Chemical, Structural, or Beer?
By Adam P.
Ah, the summer job. Each summer, hundreds of thousands of American teenagers are sent down to the local ice cream store by their parents to toil 5 hour shifts for minimum wage in exchange for supposed “life experience.” Last summer, while my earnings may have been limited, my gains in knowledge about human nature were vast. I learned what it felt like to curb my gut instinct when someone flipped me off for not letting them park in a specific spot. Not only did I learn self-control, but I also discovered how to push something troubling out of my mind. When my coworkers and I were parking cars right up against the bay (literally feet away), I had to ignore the nagging of my thought processes. I had to continue to do my job; I couldn’t worry about the unpaved, makeshift dirt lot at overcapacity, or about how the cars would be unable to pull out of their spots due to the “stacking” against one another, or about the potential high tide that could have relocated many of the cars to the bottom of the bay, or about the ensuing lawsuit.
Another school year passes, and on one of my first few days at my new office job this summer, my boss shot me an e-mail and requested my appearance at an open house for my anonymous company. She knew of my interest in engineering, so it was a sensible, polite, and thoughtful gesture, especially since I’m only seventeen and it would provide me with a great look at what the industry is like. I’d like to add that if there’s another thing I’ve learned from my job it is that advertisements are often misleading. Basically, if an advertisement says “interested in x or y?” it means that most of the focus will be on one, and not the other. I hate to validate an either-or fallacy but it’s unfortunately true in my experience.
So the day of the open house arrived and I headed over to the conference room. I had no idea what to expect, other than some free food. Maybe a few new pizza stains on my khaki pants?
A room full of smiling Midwesterners greeted me as I walked through the door and nearly toppled me with a t-shirt, calculator and other arbitrarily related freebies. Now usually at an information session there are some social norms. Let’s compare and contrast a college info session with my anonymous company’s engineering open house: At a college info session, usually the audience outnumbers the speaker(s) by a factor of 15 or so. At my company’s open house the speakers outnumbered the audience by about 15 or so. At a standard college info session the speaker(s) cover the information most relevant to the audience, like admissions and financial aid. At my company’s engineering gathering, engineering was hardly discussed at all, in favor of brewing.
It turns out the parent corporation of my anonymous employer was encouraging transfers between different divisions of the corporation, and specifically in my case, the brewing sector. I proceeded to sit down next to a kind young man from San Diego State who had about five years on me. He was the only prospective engineer, other than me, in the room. A bit of forced, uncomfortable small talk later, which felt like an hour but was in reality about three minutes, a young Berkeley girl uneasily stepped into the room and anxiously sat across from me.
We waited. And we waited. And finally when I was about to gracefully, or in my case ungracefully, bolt, the young, brunette female leader of the speaker assemblage opened the meeting with a lengthy recruiting video. The video, entertaining enough, unfortunately did not last long. When it finished, the coordinating tribe started speaking individually, and sharing their personal experiences at the brewing plants. Many spoke of how their favorite part of their jobs was beer tasting.
I was not sure how to take it all in; I was underage and couldn’t legally drink, the youngest in the room, and had absolutely no interest in brewing. Each recounted a brief (or not so brief) story about why they loved their job. I tried to politely pay attention, but like a five-year-old at a political debate, I was having difficulty not squirming in my seat. Each speaker would also mention that engineering really isn’t helpful for the job, it’s more of a problem-solving-on-the-fly and interactive experience. “Great,” I thought.
After the Latina in the crew spoke about how she loved fixing the robots on the assembly line, I realized I had not asked a single question, while the Berkeley and SDSU kids had at least posed a few that showed they were legitimately considering this brewing business as a job. I panicked, and scoured my brain for a trivial question, but I felt out of place asking about the taste testing of the beer for obvious age-related reasons, and didn’t want to request an interview because I knew they would say, “you need to wait a good four years” in a condescending tone. So I sat there in uncomfortable limbo.
Then they finally asked what I had feared: my whole life story, why I was interested in engineering, and such. I tried to evade each question from the chubby woman. She then cracked a joke about how everyone would enjoy the free beer…“except for Adam!” Wonderful observation. Imagine if Jim Carrey were in my position; he would have had one of those Dumb and Dumber extremely noisy, socially unacceptable, uncontrollable laughing fits.
When everyone had finished making small talk, a half hour still remained scheduled for the open house. Since the troupe of coordinators had nothing planned for the remaining time, they opened it up for questions. The other two students filled in some minutes until another unbearably awkward silence, marked by quick, nervous glances around the room, caused one of the crewmembers to call it a day. She offered to schedule interviews with us. Unsure of what to do, I headed over to the free food and drinks, and stood by the door for a few minutes, uncertain when to leave, or whether I should say bye. I stood in an outlandish pose with a hand on my pizza plate and my feet spread, with one honking size fifteen shoe pointing towards sitting back down, and the other pointing out the door. I think I thanked everybody, and inadvertently thanked the other students, as I tried to silently sneak out but actually awkwardly tripped over myself out the door, sounding like a drum solo. Once I stepped back into my broom closet of an office, I felt relieved, and genuinely amused.
The whole experience may have been a bit over the top, or maybe it’s just me. In any case, work has been wonderful. Aside from the quirky bits of corporate stereotypes that I’ve found to be true, (like overweight women talking about American Idol at the water cooler, or everyone listening to love song balladry on the radio) work has been very down to earth and rewarding preparation for the future. I just can’t shake that the whole open house for those interested in “brewing and engineering” was spent discussing brewing engineers who taste beer and do limited “engineering.” I guess a case of beer per month is a nice perk, but maybe not for me.