifetime friend. Three to four days a week I would help prepare dinner and clean up after/do the dishes for 50 incredibly privileged college women. It was a great job. I got to eat good food and learn how to cook, and even got a few dates out of it. Plus, chef Kathy is a dear friend of mine to this day.

Skills gained: a solid foundation in basic cooking skills, how to stack plates as high as possible without it being dangerous, how to talk to girls who are out of your league. Lessons learned: if you work hard and show interest/care about what you do, your boss will notice and appreciate you that much more (and she will give you lots of free food).

Software/Marketing intern - Genus Technologies
Not too much to say about this one. I landed a summer internship with the company after caddying for a really nice guy and telling him how I was into coding. The job itself was basically just working on spreadsheets, and I shudder to think about why I didn’t automate the whole thing. Regardless, I worked hard and they loved me, and paid me some money even though it was supposed to be unpaid.

Skills gained: experience in a real office setting, good networking contacts.
Lessons learned: I really hate working in a cubicle, also anyone can be the person who can get you that next job, always be on the lookout.

IT Support Technician - University of Minnesota:
The epitome of a mediocre college job. I passed the interview with flying colors and worked the helpdesk for professors and grad students on the St. Paul campus. For a computer nerd there are some enjoyable parts of this job such as building computers, coworkers are all nerds, playing with new hardware. Alas, in reality the majority of things I did involved resetting passwords, installing Java updates, and getting chewed out by entitled professors about how slow we were to address their tickets. I did get free RAM for me and my friends out of it, though.

Skills gained: core computer hardware basics, ins and outs of ticketing systems, good customer service and patience.
Lessons learned: for some reason, genius professors with PHDs still have a hard time logging into their email.

SQA Intern - Pearson VUE
Arguably my first real job, I landed a summer internship at education giant Pearson, working in quality assurance for their notoriously awful testing software. Initially I was pumped; I was making a decent paycheck and Pearson is a household name for college students, but by the end of the summer it was a chore to make it to work on time. Every day I was writing test cases in a proprietary software language that nobody else in the world was using, and it quickly became painfully monotonous. My coworkers consisted of some old Java developers who knew their stuff, and complacent middle-aged QA testers including a woman who just played Facebook games all day. The interns teamed up for a slightly more interesting project halfway through the summer that was fairly rewarding, and I really liked a few of my fellow interns. In the end, the job mixed with a bad breakup, my jeep breaking down and a 45 minute commute, I hated it.

Skills gained: intro to version control, intro to a huge codebase, intro to SQL queries.
Lessons learned: I really hate cubicles, I never want to work for a huge corporation, I never ever want to become complacent.

Drupal Developer - TEN7 Interactive
My first job as a real developer. I became in-touch with my boss through a random connection and he liked me, so he hired me. At the time I had next to zero coding skills, but after a year I became a budding front-end ninja. TEN7 was great for me in many ways. Not only did it jump-start my career as a dev, the company had high coding standards as well as a very well defined and documented set of processes. This was an invaluable asset to my core code-writing skills, and something I will always have in the back of my mind. On top of that, it was a small “start-up” environment with some very smart people working there. In the end, I outgrew TEN7. My tasks and duties became repetitive and I was more than ready for the next step, the next challenge. At that moment, I left TEN7 and I left my hometown of Minneapolis at the same time.

Skills gained: level 1 front-end development, level 1 sysadmin, best practices, high code standards, communication with clients, a taste for good coffee.
Lessons learned: its okay to move on from a company you are close with if your career is ready, pay attention to leadership practices you don’t agree with and look out for them in the future.

I want to make a note here that my job search to move on from TEN7 was terribly long an arduous. I applied to 100+ jobs and made it late into interview processes many times.
Lessons I learned on the job search: every interview is a learning experience, never assume you’ve got the job until you have an offer (trust me), companies really appreciate efforts to learn/grow outside of your job, hit up a designer friend to make your resume nice looking (I did and received many compliments on it). Most importantly, you are interviewing them as much as they are you. Make sure you know what you want, and what you are looking for. Ask them about those things. It’s really easy to have the attitude “please give me a job, I just want a job”, but in reality taking a job that doesn’t align with what you value and want is worse than not taking it at all. (actually, I think I will write a whole post about interviewing).

Front-End/Full Stack Developer - 50,000feet
After becoming desperate in my job search, I ended up leveraging some help from a recruiter friend to land a job at this traditional agency. When I interviewed and toured the place, it was clean, modern, attractive, with Apple screens everywhere. My boss even picked me up from another interview to bring me in, they really wanted me! There was one problem: remember what I said about how you need to interview your interviewers as well? Well, this is something I failed to do. I was at the end of my rope in the job search and was feeling as desperate as can be. I saw a nice office, and a boss showing interest in me, I was ready to start the next day.

50k certainly was great for my own skills. Being on a small team while working on big projects causes us to wear many hats, so I was front-end, back-end and sysadmin on any given day. I even got to create a couple JavaScript applications that was terrific experience. Unfortunately, there were more problems at 50k than good things and my frustration led me to seek other employment. I don’t regret it one bit.

After a week of the new job, I can say with confidence that it’s my best one yet. My opportunities to grow are huge, and the company itself is amazing. It’s truly mind blowing how happy, motivated employees make for an exceptional work environment.

Thanks for reading :)

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