The 3 worst jobs I ever had
Before becoming a UX designer, I had a varied career with many highs and lows.
I was privileged to have a pretty awesome start to my working life. Whilst it was never my ambition, at the age of 16 I started as an Apprentice Fitter and Machinist working for CSIRO making parts for telescopes.
I completed the trade, but didn’t do it for long and went on to become an insurance worker and then finally a designer. Whilst I’ve had some long stints, I had a few short ones too — some of them were pretty bad!
It’s easy to get disenchanted about work. Even as a designer (a job many dream of), things can turn pear shaped. That can leave you pretty grumpy.
But no matter how bad it gets, it could always be worse, much worse! With my rich work history, I can look back and say to myself, “Thank The Flying Spaghetti Monster I never have to do that again!”
- Maintenance Fitter in a Car Battery Factory, Fairfield NSW (2 weeks, 2000)
This was the last job I took as a Fitter and Machinist. This job was the last straw. It was so bad I changed career.
This was in a lead acid battery factory. Yep, that meant lots of lead, and lots of acid (sulphuric acid, not the fun stuff soaked into a little piece of cardboard). My job was to keep the lead cauldrons hot and the pipes flowing smoothly. If they cooled, they would clog and I’d have to attack them with an oxy-acetylene unit. I also had to make repairs to conveyer belts and other bits of machinery (the better part of job).
It was really hard work, you were covered in lead dust the moment you walked in, the acid stung the eyes and it was hot. No protective gear was provided, I had to bring my own (back then, safety gear was for sissies!). I burnt through all my overalls in the first week. My arms were quickly covered in burns. The tiny little workshop was an absolute sty, with few tools — just a drill press and an old busted up jeweller’s lathe (completely insufficient!). Dirty old Penthouse posters of women in not so gracious positions lined the walls. I had to bring my own tools, but they were quickly stolen, and that’s when things got really nasty.
When I went hunting for my tools, I found some “Robin Hood” type fellow had distributed them throughout the factory. I had the difficult task of obtaining them back. It was not an easy task. The workers did not speak English fluently. Fortunately I had engraved my name on the tools, and I would point to the engraving with as much assertiveness as I could muster, demanding the tools back.
I got some of my tools back but I encountered a lot of resistance. One guy pulled a knife on me and started yelling in his native tongue. I was later informed he was a member of the “5 T’s”, a South Sydney gang responsible for a lot of heroin trade at the time. I was informed not to “f*ck with them” which was concise, but sound advice.
I called the labour hire firm and advised them of my problems. The business owner showed up a couple of days later and I relayed my concerns on to him. He was worried I was going to go to the police, but I knew how fruitless that would have been. He offered a generous raise, but I declined and went out and bought some new business shirts in search of a cleaner, less stressful environment.
2. Porn store, Calgary, Alberta, 2.5hrs 2004
After 5 years of dreary insurance call centre work (wearing clean business shirts) I took a working holiday in Canada with a good friend of mine. I struggled to find work over there and ended up working all sorts of jobs — a lot of manual labour jobs. But labouring in Canada, in the snow, in the cold, is hard man! I tried for retail. I left my resume with 100 retail stores hoping for a job that would be warm and social. After all, I was on a working holiday. Only one called me back — a porn store. I thought maybe it would be fun, and besides, my rent was due.
I started by doing stocktake. No scanner, just walking around ticking off “Busty Buxom Babes do Sordid Things to Dave” and such off a clipboard. Porn stores back then were pretty seedy. This was a time before porn shops realised if they made them nice they could attract female customers. Anyway, the sort of clientele was every bit as dodgy as you imagine. And there’s something about being surrounded by wall-to-wall genitals, presented in such a way… I dunno, I guess my strict Christian upbringing got the better of me, I just felt uneasy about it after a while (that’s just me, no judgment if that’s your profession!).
But it wasn’t my traditional upbringing that made me quit, it was the alarming amount of shoplifting that took place, and they docked it from your pay. The guy on the previous shift got docked $80. We only got $5.90 per hour! He was crying when he clocked off. I clocked off too, never to come back. They never paid me my $14.75, so I’m not sure I can say I was actually employed there.
Designing B2B Catalogues (junk mail), Sydney, 3 months, 2011
After a career as a tradie and an Insurance Call Centre Corporate stooge (and years of late night studying), I started the search for a “dream” job as a graphic designer. The job market for graphic designers in 2011 was as fiercely competitive as ever. I had trouble finding people who warmed to the idea of having a greying, short stocky 32 year old weirdo fitting into a junior design role (one day I’ll write a blog on ageism in this industry).
After hundreds of applications and numerous interviews I decided to lower my standards and apply for roles I was less excited about. This strategy proved to be successful. I found a job designing B2B catalogues — brochures containing ads for forklifts, cleaning supplies, photocopiers, stationery, etc. There was also a pharmacy catalogue and some general design work from walk-ins, business cards mostly.
It was a start. It was a demanding job — you had 2hrs max to design an ad. The ads were just awful, tacky bright red and yellow starbursts, 50% off, one time offer, buy one get one free, here’s your 10% off coupon, with an etched female business person holding an ipad in nearly every one. You go through design school learning the finer points of typography, the grid and white space, Bauhaus, Adrian Frutiger… but that all gets shoved in the sewer for jobs like this. The deadlines were ridiculous, I was often working 12–16 hr days, all for 35k a year.
That wasn’t the worst bit though, the worst bit was one of the business owners — for the purpose of this article, let’s call her Lydia. Lydia was a mean narcissistic psychopath. She thought she knew everything. Granted, she knew a lot, but the three month design module she took at uni as part of her marketing degree did not make her a designer. She would give feedback, saying my ads looked too neat(!), complaining I did not use enough different types of fonts or colours, and would fill any white space up with yet another cheesy tag-line. Often the claims in the ads were completely made up, such as the testimonials from previous customers. Lydia was also a racist, and I would challenge her by putting Asian models in the ads which she found very upsetting.
At times she would bring her dog in. One time it pooped right near my desk and she took forever to clean it up (the expectation that I would do it for her). She was abusive and would ridicule the outbound sales people, but offer little support to improve their sales. The saving grace was the Senior Designer was very accommodating, a calm level-headed dude who offered plenty of assistance. But I hated that place, and the shitty junk mail it produced. A real low point in my career. I’ve come a long way since then!
It’s good to look back every now and again. I haven’t flown to lofty heights in my career, but I take great solace in the fact I have come a long way since those shitty jobs. Thanks for reading my little rant!
What are your worst career moments? I’d love to hear them. Please share in the comments below.