Factory Hand at a Dog Food Factory, November 2006 – February 2007:
In the months between finishing high school and starting an architecture degree my mother found me a job at a dog food factory. It came through family friends of a woman whose son I played sport with and I had no direct contact with anyone who worked there until I arrived at 6am the next Monday. In the weeks that followed I spend my mornings packing dogrolls into bags, stacking the bags on pallets, wrapping them with large rolls of cellophane and pulling them around on a pallet jack. In the afternoons I soaked severed pigs ears in a 2% smoke solution and laid them out on wire racks before sliding them into an industrial oven. One day the mincer at the other end of the factory broke and a smaller one was brought in. I spend that day pushing offal down the small hole with a broom handle and drove home that evening with my face and neck splattered in blood.
Draftsman, Architect’s Office, November 2007 – February 2008:
The summer afterward, I found a job in an architect’s office after posting letters to every architecture firm in my small hometown asking for one. The boss told me when I started that my pay would go up once I settled in and began producing drawings quicker. I never did get much quicker, however, and my pay never did go up, although I heard years later of suspected gambling debts and unpaid contractors so perhaps that was a factor.
Lab Technician, Dairy Giant, November 2008 – February 2009 & November 2009 – February 2010:
For the two summers afterwards I abandoned the idea of study-related employment and worked for the nation’s dairy giant, testing the fat content of various dairy products in a chemistry lab. A friend’s entire family worked there and they organized for me to have an interview. In this interview I was asked to relate experiences from my short life to hypothetical work situations I never came close to encountering. They also asked me to put a dozen sample bags of cheese in the correct order based on their numeric barcodes. I would be surprised, I was told, but some people struggled. I received a call offering me the job before I had driven halfway home.
Research Assistant, Psychology Study, November 2011:
Thanks to the generous wages afforded by a company monopolizing a nation’s dairy industry, I never worked during the school year, except for a single day, done mostly as a favor. My girlfriend at the time was studying clinical psychology and her department was in need of extra research assistants. The study itself consisted of taking a group of eight year olds through a series of interactive, health-related exercises involving ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ touches. The goal being to see what they would recall unprompted two months later and calling into question the techniques currently used by authorities when interviewing sexually-abused minors. The whole experience was terrifying and perhaps the single most stressful workday I’d ever had, although I heard later that the children said nice things about me in the interviews and my name was the only one they remember.
Digitization Technician, National Radio, March – June, 2012:
After graduating with a Masters’ in February of 2012, I had half-hearted plans to tutor architecture paper, slowly put together a portfolio, and do all the thing I had previously been too busy to do. However, the courage to email any lectures eluded me until a week before the academic year started, at which point they had all the people they needed. So I applied for any job listed that looked easy and did not require me to design anything and then justify it. After a month and a dozen applications I found a position through a temp agency. The interview consisted of me telling them which shift I preferred: 7am-3pm or 3pm-11pm and I choose the latter. A radio station was digitizing their collection of 117,000 CDs and the job involved loading one into each of the four slots at my station and hitting go. I read two or three books a week and went to happy hour at the bar down the road during my dinner break. It was the best job I’ve ever and I wish I still had it. One evening our boss brought in his two replica Lightsabers, turned off the lights in the break room and encouraged us to go play with them. The only tense moment in an otherwise idyllic and sadly short three months was when he scolded a girl after catching her fast forwarding through the opening animation of Game of Thrones on her laptop.
Data Repairer, Government Department, July – December 2012:
I still had not finished putting together a portfolio, was skeptical of architecture as a career, and the building industry had not quite recovered from the recession so instead, with my new-found ‘data entry’ experience I quickly got another job through a temp agency at a Government Department. The interview involved a typing test and questions about how I would deal with confidential information. The job consisted solely of checking and correcting information scanned for passport applications. There were daily quotas to meet and spreadsheets of everyone’s output from the day before were passed around each morning. Everyone was on a month-to-month contract and each month a few of the slowest were let go. The only joy were the names, of which I still have lists (Balthazar Bongman, Fedora Marks, Suk Dong, Cash Minute, Gaye Topless, Pagan Kale, Hiscock, Hercock, Cockshott, etc.). After six months I was let go, three weeks before Christmas, mostly it was a relief. My speed was good but I made too many errors they said. I once wrote Cunsford Street as Cuntsford Street.
Data Entry Specialist, Health Insurance Company, January – June, 2013:
With even more ‘data entry’ experience, I got another job through a third temp agency in the new year working for a health insurance company as a ‘Data Entry Specialist’. It was amazing how similar all three interviews were and how they only seemed like a formality, although the agency offices got nicer each time and my interview technique more professional. The assignment was for three weeks and I did all the work in two days but they noticed I knew how to use a computer and decided to keep me around until I found the architecture position I gave the impression I was passionate about finding. Soon I had developed a new system for storing all their client information. I wore a blazer and took international conference calls, although a good part of each day was spent reteaching older employees how to use Excel and trying to prevent them from messing up my new system.
Graduate Architect, Architect’s Office, June 2013 to Present:
While working the last two temp jobs I had put together a portfolio and was mailing them out in large numbers to every architecture firm that looked interesting or tolerable or as though they might hire someone like me. In the end, I wrote more than 50 individual cover letters, spent a couple hundred dollars printing portfolios, and received only a handful of actual rejections and one lone interview.
I said I had a doctor’s appointment, took the bus to the suburbs, and spent the majority of the interview explaining pages of pretty and unbuildable architectural drawings to a disinterest and musky smelling boss. I had not heard anything after a week and emailed inquiring. A few hours later I received a formal offer, which felt like it never would have come had I not made the first move. I have been here for nine months. I hear we are the cheapest firm in town, our building looks like it might fall down, and my boss possesses some of the worst teeth and hair I’ve ever seen. A colleague in close proximity breathes loudly, frequently farts, regularly burns his gluten-free bread in the toaster beside his desk and has recently gotten into arrhythmic desk drumming. Nevertheless, I feel okay arriving each morning and leaving each evening; it feels good to say I’m working as an architect and I have learned a lot despite not having yet unearthed any real passion.
I plan to resign in three months and move to Berlin for a year. My great-uncle’s estate left me enough during my last year at university that I can do this without really needing to work while there. I wanted a year of professional architecture experience before I left so I am only a year and a half behind schedule. I’m unsure what I’ll do when I get back, although I do know I’d rather draw old buildings than design new ones. In any case, I’m hopeful it won’t take 50 portfolios and a year a half of looking to get another job doing what I borrowed $35,000 and spent five years studying to become qualified to do.
DG Anderson is a graduate architect and artist living in Wellington, New Zealand. His work can be found here: http://cargocollective.com/dg-anderson