Firsts and Worsts

I’ve been finding myself reading a lot of blogs these days.  What I find interesting, is what kind of posts I respond to.  I find the conversations on “firsts” and “worsts” fun, they make me smile and remember and then they make me glad I’m past it.

Laurie recently posted a worst interview and Gretchen posted a look back at her first Onboarding experience in a “real” job.  Then yesterday, a collegue asked me the age old question, “tell me again how exactly did you get into Tech, Meg?“, which I’m sure he intended to be a compliment, on just how wise I am in the ways of my job, and thus a blog post was born.

Let me first say, that I have been receiving a formal paycheck since the age of fourteen and have had all kinds of horrible (and some not so horrible) jobs prior to (and during) college.  Like most I didn’t think they really “counted”, since they were not “real” jobs.  They were ways to make money. 

After college, is when you get a real job. 

I had it all planned out.  I would go to college, I would get a great job, I would live happily ever after.  So it was some shock at the end of my college experience that I realized I hadn’t actually figured out *how* I would get a job.  Nor did I know what kind of job I wanted (turns out that they weren’t putting fresh college grads in charge, who knew?).   In a panic, I started to consider the options that would allow me to delay paying back my student loans, grad school? peace corp? while also pursuing the campus recruiting process. 

Most of my interviews were unmemorable (I’m sure for all involved), but one had me talking to someone who stepped out every 5 minutes on his [at the time still novel and quite large] mobile phone as he was “expecting a call to close some funding”.   I left the interview unimpressed and not completely clear as to what they did anyway.  I did make it to the second round with that company, which required both an aptitude and a personality test.  Being just out of college, I didn’t really find that odd, but I will note I have never had to do either since.

After some time passed, I started to catch on to the idea of being a candidate and while I did get more rejections then I had ever experienced in my entire life, I also started getting a few offers, most for jobs like insurance sales, a “manager” position at Lady Footlocker and an offer to do “sales support” for a Manufacturing ERP startup (of course at the time it was not ERP yet, it was MRP II but I digress).

In the meantime, I had found a summer study abroad that I really wanted to do.  It was some ten countries in six weeks studying the European Union and the Euro.  Now this was exactly what I wanted to do (travel and geek out studying European economics), and I needed to figure out how to find a job offer that would let me start in September vs. June.

Yes, I’ll say it again, I chose my career based upon which job would wait for me to come back from a trip to Europe

Upon returning from my summer off, getting my stuff out of storage and beginning my first day at work I found out a few interesting “real world” realities

  1. Startups, can have challenges in the area of workforce planning, and, when they miss their numbers are inclined to freeze hiring
  2. Positions that you are hired for might not still exist when you start six months later
  3. When you find yourself starting a new job, for which the actual position has been eliminated, it is good to be a fast learner and to project flexibilty — quickly
  4. Tech guys are easy to bribe, if you are nice to them they will teach you survival skills for the fee of a few lunches (editors note, I suspect I had a bit of an edge being female here)

So, due to an adequate score on the aptitude test and the fact that I had a job offer in writing, they decided to place me in the support organization where I spent my first months doing QA for a new release. 

It took me a good six months to have any idea what the company actually did (native applications in Oracle forms and Sybase APT), what my job actually was (first and second line support) and how to gain the skills to do that job before they realized I didn’t have any skills (see bribes mentioned above).   

For the geeks reading this post, I will share my first technical training session to give you an idea just how poorly suited I was, to be fixing software bugs.  I was thrown out for being “difficult” and thus my black-market approach to knowledge acquisition was born.

Un-named trainer: Are you familiar with Unix?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: Do you know vi?

Meg: No

Un-named trainer: You’re going to hate it.

Meg: Oh. (editors note, in fact I did not hate vi nor did I find it difficult)

Un-named trainer: ok, so you are going to go into vi and write this create table statement

Meg: why?

Un-named trainer: because you need a table

Meg: what for?

Un-named trainer: You’re just being difficult aren’t you.


And the rest they say, is history.  I will say, that having such a strange start to a career, has proven to be very helpful to me over time.  Jumping into jobs I’m not skilled to do, to meet challenges I have never done before, comes very easily to me.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I am never afraid to try.

The industry term for that is agility and it is a competency that I think is a good one to claim as your own. 


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