My first 7 jobs

1:56 PM James 0 Comments



  1. Freelance writer at The Morgan Hill Times - wrote for my town newspaper (circulation: 35,000) covering junior varsity sports teams for $20 a story. I spent about 3 hours each week writing two 250-word stories, so I made about $13/hr. My work consisted of calling up coaches and asking them about the games they played and what was coming up next week. I took their summaries of the games, spiced them up with exciting verbiage, and banged out the stories.
  2. Page layout editor at The Morgan Hill TImes - when summer rolled around, the paper hired me to work 20 hours a week laying out the news section, including the front page, photos, captions, trimming stories, and proofreading. I made $8-10/hr, which was a little better than minimum wage. I spent a few late nights making sure we met deadlines. I continued doing this job during my last year of high school. I quit during the year to spend more time playing music in my band and apply to schools.
  3. “House man” at Eagle Ridge Golf Course - the next summer, I worked at a local golf course doing a bunch of random manual labor tasks. Building sheds, repairing golf carts, washing glasses behind the bar (only once!), and setting up for weddings and parties by assembling (and disassembling) dance floors, moving a lot of furniture, and setting and clearing dishes. The job was physically demanding, and I often woke up the next day with a sore back and muscles. Hours were nights and weekends - sometimes I’d work from 9am-1pm to set up, then come back at 9pm-1am to tear down. I made minimum wage + tip, which worked out to $11-15/hr. I only worked about 15 hours per week, and my mom thought I was lazy, but it left me free to play with my band and hang out with my friends before I went off to college.
  4. Camp counselor at Camp Leelanau - my freshman summer, I was coerced to work as a camp counselor at an all-boys summer camp in the forest of northern Michigan. It was an awesome place for kids to get outdoor skills, challenge themselves physically and mentally, and enjoy great brotherhood with other campers and learn from counselors who are positive male role models. I made $1,500 for 8 weeks of work, so the hourly rate was less than $5/hr (assuming a 40-hour work week… and this was basically a 130-hour work week!). I was responsible for a cabin of five 7-to-8 year olds, and for teaching archery, neither of which I had any experience doing before that summer. It was a memorable summer, but I did not want to do that again! It also made me realize that taking care of kids is TOUGH and I did not want to be a parent… yet.
  5. Lab assistant at Scripps Institution of Oceanography - in sophomore and junior year I worked in a computational environmental science lab that used big data and neural networks to predict weather patterns and stuff like that. I worked for a Principal Investigator (a guy with a PhD who ran the lab and got funding) and wrote and edited his papers, wrote scripts for data analysis, fetched coffee, and wrote his expense reports. That glorious job paid $11/hour, and came with a free helping of verbal abuse and high blood pressure from stress. The PI was a narcissistic asshole, but he helped me with some letters of recommendation down the road. I also learned C and scripting, so that was good on-the-job training.
  6. Engineering intern at General Atomics Electronic Systems - I started out working in the basement with a desk pretty far from everyone else. There were two other interns who I became friends with. We traded music and goofed off. I also occasionally built and debugged circuits, redlined engineering drawings, classified electronic component databases. Basically, they gave me really vague tasks, and I made tons of stupid mistakes and learned a lot of engineering jargon and practices the hard way. A few months in, they put me in charge of the next round of interns. I made $15/hr and they offered me my first full-time engineering job as a Component Engineer at $45k, then $51k. I refused because I knew that was way under market, and being a Component Engineer sounded like the most boring thing ever.
  7. Associate process engineer at Cubic Defense Applications - got this job thanks to my college buddy and lab-mate. At $55k/year, it was pretty average entry-level engineering pay. The job was really interesting: I didn’t appreciate many parts of it while I worked there, but I learned so much from it that I still use today, and I had some good people who taught me valuable lessons and gave me valuable experience. The cool thing was that I got a lot of autonomy - it was up to me to figure out how to solve problems, usually by just walking around, asking questions, and being resourceful - scary, but interesting. The bad things: waking up early (5:30-7am start times were not uncommon), feeling inferior to design engineers (which is not true), working with paper and command prompt legacy systems, feeling like I was supporting bad decisions regarding the Iraq War. Worked with some awesome people, though, and will always be grateful for the opportunities!

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