My Summer as a Programming Assistant

A few months ago, I was in a panic about finding a summer job. I was feeling quite picky about what I would be spending my 4 month summer doing. I had worked the past 4 years in multiple retail jobs – from Cobs Bread, to Chapters/Indigo Books, to Home Depot – and I had sworn up and down, left and right, that I would not find myself in another mundane-robotic-bureaucratic-company policy-ridden institution. I had had it with uniforms, fake smiles, standing for 8 hours a day, and punch cards. I wanted to gain real world experience in a real world job.

Enter the Canada Summer Jobs Program.

I applied for many, many jobs in this program that offered full time work from May to August in a reputable organization that would not only boost a resume but offer an educational experience. My call came in early May from the North Vancouver Community Arts Council where I had applied as a Events and Programming Assistant. This job was perfection.

As an English and Creative Writing major, being in an arts organization was an easy fit. I worked in a small office accompanied by a quaint exhibition gallery with 5 other women (one of whom was another “summer student”, as we were quickly labeled). All with a keen interest in the arts, community spirit, and pavlova, this team got along well.

We laughed at the hipsters over at Presentation House and an overly demanding art instructor.

It was my job to plan, implement, and oversee a series of five craft fairs. Or should I say, “Artisan Fairs”.  I also had to manage our summer camps. “Managing” perhaps was not the best word, as I did more canceling and refunding of the summer camps than anything else. A serious lack of registration for the week long camps kept me on my toes and increased my awareness to different forms of marketing and information technology. Writing and posting press releases; designing posters, handbills, and brochures; sticking said posters to Starbucks community boards; and tweeting and facebooking grew to become a large portion of my work load. I was surprised with how much responsibility I gained for the majority of our programming efforts.

At the first craft fair, on Canada Day at North Van’s Waterfront Park, I sat idly watching what I had created – twenty-five artisans all neatly lined up along the sea wall on one of the busiest days of the year and a children’s art activity crowded with hundreds of small children making lanterns. I had a sense of pride in what I had spent months planning. I had never felt pride standing bored at the cash desk at Home Depot. Maybe a few times I felt pride recommending and selling a great book at Indigo, but this was the first time I had something to show for my work. Getting a job, even just for the summer, where you can feel pride in what you’ve done is very rewarding. It makes those long hours stuck inside feel worth it.

My days in the office – Monday to Friday – varied from insanely busy to very slow. Some days I would slave over repetitive tasks such as cutting up thousands of entry ballots for the Art in the Garden Tour, and other days I would work in Adobe Illustrator to design newspaper advertisements. Some days I would get my hands dirty returning bottles to the Return-It Depot down the street, and other days I would write up financial reports on the success of our craft fairs. I learned quickly what kind of tasks I liked and did not like, and in so I learned a lot of things about myself that will help me in future career endeavors.

One week I was put to the task of instructing one of our summer art camps. I worked with our other summer student to put together a curriculum, gather supplies, and lead the camp with five kids. The three hours spent every day with those children was exhausting and eye opening. I knew before hand that I wanted to be a teacher, an English teacher to be exact, and I had also known that I did not want to teach elementary school. That belief was confirmed that week when the kids, ages five to nine, almost killed me with their behavioral issues.

Overall, the job was not easy. At times it was stressful, tiring, and some days felt really long. Learning about the dynamics of an office job was very useful and I learned a lot about office politics. I learned that I do not know anything, but sometimes I might say something that gets listened to so I should never stop voicing my opinion. I learned that you have to build up trust with your coworkers and prove yourself before they believe in your abilities. I learned that everything I write, say, post, or tweet about our organization has to be read over by someone else first (this started to relax throughout the summer). I learned that you have to suck up any fear of confrontation you have if you want to get the job done right.

Most of all, I learned that real jobs are the ones that make you think, make you learn, and make you grow up. They’ll make your resume look good and maybe even offer a nice reference letter, but more than that they will make you an inspired employee. My summer as a programming assistant at the NVCAC did all those things and more, and I am proud of the work I did there.

I strongly recommend everyone, if they can, to break from the self-damaging cycle of retail hell and branch out into the real world. It’ll be both more and less than what you hoped for, but you won’t regret it.

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