updates: the office above a bar, the intern with a terrible attitude, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I’m in recovery and my office just moved above a bar

I am the person who wrote in about being in recovery and my office moving above a bar. The bar downstairs actually didn’t end up being as big of a problem as I thought it would be. We moved into the new space VERY slowly, so we weren’t doing a lot of client meetings or entertaining there. Once or twice we got lunch downstairs, which I didn’t love but was able to handle okay. Then Covid happened and we’ve all be remotely working since early March. (By the way, being quarantined in recovery is ROUGH, please check on your sober friends during this time!)

However, in anticipation of eventually opening back up, the company asked for my help organizing several team events that would involve drinking (in the office at that, not even downstairs at the bar). I finally decided it was time to have a conversation with my supervisor and I used parts of the script you gave me, along with my own additions. I explained that I was sober and I wanted to stay that way, so I would not be able to physically attend events that focus on drinking even though I would still love to participate in team building activities. I’m pleased to report this went over well, and my boss reached out to discuss my options (for example: holding off on the alcohol until the end of the events so I can leave the office when the drinking starts) and assured me that the company would be very flexible and understanding.

It was a big weight off my shoulders, and I’m glad I can be honest about things like this at work without the fear of stigma. (I live in a state where drinking is a big part of the culture/state identity.)

In even better news, I am excited to celebrate 1 year of being sober next month!

Thank you, Alison for the straightforward, considerate advice, and for everyone in the comments who offered support, ideas, and their own milestones. Stay safe; I cheers to you with flavored seltzer!

2. My intern has a terrible attitude

We did have a couple of sit-down conversations with Alice using your language, which I’m not sure really did much in the moment but may have planted a seed for later (I’ll get to that).

The intervention we made that had the most immediate impact was that we realized that Alice and another good friend/intern in her cohort, Grace, were working on the same day and in the same area, and just by chatting were frequently ending up in a spiral of negativity. The conversations would literally go, “Ugh, this mildly annoying thing happened.” “Yeah, I hate that, and this other thing also sucks!” “It totally does! And also this completely unrelated thing that I find irritating!” The intern schedules get reshuffled every semester, so we asked their academic program to put Alice and Grace in the office on different days. That probably halved the number of complaints right there.

The other thing that helped the most was just time. As predicted, as Alice got more experience, she was more efficient and also much more able to identify whether issues had a reasonable short-term solution or were probably intractable long-term problems. She also grew into her desire to manage as she got to take the lead on some project teams. She was able to serve as a resource for less experienced folks, she got a more nuanced view of leading a project with budget, time, and resource constraints, and also got to do work that was pertinent to her interests. She actually won an award for her mentorship of an undergraduate on a project, and has secured a good job in her main area of interest for after graduation. I expect she will do well and be successful, which is what we want for all of our interns.

During one of the last few times she was with us, I did overhear her say to another intern that she wanted to be a positive presence in our office, especially for the interns in the years behind her, and not a source of negativity. So maybe those conversations we had with her did make a little bit of a difference in the end once she’d had a chance to really internalize them. I can’t say I’m sorry to see Alice go, but I did manage to get through the last couple of years without actively dreading the days when she was in the office.

Thanks for your advice, which gave us a good framework to point out how her efforts to improve our office were actually hindering her performance and relationships with co-workers.

3. Should I work for free to get experience?

I was hesitant to send an update for such a routine question, but I figured you might get some enjoyment from an update on a 10-year-old letter.

The update: I took what I could from the experience and parted ways with my career advisor shortly after my letter was posted. I won’t go into the details, but in my last session we did a practice interview and their feedback confirmed your suspicion that they were indeed full of crap.

I tried to make a few new industry contacts but nothing really came of it. I never volunteered to work for free but kept applying for roles and was hired in the industry that I was targeting a few years later. I was happy about this at the time, but unfortunately the job was a bit of a bait and switch. I ended up in a different role than expected but I made it work and I stayed for over 5 years. I applied for a few department transfers to try to get back into a technical role, and was told that I needed more experience, which I could gain by – wait for it – volunteering after hours in addition to my already demanding role. The culture at this company wasn’t great and eventually I concluded that my growth there was very limited. I couldn’t find a suitable role elsewhere, so I decided to leave without a new job lined up.

My intent was to take a year off to take care of my health and re-assess my goals, and I was 6 months into my job search when COVID-19 hit. I expect I’ll be unemployed for a while to come. Things seem to have come full circle though. I had a therapist who encouraged me to try career counselling again and after a lot of hesitation and time, I recently found someone who is very experienced and is providing good advice and support so far. We’re thinking that I should re-train as an architect or industrial designer, but who knows where I’ll end up in another 10 years!

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Eether Eyether*

    OP 1, congratulations on your continued sobriety!! I have been attending Zoom meetings (mostly speaker ones) and they are pretty good! Certainly better than zero meetings. And, if they are not happening where you live, you could organize one. Great opportunity to be of service.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP1 I love the way your boss took the news in stride. Please give yourself credit for the way you phrased it : “I *am* sober and this is what I need to stay that way” is very positive. GOOD JOB!

    2. old curmudgeon*

      I add my congratulations on your upcoming anniversary of sobriety! That is a huge milestone, and I am thrilled for you to reach it!

      My elder kid went sober 4.5 years ago, and I have seen first-hand how challenging it can be to maintain sobriety in a culture that privileges alcohol consumption. On the other hand, I have also witnessed my kid reaping some pretty significant rewards as a consequence of sobriety, so that has been a source of motivation and reinforcement. I hope that you likewise experience great rewards as a result of your courageous choice.

      I send you enormous respect, and I wish you tremendous success in your continued sober life!

    3. Kuododi*

      Seconding with my congratulations!!! Blessings to you as you walk to your bright future. You will remain in my heart. Mazel tov!!!

    4. Donkey Hotey*

      Adding in an extra congratulations on your upcoming anniversary! Keep it up (and keep coming back).

  2. juliebulie*

    I’m curious why OP2 wasn’t sorry to see Alice go, considering how thoroughly Alice had apparently turned herself around. Was she still unpleasant/difficult in other ways, or was OP2 still suffering the lingering effects of Alice’s bad behavior a couple of years later?

    At any rate, I’m glad the story had a good outcome for everyone concerned!

    1. HoHumDrum*

      LW 2, and your comment about lingering bad impressions, made me start thinking about my early work history, and some thoughts about the ways in which the job market has changed came bubbling up that I wonder if other commenters had insight into.

      My first jobs were very typical teen/youth type jobs- camp, retail, crappy food service (as opposed to the higher end kind). Worked those type of jobs all though college and, due to the recession, a solid chunk of my mid-late 20s. I feel like I got a lot of bad behavior out of my system during that time, but my bosses still loved me because a) I was definitely not the worst by far within the pack of my peers and b) they anticipated they’d be doing a lot of mentoring because that’s just the nature of hiring people under 25 for the most part. The pay was crap but the learning curve was gentler. So by the time I had figured out what I wanted to do professionally I was all polished up and ready to impress, with most of my bad habits kicked. I mean I wasn’t awful by any means, nothing outrageous, but I’m definitely not as proud of my 20 year old professional self as I am of my current professional self.

      But I get the impression that a lot of young people don’t take those jobs as much, partially because during economic downturns they aren’t dominated by youths anymore, and also there’s a lot of pressure on youths to get prestigious internships in their chosen career path as soon as possible. I guess I’m wondering, are we losing something with the encouraging younger and younger people to start their full professional lives right away? I don’t think it’s possible to jump straight into working without making missteps, so is it better to make those missteps at a job that won’t impact your future as much? I mean I no longer list “cashier at hot topic” on my resume so it’s no longer hurting me, but if I had started out at some fancy firm I would have a hard time justifying leaving that off, you know?

      Obviously this question is very class dependent- the idea of having the luxury to be choosy about career paths, or internships vs. retail. The luxury of even being allowed a learning curve at all is entirely based on privilege, of course. I suspect that for the at least the next few years we’re all going to be just taking whatever opportunities we can find, so this is purely a theoretical concern. But in teaching we talk a lot about how we’re pushing developmentally inappropriate topics on younger and younger kids due to the pressure to perform academically, is it possible we’re also doing something similar in the work world by encouraging young folks to be taking prestigious positions in professional fields before they’ve learned how to be professional yet?

      Feel free to tell I’m an idiot, just a thought I had while ruminating on Alice’s growth and LW 2’s kind mentorship.

      1. Captain Hastings*

        Really interesting question! My kid is a rising college junior who spent last summer working retail, was supposed to spend this summer studying overseas (not happening now obvs), and is feeling the pressure to find a prestigious, field-related job next summer (but I think really would rather still do the overseas study if that even exists again by then). My response is yes, I think there is some pressure to become too professional too soon (and to figure out what their work “passion” is way too soon as well), but I’ll be curious to read other thoughts.

      2. Wendy*

        I’ve always liked the idea that every high school senior should do 3-4 months in retail/grocery stores, hospitality/fast food and a call center as part of their final year so they a) get some work experience and b) are better able to relate to people in those positions since they know what it feels like.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I feel like there should be some wiggle room on that, because I for one would have probably actually committed suicide if I had to pretend to not be autistic at school and then spend an entire shift pretending not to be autistic in customer service, even before homework is added in.

          1. Solidarity*

            Yeah, as someone on the spectrum and who had severe social anxiety in my teens and early-20s, this would have been terrible for my mental health. I briefly worked a customer service job in my sophomore year of college, and it was awful. I dreaded going into work and, on a particular bad day, came home crying uncontrollably (I’m not someone who cries easily). I quit after 6 weeks.

            I didn’t learn anything from that job except that I hate working in customer service. I learned so much more in my professional internships.

          2. GreyjoyGardens*

            Maybe something like data entry or shelf stocking would fill the same bill for not-neurotypical people and/or introverts.

            I don’t think *everyone* should be forced to work in a public-facing job – though I can see the point in having college-bound teenagers develop some empathy for what it’s like to work those jobs. But it’s probably good, on balance, for teenagers to get some real-work-world experience before college.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Oh, I do love me some data entry. Just lock me up in the data farm closet and slide in meals through the slot, and I’ll be fine. It’s the people part that’s the problem.

              1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

                Oh yeah, data entry is so satisfying. You, data point, go here, and you go here, and everything is in its place… ah so refreshing.

        2. allathian*

          Any entry-level job experience would probably be great. If it’s a part of coursework, two weeks to a month of it instead of school would be ideal. Those who really can’t handle customer-facing jobs should be able to stock shelves, take inventory, etc. I did two weeks in a daycare when I was 15, for six hours a day. I don’t know if it would be possible now with background checks etc. I didn’t get paid, but I did get lunch for free, even if it was at a low table with a group of four-year-old kids! My favorite part of the job was to read aloud to the kids during their rest period. It was exhausting, though, some days I fell asleep, too… It’s the only time I’ve fallen asleep on the job, LOL. Another girl from my class who was also there ended up liking the job so much that she made a career of it. That daycare is still going and now she’s the head teacher there!

      3. Ms. Ann Thropy*

        You make some excellent points about pushing career choices on teens, and about the value of making your first inevitable mistakes in a lower-stakes work situation.

      4. Solidarity*

        I disagree, I think. Yes, some people make mistakes and learn a lot from these early jobs, but I’ve also known people who developed bad habits in their high school/college jobs that followed them into their first professional jobs. Also, sometimes they learned things that might work well for someone in a low-level service job but actively hinder them in an office environment. Salaried professional jobs just have very different norms and cultures than low level service jobs.

        Plus, some people might be miserable in such positions, such as people who have various mental illnesses or disabilities, or who are neurodiverse.

        I think it’s important for professional folk to have sympathy for service workers, but I don’t think literally working those jobs is necessary for that.

        1. tetris replay*

          I agree with the bad habits concern. The work environments are so much different, which is part of why it’s so hard to make the leap from retail to office work without help from the college/university system.

      5. Kiki*

        I think the diminishing prevalence of young people (of a certain socio-economic bracket) working in retail and service jobs is definitely playing a part in this! I hated every moment of my high school grocery store job, but I did develop a lot of skills and maturity while working there that made me a much better employee at my next job.

        I also think a lot fewer companies expect to have to train and mentor young employees. Everyone seems to expect that some sort of workplace training would have happened at some earlier stage of employees’ lives… which is unrealistic. My parents talk about their first jobs out of college and the training they received… I just can’t believe it– a standard 6 month training program for everyone at the company! And their training went over everything in detail: workplace norms, answering the phone, how to make coffee, etc. They had experienced mentors who gave them advice about self presentation and communication (e.g. my mom was too quiet and needed to speak her mind because she was smarter than she gave herself credit for; my dad is a ham and that made him very well-liked, but to be taken seriously he should tone it down sometimes). I have never had that experience! I would appreciate it so much!! I’m in my mid 20s at this point, but there is so, so much coaching I could benefit from.

        With regards to Alice from the letter, I was really happy to hear that she did grow and seem to take the LW’s words to heart somewhat. I think that demonstrates the internship served its purpose! A lot of students with gumption who’ve never had a professional job before come in and make a ton of out-of-touch suggestions or don’t understand that there’s somewhat of a hierarchy to work within. And on the flip side of that, some students come in and don’t realize they can advocate for themselves or suggest changes. Part of the responsibility of having interns is mentoring them and making them better employees.

        I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with the number of businesses and individuals who don’t seem to understand part of the bargain with interns and entry-level employees is that you’re hiring for potential with the knowledge you’ll be responsible for training them and getting them polished. This is also an equity issue. Kids with parents in professional roles probably have absorbed some workplace norms while kids who don’t have that touchstone are more likely to accidentally breach professional norms or be working off flawed demonstrations of professional life from television or movies (The Office is a spectacular comedy, but not realistic in many ways! All those people would have been fired at most jobs!)

        1. Kiki*

          To be clear, I’m not frustrated with the workplace from this letter or the LW– they seem awesome. Just a somewhat related observance/source of frustration.

          1. Avasarala*

            Totally agree with you and HoHum. I think there is way too much focus on trying to scaffold the most successful professional career, and that looks like: extensive extracurriculars as a youngster, internships at white collar jobs in prestigious companies in high school/college, and a job in their field out of school.

            It limits the kinds of experiences young people can have. Any deviation from this means they’re falling behind. We even see on this site recommendations to do internships to get experience so you can get an entry level job that requires experience. Sure it’s good advice in that it’s the only way to play the game, but what an awful game! It works for companies because they don’t have to do any training, and they get to weed out anyone who doesn’t “fit” which creates huge diversity problems.

            There is so much young people could gain as life experience and character definition from doing physical blue collar work, or working outdoors, or working in retail, or childcare, or traveling/working overseas, or volunteering or all kinds of experiences that don’t lead to anything but are value in themselves. Older people often talk about their teens and twenties as a time of journey and discovery, but their children are not allowed that same leeway to discover, lest they “fall behind” in the rat race. And younger people who have to work are even further “behind”–further stratifying socioeconomic classes.

            If there is anything we can learn from the current crisis it is that Productivity is a lie and nothing has value but what we ascribe to it. Young people should be allowed to meander without having to determine A Career right away, and there is a lot to learn from having different jobs and experiences, if we choose to see the value in them.

            1. HoHumDrum*

              I definitely feel like as the gap between the wealthy and the rest of grows wider we’ve all taken on this attitude of “If something isn’t going to directly lead to more money in your future it’s a frivolous waste of time” which I think is quite obviously a limiting perspective to have. I’m not blaming any individual who is just trying to ensure their child’s survival, I blame the fact that our society has come to this point.

              1. Kiki*

                Yeah, I do really feel like now the expectation is that everything young people do should be some sort of resume builder. Sometimes the most enriching and positive experiences come from nonsensical things, like being in a really terrible ska band or getting really into a fandom. Especially in the case of fandoms because so many people I know got into website design –> software development by trying to run a blog for whatever thing they were obsessed with whenever they were young.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          I think you are right about companies not wanting to do much training or onboarding with their new hires or even their interns. It’s as if they expect parents and colleges to do all the heavy lifting of molding young people into “professionals.” Not all parents or schools are suited to this, and not all kids are going to absorb the lessons.

          And so we get letters to AAM saying “my god these interns, they don’t have a clue!” And the other side of this are interns for whom this is their first introduction to having any kind of expectations of professionalism. I remember that letter from someone wondering about an underaged intern allowed to drink at company events. It occurred to me that nobody up until then tried to impress on the intern that 1) loosely-goosey observation of “underage drinking is illegal” is common in college but not at work and 2) getting drunk at work events is a terrible idea.

          So…whose responsibility IS it to prepare young adults for the working world? Going back to the Good Old Days of companies having extensive training programs would be a good idea, I think. Like Kiki, I find it frustrating that companies (and bosses) don’t get that interns and new hires need to be trained and polished and shown the ropes. They don’t pop out of the womb knowing professional conduct. And what they learn from parents and schools is wildly variable. It IS an equity issue, because kids from professional families usually learn *something* but kids from working-class or poor families do not.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Heck, I’ve taken jobs in areas where I have significant experience, received no training on company specifics (like rules, policies, procedures, or even the basic guidelines of what to order for a team lunch) and then gotten a snappy, “You ordered from the wrong pizza place and don’t have the company slogan in your email, I thought you knew what you were doing.”

            1. allathian*

              That sucks, I’m so sorry. Good employers realize that employees need at least some training in internal procedures to be successful at their jobs.

      6. Gumby*

        I live in an area which is, by and large, extremely privileged. The high school students I know are both quite pampered (if you want to go to the movies you ask your parents and they hand over a couple of $20s / you take your parent’s credit card to the mall for clothes shopping and basically don’t worry about the price of anything) and quite stressed (you only got a 95% on that test? And only 2 AP classes as a junior? What kind of slacker are you? – and this is pressure from peers not necessarily parents). No one has part time jobs because “school is your job.” Which I get, and mostly support. But it is a crazy stressful race to get into the right classes, join the right clubs, earn perfect scores, have specialized SAT tutors and no, for lack of a better way to put it, real life experience. No “I saved up my paychecks to buy this thing that I wanted and look what I accomplished!” Accomplishment only looks one way: good grades, relevant internships at prestigious companies, notable success at college application-worthy endeavors like sports or music.

        But that is the area I live in now. It wasn’t how I grew up and there are obviously areas and people where having a job in high school is not a character-building opportunity as much as a survival necessity. For those high school students I’d love to give them a chance to spend a good chunk of time focusing on long term goals, like college, without the pressure of earning a paycheck to get by or help the family.

        1. NeonFireworks*

          I grew up like this. Thank goodness for the summer I spent working retail. And for meeting so many different types of people after college that in spite of being raised by well-meaning and kind folks, I gained a solid understanding of the fact that I’d never understood inequality. Not even close.

        2. Kiki*

          This wasn’t the norm where I grew up, but it was the norm for an overwhelming amount of the students I went to college with. It, in my opinion, created a needlessly intense and stressful environment. So many people involved had no grounding with the reality of the greater world (from students to TAs to professors). People were having complete mental breakdowns over getting, like, a B+ and thinking their dreams were dashed because they’d never get into X graduate program or be accepted by Y prestigious internship.
          It’s interesting to be about 5 years removed from college and talk to friends who are like, “… yeah, you know, I wish someone had taken me aside and told me to calm down and that everything would be okay and that I should have fun.” We all have jobs, we’re all doing fine and living lives we love. I don’t regret any of the time I spent learning in college, but I do regret all the time I spent stressing about things I don’t even remember today.
          And like, some of that pressure was created and fostered by peers, but sooooooo many professors set bad examples and precedents! One professor announced to their organic chemistry class that her mother had just passed away and the funeral was today, but she was there giving out an exam because that’s what responsibility is. No!! I have never had a job that would have expected me to miss my MOTHER’S FUNERAL. And surely a TA could have proctored the exam, if not, everyone would have been happy to have delayed the test.
          I think we need a major cultural reset in schools to make sure kids know it’s okay to fail sometimes, it’s okay to meander, it’s okay to need to be a human, it’s okay to not get the most prestigious internship.

      7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m not so sure I agree with “are we losing something with the encouraging younger and younger people to start their full professional lives right away?”. I get the impression that middle class youngsters are starting to work later and later. I went straight into work from school, although a lot of pupils from my elite school did go to uni. It was a matter of “you need a degree if you want to do something interesting”. Twenty years later, still without a degree, when I needed to hire an assistant only people with Masters in my field applied. My kids have both studied to Master level because “just a degree is worthless”.

        We made sure our kids both worked in various “dead-end jobs” (factory and retail) so that they realised the value of their education.

    2. Massmatt*

      I am wondering more about how the intern could not be fired until she left the program years later. I’m glad she wound up improving, but it seems very odd to me that an employer can get stuck with a terrible intern for YEARS! And for a paid internship, no less. If interns are untouchable, how scared must this employer be of firing regular employees? It sounds like the kind of place George Costanza sought out.

    3. OP2*

      Good point. The field in question is somewhat notorious for having entry level folks with a lot of technical expertise but with maturity and professionalism levels that aren’t quite as advanced. I think it’s compounded by the fact that a lot of the interns have highly accomplished resumes coming in and some of them were a little dismayed by the amount of grunt work that it turns out is necessary to actually do the job on a day to day basis. Most of them recognize that this is necessary work, buckle down, and knock it out till they get a chance to do more interesting things; others have a tougher time adapting, and Alice was on the far end of the bell curve.

      Alice overcame her truly breathtaking degree of initial cluelessness but never really stopped giving off the vague sense that whatever it was, she was pretty sure she’d do a better job if she were in charge. I think this will actually be an asset to her when she moves into a leadership position, as I expect she will, because she does have good ideas and clearly has the confidence (and, dare I say it, gumption) to move them forward. But I don’t think she ever truly understood why her behavior during her first year was so problematic, and I can recognize that she has skills and talents (and is funny and a social leader) without particularly wanting to ever manage her again.

      1. juliebulie*

        Thanks for the clarification!

        I’m willing to bet that, a few years down the line, your Alice will encounter an Alice of her own. The ghosts of every single bad working habit I ever had has come back to haunt me in one form or another.

  3. Casper Lives*

    It’s nice to read updates on my lunch break. :) Congratulations OP1!!! 1 year is a huge achievement. I’m happy you have a reasonable boss and could make everything work.

    OP 2, It’s great that Alice was able to grow. Changing to become more professional is a great out come for an intern. You don’t have to recommend her if she’s not up to your standards, but overall, growth is great. I improved over the course of my student job at college. I’m glad the college was used to students who were unaware of professional norms but willing to change.

  4. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    Congrats OP1! What a huge accomplishment. I just want to let you know that I’m rooting for you.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Great job, OP1! On the anniversary and on the successful conversation with your supervisor. I’m so glad that they were reasonable and understanding.

    Sending you strength to get through quarantine.

  6. NerdyKris*

    Congrats, LW1. To add to your check in advice, people should also check in on friends making jokes about drinking all day. It’s very easy to go from “I’m just doing it for the novelty” to full blown alcoholism when there isn’t an end date in sight. I’ve known a few people that started their problem drinking that way. Make sure your friends aren’t really spending every day drunk.

  7. Blaise*

    I’m dying to know what state has a culture that revolves around drinking. Somewhere remote, like North Dakota or something maybe??

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Was just going to comment Wisconsin. We, uh, have a thing for beer.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          And cheese. And sausage. And the National Mustard Museum is there! All of those things go so well together.

          1. AGD*

            I went to Wisconsin once for a conference. We went bowling over lunchtime with some Important People and everyone had beer and cheese and fries. It was glorious.

        2. Pilcrow*

          And brandy, too. Seriously, we apparently buy half (HALF) of Korbel’s yearly production.

          I’m also a non-drinker from Wisconsin! Howdy, fellow cheese-headed teetotalers!

          Hmm, cheese.

        3. Eukomos*

          Oh yeah, my partner’s from Wisconsin and I am routinely amazed by the amount of beer he drinks. And he’s amazed by how little of it I drink, and I’m not any kind of teetotaler!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Any place with significant local industry and/or local hsitory. Northern California’s wine country. Kentucky bourbon territory. Portland craft beer scene (both Oregon and Maine, actually). Midwestern cities with German ancestry & Oktoberfests.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        “Midwestern cities with German ancestry & Oktoberfests.”

        I.e., Milwaukee, just to name one notable example!

      2. mgguy*

        I’m a life-long Kentuckian and also a tee-totler. Even though the bourbon industry is big, not drinking is also a pretty widely accepted norm(I think our position in the “Bible Belt” has a lot to do with that). I’ve never found myself in a situation, professional or personal, where my not drinking was ever anything more than a “No, really, I’m fine” although I know that certainly not the case everywhere.

      1. Blaise*

        I live in Michigan (Metro Detroit) and I would have never thought to say that our state culture revolves around drinking. I mean we make incredible wine, don’t get me wrong… it’s just not something I’ve seen touted universally. Unless I’m in some counterculture accidentally lol

    2. old curmudgeon*


      My younger kid graduated from a university located in a Wisconsin city that had more bars per capita than any other in the country, until the city council got embarrassed and stopped giving new liquor licenses a few years back. The city is still in the top four or five.

      I used to work with someone who followed the UW-Madison sports teams. One year, the football team was playing a game in Hawaii, so my coworker and her husband got plane tickets, took a long weekend and went to the game. They were sitting with some friends in a restaurant, and their table was covered with beer bottles and Old Fashioned glasses, literally edge to edge. A local walked past the table, glanced down at the debris, and said “here from Wisconsin, are you?”

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I doubt it’s remote. North Carolina has a huge craft beer scene. So does Oregon. In the bigger cities, the beer is even more plentiful.

  8. Architect*

    OP3 – Make sure you really research and understand what you are getting into before you hop into training to become an Architect.
    It’s 5-6 years of school (most programs are switching to a Masters degree, and your undergrad generally has to be something architecture-related), plus 3 years of internship curriculum post-graduation before you are eligible to become licensed (you can now take the 5-6 licensing tests straight out of school).
    Starting pay is not great (not like engineers), and very few people get to go on to be designers – that’s a designated role at most larger firms. It’s not uncommon for people to get trapped in just drawing up other folks designs. There’s also a lot of client/consultant/people management, and more letter writing than you would expect.
    That said, I’m now 15 years in and pretty content with pay, but I’m also strictly a technical architect and knew that would be the case coming out of school. I’ve seen a lot of younger staff get burned out because the realities of the first 3-5 years of your working life are very different from the design wonderland that was school. My boss also had a late in life career change to architecture from a very different field, so it can work, but please understand the realities of architecture are very different than what most folks expect.

    1. Jules the First*

      This. I always tell people that they should not study to become an architect unless they literally cannot imagine ever doing anything else. If you are trying to decide between architecture and something else, go do that something else. To get to do the really cool stuff in architecture takes single-minded dedication to doing architecture and the vast majority of architects will never do anything more that draw up other peoples’ ideas. You have to love architecture or you will end up hating everything.

      1. Architect*

        To be a designer, you have to be 100% consumed by architecture in a profession that already has terrible work life balance (I’ve worked really hard over the years to get myself to a point where I work as close to 40 hours as possible, but there’s still 2-3 times a year where I work 60 hours a week for a few weeks).
        Also, if you are someone who craves security/stability, this is not the profession for you. Many firms do hire/fire cycles when big projects come in the door and then finish. And even the firms that try really hard not to do that are affected by the economy – during the 2008-2010 recession, my firm shrank about 40%, and the Portland Oregon metro area had a 50% unemployment rate for architecture staff. We are on the front lines of those recessions, because the first thing businesses do when money is tight is stop that new building idea. Ideally, your firm has enough varied projects that one market sector or client pulling out won’t tank you, but that can be hard to achieve.

        1. Amy Sly*

          All through high school I wanted to be an architect. I now get that desire out of my system drawing up plans for doll houses. :)

          1. Architect*

            When I played the Sims, about 60% of my game play was just drawing up their houses.
            Which, considering Will Wright originally created the game as way to evaluate designs based on Christopher Alexander’s “The Pattern Language” makes a lot of sense. The game designers realized once you set “people” loose in the world, users wanted to control the “people” instead of the buildings, and the game evolved from there.

          2. 2QS*

            I took up sewing to scratch the architectural itch. It’s not exactly the same, but involves drafting and math and pieces fitting together and ideally things that turn out both really functional and really aesthetically appealing. That and watching other people build miniatures on YouTube.

        2. Jules the First*

          Just wanted to say a quick thank you for being a good technical architect! I know just how thankless your job usually is, and I want to take the opportunity to appreciate the amazing people like you who a) taught me how buildings *actually* get built and b) make my life easier every single day.
          I took a step back five years ago to do just feasibility and concept work (the boring scope definition and box-ticking parts) in order to stop working 100-hour weeks – I’m happy, and I don’t precisely miss it, but nothing can ever replace the magic of watching paper architecture come to life. Although I no longer build buildings or manage people who do, I couldn’t do what I do without everything I’ve learned over the years from the technical architects who were so gracious with their time and energy in teaching me how to feel a set of plans instead of just reading them and how to sense when a site is going wrong before it’s past the point of being readily fixable. Whatever those pesky designers say, y’all are amazing and you are the difference between interesting ideas and incredible spaces.

          1. Architect*

            Thank YOU! I know I’m odd in that I *love* trying to solve building code puzzles, and as much as I appreciate the artistry of design, I have a heck of time trying to make it come out of my brain.
            So I’ll help you with your challenges, and you help me. After all, that’s the whole point of a design team!
            Now we just need one of those folks who love arguing with contractors, and we’re all set!

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m interested to know which field in Engineering doesn’t have a crappy starting pay. My first (part time) job in Software Engineering paid enough to cover my monthly conmuting expenses and the ocasional and very rare lunch at McDonald’s. My first “professional” outfit was paid with the savings of my previous call center gig.

      1. Architect*

        Well, it may not be great, by I know it’s better than architecture’s starting (as a profession, we routinely under-value our services)
        When I was 6-7 years into my career and finally getting to see the internal budgeting numbers for the first time, our structural/civil/MEP engineers who were 1-2 years out of school were billing out at higher rates than I was, despite the experience difference. And that was for in-house engineers, so we weren’t talking about consultant fees+markup
        But that’s structural/civil/MEP vs software engineering, so that may be some of the difference.

      2. Solidarity*

        I find this comment puzzling, most engineering positions have great starting salaries out of school. A lot of my friends are 20-something comp. sci. or engineering majors (mostly mechanical or electrical) all of them made more than $55k in their first job out of school (with benefits). I know some that made almost $70k in their first job. This is not in a super high CoL area like San Francisco or Boston and their university was not an elite one.

        The fact that your first job was part-time might explain the low pay, but I don’t know a single engineering major whose first job wasn’t full-time. I know some who had part-time paid internships while they were in college, but that’s different.

        1. Massmatt*

          I felt the same way, engineers I have known were generally sought after right out of school and have made good money. The challenge seems to be keeping skills current with the rapid changes it tech and software.

          With that said, there are lots of school programs that use “engineering” in their titles but aren’t what I would call engineering. Subway can call their employees “sandwich engineers” if they want to but they are not going to be making good $.

      3. Gumby*

        If you manage to land a straight out of college software engineering job at the big name companies in the SF Bay Area you will start at $130-180k/year. The starting salary at Facebook/Google for a person with an undergraduate degree in CS or EE is higher than the salary for a person coming out of grad school with a Ph. D. in a natural science (physics / chemistry / biology).

        This is a contributing factor to the absolutely wackadoo rental market here. Because while software engineers rake in salaries that can handle paying $3000+/mo for a one bedroom apartment, many of the other job titles make significantly less.

      4. mechengr*

        Mechanical engineer in power generation, made $65k right out of college, at $82k now, 3 years later. In a low COL area (deep south).

    3. Llellayena*

      I agree. Also take into account that licensing is different depending on your state. Some states allow you to take the tests fresh out of school and some make you wait until your internship hours are done. Total time from beginning of school to licensed for me was over 8 years. If you are interested, many architecture schools provide an introductory summer program that anyone can apply for (not just students, I attended one a couple years after college). I can’t guarantee it’s available this year due to covid, but you can check, some of them may be doing a remote version of it. A masters program tends to be 3-4 years if you come in with a different undergrad degree, and many programs do not want you to have a job while you’re in the program. If you are interested and need to work during the program, look at Drexel, working for a firm is built into their program. work-life balance and type of work is very dependent on which firm you’re with, but it is a field known for overwork and underpay.

      1. Anon architect*

        Licensed architect here…I was coming on here to say something similar—the actual practice of architecture is very different than how it appears, AND very different from how it’s taught in schools. So you want to be cognizant of that and make sure that you’re interested in the day to day reality.
        That is not to discourage anyone—I say this as someone who switched to architecture as a second career, and I love what I do. And actually I have found that the most useful educational background was my (unrelated) liberal arts degree.

        1. landscape architect*

          Hi, not an architect, but landscape architecture is similar. Practice is nothing like being in school. I found it very disappointing to go through grad school and then I was only considered capable of drawing and re-drawing lines to other peoples’ exact specifications? What was all of that creativity for? It’s a long, long ladder to climb up, and most people don’t become designers. I had just quit my job (for that and other reasons) before this crisis hit. Now it’s looking like I’ll be heading toward some other profession. Not sure what yet. (landscapes are cut even before buildings)

    4. Intern Architect*

      As someone 3 years out of architecture school and now working in the field, I personally am much happier NOT doing the intense, over-the-top design studios we were doing in school. Your success in architecture school is so dependent on you sharing design sensibilities with whatever (sometimes very opinionated and inflexible) prof you’re assigned that semester, and that pressure combined with the fairly unhealthy lifestyle (lots of all-nighters, eating take out cause you didn’t go home last night, little exercise, etc.) has a way to really affect your morale and confidence. Now I have set hours (althought I still go over the 40 hours fairly often, but it’s so much more balanced than before! I definitely go home every night!), and I actually enjoy the less designy work. Also, while I did start at a fairly low pay, my salary has increased by 35% since I started.
      To be fair, I’m a fairly technically-oriented person, so code research and building science are more up my alley than coming up with funky designs. I really don’t mind if someone else comes up with a concept and give it to me to make it work in the real world. Doing the research and detailing is kind of like solving a puzzle and can be really satisfying once you find the answer!
      All that to say, it really depends on the kind of person you are, but it can be a very satisfying career path. By all means, do your research before you get into it, because being licensed is indeed a very long process. I’m 9 years into it and finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If construction can get going again in my province, I’ll be able to get those final Construction Administration hours I need!

  9. Cassidy*

    Way to go, OP! I salute you also with a flavored seltzer! You’ve got this!!!!!

    1. vdawg*

      I wouldn’t count myself sober But I mostly don’t drink alcohol – bad effects. Flavored seltzer is the best. I used to have a lot of trouble with people making comments about how non-drinkers were losers and trying and failing to shrug it off. Drank a lot more than I wanted because of that. Now though I’m an old and care less. And seltzer is great! Solidarity among seltzer drinkers. And OP1 I hope things get easier.

  10. Frankie*

    Congrats on your sobriety, #1!! What a huge milestone. I hope you are getting the support you need during the pandemic.

  11. MicroManagered*

    I was sober and I wanted to stay that way, so I would not be able to physically attend events that focus on drinking even though I would still love to participate in team building activities.

    OP1 I think this is a great script. It’s to the point and it’s not a request, but you didn’t lead with “I have a drinking problem.” (That wouldn’t be wrong to do, but I like that you didn’t make that the focus of the conversation.) It’s probably a good idea for leadership at your company to be aware that not-everyone enjoys activities where the primary focus is drinking (even if you like to drink!) anyway.

    Great job and congrats on your anniversary! :)

  12. RB*

    Wow, #3 probably set a record for longest time elapsed between original letter and the update. I’m not complaining, I think it’s great, and interesting and insightful in a way that the other updates don’t provide. It’s like a time-lapse view into someone’s career.

  13. BeesKneeReplacement*

    OP3, I just read your letter and that was *wild*. I had assumed you were a student and the advisor was through school. You were already a qualified engineer looking for an engineering job. I understand there are a wide variety of engineering jobs out there, but still.

    I get that you didn’t want to distract with details about the mock interview but would love to hear what went wrong.

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