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Getting Down, Getting Out

Aug 20 2016

Image: Be a good intern, and you'll get a cupcake.

By Iain Espey
B.A., Philosophy, 2018
Sales and Marketing at Heyday

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

Before the end of spring quarter, each Bill Lane intern was asked to fill out a “learning plan” for the summer. In mine, I was flippant. Plan what I’m going to learn? Um, doesn’t that seem kind of contrary to actual learning? I figured anything of real value that I’d learn wouldn’t be the sort of thing I could pin down before having learned it. You don’t walk in and shake hands with life lessons; they sneak up on you.

So, what did I plan on learning in my internship? About publishing, that’s what. And what would I do with my time outside of work? I claimed I would visit every coffee shop in Berkeley and create a psychogeographic representation of the city based on that. (I have a BOSP Overseas Seminar/beach vacation on the Croatian coast to thank for that post-Marxist malarkey.) The former I did do, but (surprise!) the second I never got around to.

The first thing I had to learn is that I’d have to learn what I’d have to learn: a confusing, not particularly comfortable position. For example, sometime during my first week on the job, my boss asked me to make an events e-blast that would be sent out to Heyday’s thousands of newsletter subscribers. “You’ve used HTML, right?” Well, no, I hadn’t used HTML before, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Should I have? I’m twenty years old and I don’t even really know what HTML is; did I screw up somewhere along the line?

As the summer went on, I began to get a sense of what jobs took what skills, what kind of experience it takes to advance from mailing postcards and carrying boxes to doing a job where you’re actually in charge of something, and what skills I lacked that I should probably get on developing. This, I now realize, is an important kind of learning, one I never really considered having to do, and one that I now foresee spending much of my twenties doing.

Of many most important parts of my experience at Heyday, perhaps the most-most important was the informational interviews with the staff. Most of the time, these interviews started out with a question to me and my fellow intern, Kate: What do you want to know? And our response can be summed up in two subsequent questions: What do you do, and how did you get your job? These, for me, were and are the big questions. This may come as a surprise to those of you who have been adults for a while, but it’s been difficult for me to imagine what life in the working world actually feels like, how it feels and what it even means to do a job.

Two moments have stuck with me most from these interviews. The first was when Heyday’s sales manager, Christopher, said that it takes a year to learn to do any job. I thought on that comment for days afterward. I felt there was some significance in it that I couldn’t quite grasp, until finally I understood. A year is a long time for anyone, but it is a hell of a lot longer for a twenty-year-old. I have trouble even staying focused on a single Youtube conspiracy theory video for more than four minutes (I watch them on 1.25 speed so I can move on quicker); to spend a full year learning a single job is unfathomable to me. I hadn’t understood the scale of time involved in adult life until then.

And then there was my interview with Steve Wasserman, Heyday’s incoming publisher. “What did you learn in college that most helped you when you started working?” I asked. Without hesitation, he said, “How to type.” Perfectly reasonable for a man who graduated in the early seventies, I thought, but sort of unhelpful to a millennial. He may have adopted the computer, but I was born to use it. My generation was typing before we could speak, flexing our texting thumbs while floating in the womb. The comment stayed with me, and again it took time for me to unravel its importance. Yes, there are skills that I lack that I want to develop, but the other side of the coin is the realization that I already have the basic skills necessary to do many jobs. There’s knowing how to use database programs or write copy or create a sell sheet, but there’s another, less demonstrable kind of knowledge that comes having applied those skills in different ways, in different contexts. That, I have come to think, is what “job experience” really consists of.

Now, as I wrap up my final day in the Heyday office, there is a lot I can take away from this experience. Some of it is easy to put into words, some of it, not so much. I know exactly what some of it means, while some of it may only come to “mean” something in the light of years to come. Whatever lies ahead of me, I greet it, as always, with a side-eye and a healthy dose of suspicion.

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