photo of money stacked

Many first jobs have nothing to do with where you eventually land in your career.

Or do they?

Sometimes, when you look back, even the most seemingly random teenage summer job played a crucial role in your career path.

A recent ASCE Collaborate discussion made just this connection, asking, “What was your first job? And how did that job eventually help you in your civil engineering career?”

Here are some highlights (and be sure to log in and contribute your own story):

Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE

Tulsa, Oklahoma

In high school and early college, I taught private swim lessons to kids ranging in age from 2 to around 12. Some kids were super-confident and others required a lot of encouragement. Some liked explanations using shapes like “move your arms in a circle,” and some preferred descriptions like “windmill arms.”

Some were content to just see how long they could hold their breath under the water, and some needed it to be some kind of game. Communicating and demonstrating things in completely different ways depending on the student(s) in each session really helped me develop my ability to present information tailored to my audience.

I think this comes in handy as a civil engineer when the way that you explain something to another engineer, an architect, a contractor, and a developer or other non-technical stakeholder will all need to be different to ensure understanding.

Maxx Taga, EIT

Glendale, California

First job: Cold Stone Creamery associate

Next job: VFX artist

Other jobs: Event security for celebrities, board-game tester, football analyst, etc.

I learned to be flexible and adapt quickly to whatever is thrown my way.

Christopher Seigel, P.E., M.ASCE

Woodbury, New Jersey

My first job was as a tournament-style paintball referee. I would get to the paintball field an hour or so before it opened, and drag out, stake down, and use a leaf blower (man those things were loud) to inflate all the air bunkers that were used on the paintball fields.

We would raise the large nets that ringed the field and tie them off (I remember there were always friendly debates about which knot was best). Then we would start letting people onto the field for the first game of the day. Often, I had to select the players for each team from those assembled. I always thought that it took some finesse to do it properly. It helped to know a lot of the returning players every week and understand their skill levels to try and keep things balanced and fun for as many people as possible. …

On busy days, there might be as many as four other referees with me, and some days I was by myself. We would open in the heat, and in the cold, and even under light rain and moderate snow. …

The job was extremely tiring and a lot of fun most of the time. It must have been when I look back at how low the pay was! It taught me grit and hard work, the ability to be uncomfortable in terms of weather (and the importance of proper clothing!), to communicate with others clearly, the value of good relationships with your coworkers and clients, the importance of job safety (minor accidents and injuries did happen from time to time), and to try to find a job that had meaning to me. It also got me interested in understanding how things worked, as paintball guns can range from simple to very complex machines!

Chad Morrison, P.E., F.ASCE

Greenville, Rhode Island

As a teen, I worked as a parking-lot attendant at the beach. My duties included flagging in cars, directing them where to park, collecting money, and cleaning up.

It helped instill in me a good work ethic. It taught me to care for the environment and how to deal with the public. In regards to engineering – there is no such thing as free parking, and a lot of parking is infrastructure! We also had to be mindful of accessibility for emergency vehicles.

Join the conversation on ASCE Collaborate.