I was excited and enthusiastic about starting my first job after college graduation. It was my first full-time job, and I was working for a well-known and highly respected semiconductor manufacturing plant in my hometown. My now-husband was also hired by the same company and had started his job six months before me when he graduated college. He seemed to be pretty happy there, but a little tired due to being on call 24-7 (and often getting called in the middle of the night).
I was hired to a highly competitive role in the company’s rotational engineer program. In this program I was given the opportunity to rotate between three different jobs my first year, spending four months in each job.
My first job was in the fab. This is where computer chips are manufactured on large silicon wafers, and it is a clean environment. Tiny particulates, smaller than we can see, can get on the wafer and reduce the chip yield. Because of this engineers and fab technicians aren’t allowed to wear any cosmetics or fragrances, men were required to wear hair nets over their beards, and prior to entering the fab you entered a gown room to don a bunny suit (full head to toe covering) in order to minimize any particulates falling off your clothes or body.
I am a confident person who is happy in her own skin, but I love makeup! I love applying it, I love the way I can tailor it to match my mood, and the way it makes me feel more girly and feminine. The reason I originally wanted to become a chemical engineer was so I could make makeup, so not being able to wear makeup at all really upset me.
But I wanted to like this job, so I followed the rules – I went to work everyday without fragrance and makeup. And there was a plus – it sped up my morning routine so I could sleep longer! Also, since we wore the bunny suits in the fab, the work dress code was very casual. T-shirts and jeans were acceptable work attire, so I didn’t have to buy a new wardrobe for work after college.
An impressive thing about my first full-time employer is the company is very encouraging for diversity in the workplace. There were more women engineers and managers there than I ever expected to work with in my career as an engineer. It was a much higher ratio than in my college classes and internships. The manager of the rotation program was a women, and in the fab there were several high-ranking women managers. I loved having so many strong and powerful women role-models to look up to and they were encouraging of mentoring relationships.
Also, they believed in flexible work schedules. People were allowed to work from home. In my second rotation in the environmental engineering group, my mentor worked part-time (and often from home), which helped her balance work and caring for her young children. I was so happy to hear the company I worked for allowed for such flexibility in the work schedule.
However, the overall atmosphere at this job wasn’t a positive one for me. Most engineers were on-call 24-7. My now-husband was on-call and often got calls at all hours. The middle of the night calls woke us both up and made the next day at work even longer.
One day shortly after I started I was walking around the office and someone stopped me and said, “You must be new here.” I said, “Yeah, I am. I started a few weeks ago.” He replied, “I can tell because you’re still smiling.” He deadpanned it like he was completely serious. Cue my jaw drop…Was he serious?! What could I even reply to that?
This workplace had only cubicles, so no one had offices with doors, not even the plant manager. One day I had left an apple on my desk in my cubicle that I was planning on eating later for a snack. When I got back from the fab it was gone. Who steals apples off of other people’s desks?! I guess it was someone who needed it more than I did. I never left anything on my desk again because I figured if people would steal apples, what else would they steal?
Another time someone went into my cubicle and wrote “You are so cute” on my whiteboard. While this could be considered a flattering and sweet comment, being left anonymously on my whiteboard at the workplace felt creepy and boarder-line sexual harassment. I knew my now-husband’s hand-writing, and it wasn’t his, and he wouldn’t do something like that at work. I decided to just erase it and ignore, but report it to my manager or HR if it happened again. Fortunately, it didn’t happen again (and I also put up several pictures of myself with my now-husband to hopefully discourage future attempts).
A final awkward incident that happened at the first job was when I ran into one of my favorite techs from the fab down in the cafeteria one day. I went up to him to say “hi,” but he didn’t recognize me (he was used to seeing me in the bunny suit in the fab where only your eyes can be seen), so I introduced myself. He said, “Oh you’re Emily! I thought you were a blonde.” Was that a compliment or insult? Haha. I just awkwardly laughed and said, “Now you know I’m a brunette!”
About three months into starting the new job, my now-husband proposed. I was so excited to get engaged. We had dated for most of college, worked our internships together, got our full-time jobs upon graduation at the same office, and had just bought a house together. I was so in love and it was one of the happiest times in my life.
Soon after the engagement, I called one of my best friends from college (the friend I met my first day at freshman orientation), and asked her to be in my wedding. We started talking about our jobs. I told her how I wasn’t loving my job – I didn’t like the work as much as I thought I would, and because of some of the awkward incidents and the no makeup rule.
She, on the other hand, loved her job! She was working for a major oil and gas company at a field office in a small town (her hometown). She said there were a lot of other engineers our age starting their first job after college, she liked the people she worked with, and said the work was interesting, challenging and fun. She said that her company was still looking entry-level engineers, and she suggested my fiancé and I apply.
At first I thought, no way – I had just started my new job, I can’t leave this quickly. I didn’t really even give my current job a chance yet. But I talked to my fiancé about it, and we decided it wouldn’t hurt to apply. We can see if we get an offer and if we’d like it there. If not, we still have our current jobs, so no harm done.
We sent my friend our resumes to give to her manager and shortly after we were both asked to come to on-site interviews. The interviews went well and we really liked it there, more so than we expected to. Everyone dressed in business casual at that office (so we’d have to buy a more professional wardrobe) and I could wear my makeup if I wanted to.
Six months after I started my first job at the semiconductor manufacturing plant, my now-husband and I had a job offers with a major oil and gas company. Now we had an extremely difficult decision to make.
On one hand, we had both accepted our first job fully intending to work there for our whole career. It was a great company to work for with lots of opportunities to advance and for me to get mentoring from successful women engineers. The job was in my hometown, both our families lived nearby, we had already bought a house near work, and we were engaged and planning our wedding nearby.
On the other hand, this new job opportunity offered us a much higher salary, it seemed to be a more friendly work environment, and I thought I might be happier there. However, there was less focus on diversity in the workplace and there was a lack of women in leadership positions, and I had not heard any mention of flexible work schedules. The new job was in a smaller town, a three and a half hour drive away. We would have to sell our house that we’d only bought seven months ago, and we’d have to drive back to my hometown every weekend leading up to the wedding to finish the wedding planning.
My husband and I are both engineers, so we did what I think any engineering couple would do to help us decide: we made a spreadsheet. We listed the factual, emotional and financial pros and cons of each choice. The spreadsheet helped us break-down the situation to a direct comparison of the details and numbers and it made the decision easy: the new job won.
To this day, I still consider the day I turned in my two-week notice resignation letter into my manager one of the scariest moments of my career. To say she was shocked is an understatement. She couldn’t believe I would already be leaving after just seven months: I had been chosen for the prestigious rotational engineers program because they believed I had potential there, I was doing well so far, and I was already being recognized as a good worker. But as I humbly explained to her the reasons for my choice (referencing what was in the spreadsheet), she kindly accepted my resignation.
My now-husband and I were very cautious to put in our resignations with respect and following the company’s policy. It’s a small world and we may cross paths with our colleagues and managers from this job again, and I always try to put my best face forward. We were not leaving because we didn’t like it there, we were leaving because we had better a job opportunity.
Did you like your first job? What is the shortest time you’ve worked at a full-time engineering job?
Check back for my next post on starting my second job less than one year after graduation.