Library Book Cataloger at a university library, September 2006-May 2007:
I spent about 10 hours a week my freshman year cataloging newly acquired books in a cubicled, fluorescent-lit, linoleum-tiled 70s-era wing of the otherwise breathtakingly gorgeous main library. I would grab books from a big pile, scan them in, classify them, and then place them in new piles; I have no idea what happened to the books before or after my work. The highlight of my year was the week I had to catalog an enormous collection of smutty chapbooks about transvestites. On my last day, the two full-time employees in the next cubicle admitted that they’d admired my outfits all year and wish they’d said something sooner. I felt ready for a more dynamic, involved job.
Programming Intern at a small tech company, June-July 2007:
I failed to get an exciting computer science internship at Microsoft for the summer, so back I went to Oklahoma, my home state. Fortunately, the tech consulting firm of a family friend hired me as a part-time paid intern, and for two confusing months I walked to the office park about mile from my childhood home and pretended that I knew something about programming in C#, a weird, Microsoft-y variant of the C++ programming language. It was my first experience with client work, and my first experience in reading New York Times articles while I was supposed to be on the clock.
Undergraduate computer repair tech, September 2007-May 2009:
At the end of my freshman year, I had applied for the highly coveted job of student tech, to be started the next fall. It was kind of like joining a cult: you got to come to campus a few days early for training in hard drive replacement and the customer service ticketing system before the rush of wireless router setup that the first days of school brought on, you got access to all kinds of special screwdrivers and spare parts and data recovery software, and everyone looked up to you because you alone could save someone when he spilled a cup of coffee all over his brand-new PC. (It also paid even better than the university’s already-cushy campus minimum wage.) I loved helping people with their laptops and routers and printers, although sadly most of my skills are now moot because we all have Macs, which you can’t just open up willy-nilly.
Hilariously enough, though, I was not rehired for a third year at this job: I was late for shifts too often, I occasionally let open tickets go too long without updating, and a complaint had been filed about me when I apparently over-briskly told an administrative assistant at my residential college that calling my personal phone when her printer wasn’t working wasn’t the right way to report problems. I was ashamed at being let go, obviously, but I already had a summer job lined up and knew that it could easily parlay into a new, and better-suited, job for my senior year. In retrospect, I appreciate that it happened this way — everyone should get fired once! It’s a great, fast way to teach a young person that she is not a special snowflake who is above the rules.
Farm intern at a campus farm, May-September 2009:
My university has a “campus farm” — really a one-acre market garden — that takes its produce to the local farmers’ market, sponsors events, etc. Every summer, six students are given a $3000 fellowship to work full-time on the farm for 14 weeks, and I surprised all my friends and family my junior year (after all, I was a computer science/art history major who never exercised and stayed up too late) when I applied and was accepted for it. I’m totally incapable of staying calm when I talk about that summer. It was a dream! I woke up at 6 every morning, reported to the farm by 8am sharp, performed physical labor until 5pm, walked home, showered off the dirt, made dinner from produce I had planted and harvested, and then was in bed by 10pm, sometimes earlier. I got ridiculously tan and muscled; I grew extremely close to my fellow farm interns; I started and finished Infinite Jest in my spare time. I realized for the first time that, even though I wasn’t likely to work directly in agriculture after that summer, there was a life for me outside of computer science.
Communications Intern at a campus farm, September 2009-May 2010:
The farm internship was magical, but I knew my continuing interests lay more in writing and editorial work than agriculture. My senior year I applied to be a communications intern for the farm’s parent organization, which mostly involved writing posts for the student blog about food and farm work, putting up posters for weekly events, and sending the farm’s newsletter. I knew in the back of my head that I was supposed to be thinking about jobs after graduation, so I was thrilled to put that off when my manager asked me to step into her role for the summer as she went on maternity leave.
Communications Coordinator at a campus farm + Website Consultant at a museum, May-August 2010:
I cobbled together two jobs for my first summer as a working adult: one day a week I’d report to the education department of a museum on campus to help them “figure out how to reorganize their website.” (I did not know at the time that the word for this was “information architecture”!) The remaining four days of the week, I filled in for my former manager: sending the summer newsletter, preparing materials on courses in food and agriculture for the coming year, getting that summer’s farm interns to write blog posts, writing the annual report. I initially found working in an office full-time to be exhausting: eight hours of sitting down, yet somehow I was both hungry and sleepy all the time! I spent my free time obsessing for too long about applying to too few jobs, almost entirely at food organizations — in light of my previous summer on the farm and just generally being tired of computer science after four years of classes, I had decided to play down my tech experience.
Assistant Marketing Coordinator at an architecture firm: 12 days in September 2010:
In the end, I found a job with weeks to go before I had to move out of my room in my college town. An acquaintance posted on Facebook about her friend who was looking for someone to replace her at her job. I applied and a few days later, I was that someone. I shuffled all my stuff to a friend’s empty room in New York and reported for work, which mostly involved pasting assets into InDesign for project proposals. The architects were distant and mean (I’ve written before about how one of them called us “retarded”), the job was boring despite its reasonable hours, and I was overqualified. I felt panicky about how wrong it felt for me to be there; when I called my mom to complain most days after work, she stoically repeated that the only recourse was to stay a year and then see what else I could find.
Information architect at a small design firm: September 2010-December 2012:
Earlier in the summer, I had sent a ballsy, short cover letter (while sitting at my kitchen table after dinner angsting about the future) to a design firm that my former manager at the campus farm had once worked with. One of the partners emailed back the next day admiring my gall but regretting that they couldn’t hire anyone at the moment. I wrote her again during my short stint at the architecture firm and learned that they’d just signed a new client who would require expanding their team: I was in, never mind that my only real information architecture experience had been in that one-day-a-week job at the museum, and never mind that as of two months ago I had been set on a career in food. By the end of the week I left the architecture firm, and I still don’t feel bad about it.
I stayed there for a year and a half and loved it: I worked with two mind-numbingly enormous corporations, a medium-sized museum or two, and several boutique brands. I designed databases and websites, wrote copy, attended endless meetings. After my purely academic and generally grueling training in computer science, working at a job that actually applied those skills made me love it again. But (there’s always a but) I was freelance for the entire first year I was there — I only got paid for client hours, which rarely added up to 8 hours per day. Although eventually I was hired full-time, I knew there weren’t enough new clients coming in to keep me busy forever, and I didn’t feel like waiting around until I was finally let go. I started looking for jobs.
Assistant editor at a food website, January-November 2012:
I was looking at Twitter at work one day when I saw an agent who represents a lot of cookbook authors tweet about a job opening at a food website I read sometimes. I decided to apply — why not — and I sent in an admittedly pretty wacky cover letter about my experience working on the college farm, my food blog, and the duck roulade I was going to cook the next day for Thanksgiving. The next day my former boss at the farm texted me to say that the CEO of the website had called her about me; the day after that I got an email asking for an interview; two days after my interview (a week after applying), I got an offer. (Lesson: always read Twitter at work!?) I gave notice at the design firm and took December off (as per Choire’s advice) before starting.
But in the end I stayed there less than a year! When I accepted their offer I thought a lot about how I was flip-flopping yet again, this time from a tech job back to a food one. There was a lot to enjoy about working there: the site itself, the fact that we spent one day a week cooking and eating furiously in the test kitchen, and that I got to write (among many other things!) a column about weird vegetable facts. In the end, though, I found that my brain itched for a more technical job than the one I had, so I decided to move on.
What was clear to me by then was that while I knew I’d keep writing and cooking in my free time, I wouldn’t necessarily be making websites unless it was my job — it finally crystallized for me that working primarily in tech but moonlighting in my other interests was what made the most sense long-term.
Developer at a startup, May 2013-present:
I didn’t have anything lined up when I left! I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, even — IA/UX, like before? Programming? I spent a long time putting together a portfolio website of my work that I have since taken down, and I attended a UX resume-review event that I left after the first industry person to review my resume told me to make up better job titles for all my jobs. I applied for a lot of positions at both corporate-y places and startups, obsessively tracking when they visited my portfolio website. That kind of thing.
About a month into my unemployment, a friend introduced me to the CEO of a startup that makes apps for magazines. I went over and spent a few hours sitting with him, just chatting. I had no expectations — I talked about why I had left my last job, about how I wanted to get better at programming, about our various common acquaintances. Several meetings (and several months) later, I got an offer to work at that same startup as a developer. It’s been a year now, almost to the day, and I’m happy with the work I’m doing and what I’m learning. I’ve also written just a little but cooked a lot in the past year — a balance with which, so far, I feel completely satisfied.
Nozlee Samadzadeh is a developer at 29th Street Publishing.