My First Job | Engineering intern on the Great Highway

Eileen M. White

Currently Director of Wastewater for East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). I am a licensed Civil Engineer and Water Distribution Operator. I have lived in Piedmont 20 years with husband Rob and three sons, who claim that Michael Murphy, David Hopkins and the other talented Schoolmates and Piedmont Recreation Department staff raised them.

Q: What was your very first job?
I was an interning Engineer on the Great Highway in San Francisco when I was eighteen years old. I had just completed my first year of Civil Engineering at U.C. Berkeley.

Q: How did you get it?
I was offered the job as part of my four year academic engineering scholarship at U.C. Berkeley. I had spent the previous two summers working full time as a Word Processing Operator at the Bank of America in downtown San Francisco. The single most important thing I learned from my job as a word processing operator was that I did not want to do this type of work for the rest of my life. As a word processing operator, I had to type over 80 words a minute with excellent accuracy. It was extremely boring, but it paid well. The idea of working as an Engineering Intern sounded much more exciting than sitting in a room typing all day.

Q: How was your first day?
I showed up on the first day wearing a nice pair of pants, a blouse and loafers. The manager informed me that I would be inspecting the construction of the sewer boxes along the Great Highway and the new outfall they were constructing into the ocean. I went home and changed to jeans, a shirt, sweater, and a warm jacket and borrowed a pair of one of my brother’s hiking boots so I would have the appropriate attire for the job. When I returned dressed in the appropriate attire, my boss handed me a hard hat and a bright orange vest, and I went out to start inspecting the construction work.

Q: What did it pay?
I think I was making about $7.00 per hour which was more than I earned from my paper routes, babysitting and mowing lawns (other “first” jobs!), but it paid less per hour than the Word Processing Operator job. I disliked that job enough that the drop in pay did not matter. I took the Great Highway job in the hopes of finding the thing I might want to do for the rest of my life.

Q: Who was your boss?
My boss was a middle aged engineer who had traveled the world working on large engineering projects.

Q: Worst day?
The worst day was my first day showing up in the wrong work attire, and not even owning a pair of work boots.

Q: Any lessons learned?
I learned to ask more questions about a job before I took it — and find out about the appropriate attire!

Q: Any advice to pass on?
Be flexible and open. I think bringing a positive attitude to work every day makes for a great work environment. If you do not enjoy the job, you should look for another job. You spend more than eight hours a day doing your job, so you want to enjoy it. Life is a journey and there are different paths, so it is fine to switch jobs if one is not right for you. Try to land someplace where you can be excited about going in every day.  I am excited to go to work every day and to lead a talented team protecting public health and the environment.

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