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Things I Wish I Knew When I Took This Internet Job
by Way Yu

In the nine months that I've been out of college and working, I've had four desk moves. My first abode was a wooden door (knob sawed off) set atop two filing cabinets. It was very chic at the time, and gave a quasi-start-up feel to the four-year-old Internet company I worked for. A few months passed and we upgraded to futuristic furniture, the current dot-com must-have. Think white curvy desks, checker-patterned carpet (in blue, green, red and purple!) and silver beams that went into the ceiling. It looked awesome, if a little loud.

A few more shifts here and there, and I got bopped down to the first floor, much farther away from a window and closer to the reception area than I liked. Lucky for me, within three weeks, someone left the company (as many did back then, when the economy was booming and company-hopping was a sport) and a better desk opened up. I've been situated here, happily, for a few months now. Then last week, I found out the whole company is moving to an office closer to downtown.

I knew when I took this job that change would be constant. What I wasn't prepared for was just how many turns this rollercoaster ride would have. I was naive, as most college seniors are about The Real World. I didn't plan on this many desk changes in so few months. But this, I have found, is very indicative of working in the Internet world.

Things here move constantly, quickly, abruptly... Any job after college will seem fast-paced, but working within the Internet sector is triple that. Learning to switch gears at the drop of a hat is one of the keys to success in the working world. In hindsight, that's a very obvious tip, but when you're job hunting, the little things-about adjusting to working 9-to-5 every day-fall through the cracks. I was too busy reading company financial statements and keeping up-to-date with industry news to think about the day-to-day life of working at an Internet company.

What else do I wish I knew about before I took this job? A lot, it turns out, that I'd like share with you:

Office Life
Social Stuff
The Experience Itself

Stuck in the Office All Day

I don't have an office, and most likely never will. No one at my company has an office, not even Mr. President (although he gets a corner of the room, with a great view of the busy intersection outside.) The best I can settle for is a semi-secluded cubicle. This "open office environment" that many start-ups have is supposed to stimulate teamwork and the sharing of ideas. It does, to an extent. I can discuss work with my boss without leaving my chair. Sometimes, a nearby coworker will chime in with her ideas. It's one great, big office, with people piping into other conversations.

And therefore, there is no privacy. I once overheard my co-worker speaking on the phone with her doctor about a lump she found on her neck. I've heard family arguments that made me uncomfortable. Mind you, I wasn't eavesdropping. These conversations occurred within 3 feet of me and could not be shut out. Likewise, my colleagues can hear my personal conversations, which is why I try to keep those to a minimum. Some friends have accused me of being a robot at work, since I'm monotonous when they call. Those friends, in their plush offices of corporate America with private cubicles, don't understand Internet America.

Which leads me to the next thing I wish I knew before taking this job: Blocking out distractions can be tough. Sure, college provided plenty of practice. Focusing on a midterm while the boy in the next seat lazily propped up his feet, sans socks, was a true test of concentration. But that's child's play compared to this.

Conversations swirl around me constantly. Nerf balls will fly overhead at any given moment. Music will stream from the neighboring computer's speakers. The key has been to train my ears to pick up on what I need to know, but keep my brain focused on the documents in front of me. This is no easy feat.

Heed this as a warning: for the students out there who can't study when the neighbor's stereo is on too loud, learn to concentrate. This will be essential for any work environment.

Interacting, Socializing, and Shmoozing

Some people, unfortunately, bury their noses and block out too much. Others are so easily distracted they never seem to be working. The key is to find the balance, which is tougher than it sounds. Merging the Work Self and the Personal Self is tricky since you don't want to be the asocial loser nor the loud jokester. Folks at my company have Friday kegs and 5pm sushi gatherings in the lounge. Do I stop work and join the shindig? Sometimes, but not too often. I'd rather be known as a hard worker than a hard party-er.

Also, contrary to popular belief, there is a dress code. It may not be written policy, but certain street wear is faux pas, even in the Internet industry. Last July, when the sun was scorching Southern California, a male worker came in wearing a tank top and shorts. Not only was it a scary sight (this guy should spend more time at the gym), it also lowered my respect for him.

A good rule of thumb for any job is to ask yourself, would your boss wear that? No? Better not risk it. As they say, dress for success, even in this industry where the top dogs just wear khakis and polo shirts.

Perks of a Different Kind

Here's a surprise: Working at an Internet company has not give me computer privileges. My computer still crashes every now and then. I do not necessarily have the latest, greatest gadgets. Sad, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's the truth. The only "perk" I got was a laptop, but it only means I get to bring my work home instead of staying in the office til the wee hours of the morning. However, since I can't get copies of the newest software, I settle for S.W.A.G. This is Stuff We All Get, or those free giveways emblazoned with company logos. Pens, bags, mini footballs and more crowd my desk. My treasure of the moment is a sleek, black, fleece jacket with the company emblem on the right side.

Aside from those freebies, the benefits of working at an internet company are not what I expected. (Where's the in-house masseuse I read about?) No, these perks are a lot like the ones I enjoyed during college: they revolve around food and the chance to bond with others while exercising the brain. A month ago, my team (it's never a "department") had a brainstorming session at a VP's house. She graciously opened her hill-top home to us, where for a whole day we threw out ideas on how to better our products. Our shoes off, we settled on various couches and chairs in the living room, munched on m&ms; and grapes and filled up pads of paper with suggestions. That spirit of comraderie was a pleasant, surprising perk I hadn't anticipated in the working world.

Life and Work, not Work and Life

Fashionable as that fleece jacket may be, I won't lie: I'd throw out it out in a heart beat for better stock options. However, though my stocks are currently worthless, I'm not fazed: money isn't everything. The amount I've learned far surpasses any of the disappointments I've had. The people I work with are the best I could have hoped for (and the company is lucky to have): they are hard-working, supportive, and motivating. This is not a sink-or-swim environment, which makes it the perfect place for a recent grad to learn in.

But it all might end...soon. In the time that I've been employed (roughly 9 months), my company has gone through two rounds of lay-offs, or "corporate restructuring." From a business standpoint, it makes sense to trim the fat. This will happen often at an Internet company, where business plans and corporate directions change every month. Layoffs are part of the process. Growth isn't always sustainable, and streamlining may be the best course of action for the company. I luckily survived both rounds of layoffs by being smart, working hard, and adapting to the changes. Unfortunately, several of my friends did the same, and were still let go. Here's the clincher: It usually isn't personal-it's just the economy. In the end, just be happy for the crazy ride. Enjoy it, learn from it, and have fun with it while it lasts. The desk moves are worth it.

Way, a recent graduate from Claremont McKenna College, works for an e-commerce site in Los Angeles. She enjoys work, and knows that the company outings to the go-cart race track and off-site meetings at the boss's house aren't perks offered everywhere.

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