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In my “adulting” years, my first and only job after college was working at Best Buy. They were the one who gave me a chance after an extended medical leave period. They overlooked the fact that I was previously fired during another stint (learned to be punctual). You see, I was a serial job-ist, hardworking to the bone and happy to serve people. My stays at each job were brief from innocent high schooler and bouncing around during college. My last roommate worked 3 jobs with the goal of paying off her student debt in less than 3 years was inspiring. The hustling mentality was reaching spidey levels.
Working at Best Buy: October 2014- April 2016
That scenario was slashed about a month before graduation, so it was a journey itself before I was psychologically suited to work. I immediately signed up as a seasonal peon cashier, a stint I excelled at during my days at Target AND my college dining hall. Seasonals weren’t guaranteed a job after the holidays. That motivated me to do crazy in-house exploration: be so useful that it’s absurd for them to let me go.
I was quite personable, but my weak points were persuading people to take on credit cards to fund their purchases. I wasn’t made for sales and my mind was better suited for backend (behind the scenes) work. I knew the layout and items short of looking it up on a computer just by walking down the aisles and scanning them at the counter. Unless you worked at Fry’s, electronics stores sell a lot of small parts and even having fewer choices at Best Buy were overwhelming. My supervisors immediately noticed I was more useful in other places so they switched me over to the Inventory/ Merchandising team, which at the time were combined.
What did Merchandising or Inventory Specialists do?
For those of you out of the know, Inventory deals with product tracking, online orders outbound or store-picks and receiving products that comes in. Merchandising keeps track of the appearances of the store, ensuring stock and replenishing signage. We also have the fine pleasure of getting up early Sunday morning to switch out the tags before store opening. Sticky tags were annoying to peel off. I had a certain way of GENTLY applying tags, so they were easier to pull off the following week (pro-tip: DON’T RUB the sticker in). The tags behind plastic railing were annoying to slide off. Sane people used scotty peelers, but coworkers would steal my peelers. The cheapiness of the tool (flimpsy plastic spoons) didn’t deter people from making off with the ones I’d recoup. My efficiency was based on how strong my nails can withstand pulling and peeling tags. The other responsibility of a merch person were filling out reports as we replenish products on the floor. I dreaded the reports as an indicator of how hard a person were working when everything is computerized. Our system was outdated and should instead allow us to type in how many we can refill and subtract the difference in excess (overstock). My mind wanted me to take carts and walk through the aisles and fill. To me an empty backroom was more actionable than busywork.
The responsibility for both roles were huge. Sadly, corporate and store-staff alike often overlook the backend by planning all activities and bonuses around sales team. The “warehouse teams” as we were affectionately known as were like the mice in Cinderella. We dressed Cindy and made her look presentable, whereas, everyone else focused on the glass slipper and whether they can get their foot to fit.
Upwards Mobility to Projects Team Specialist
Then I became peon Inventory/Merchandising Specialist working on a part-time in an unstable job. I knew I wasn’t going get replaced tomorrow, keeping me at part-time meant that Best Buy can forego offering me health, wealth and education benefits. My paltry retail rate (already competitive with my coworkers) was higher to start because of my college degrees was already close to a cap. I wouldn’t be earning too much more hourly staying in the same role. I would also need to either wait for my more seasoned coworkers (those in lifetime careers) to either move up or retire.
I looked into a full-time role and relocated back to the Bay Area for a bit working overnights with the Project Team. Projects did similar things as merchandising (the lightweight stuff) and they also do the grueling work of physically rearranging the store during plano (systematic floor plans) changes. In my month stint working with Project Team, I assisted in remodeling an entire San Francisco Best Buy store. Huge project that took 8weeks at 10hr+ workdays, 4 days a week! We rearranged EACH aisle about 3 times. 3 times was killing it and being efficient, but it’s closer to about 10 because the store had to look presentable when it reopened the following business day.
As a customer, you’re not going know that to rearrange fixtures, you’ll need to move A to B, but you need to find a C (hopefully this is an open space, if not you might need a D) where you can move B to ( B -> C) then grab A and move it into B (A -> B). Sometimes this takes all night just to do one gondola. Then, there’s breaking gondolas down and reattaching them to other aisles. And temporary repricing that last a day until we do it all over again because it won’t be completed in one night.
The beauty of Project Team is it combined merchandising with traveling. Project Team oversees the stores within a particular district, so they don’t report to stores. If you didn’t care to interact with customers, you would only see them during a store’s business hours if you were walking around the floor. If Best Buy were to fold tomorrow, the Project Team would be the one physically closing those doors. Job security until the very end!
When I was a store worker, I had to beg for hours. They were always allocated first to full-timers and then fed like scraps based on how much management liked you. Oh yeup, politics and likability play a part before your reliability. In the Merchandising department, it was even more limited as it was a small department. Working Project Team was an upgrade, I no longer worried about hours.. in fact, I realized I was getting too many hours.
Going from 12hrs to 60hrs within a couple weeks was a shock. Of course Project Team had a “budget” for hours to allocate, but the team is responsible for getting things done, so corporate readily forked over the overtime hours. I completely powered through it that month, I was the only person on both teams that showed up daily without callouts during this remodel.
Programming Bootcamp- would be candidate
All of this was during when I was looking into a programming bootcamp. I had my eyes set on Hack Reactor FOR years. The relocation meant I could visit their campus regularly for help. In fact, that’s pretty much my end goal when I made the decision to leave retail. It was about the hardest decision I made a year ago. It meant leaving a steady full-time (finally, benefits!) and company traveling opportunities. My team was already scheduled for multiple Southern California runs, Las Vegas and Hawaii. Passing those opportunities sucked, but I knew it was time. I wanted to focus on programming because as much fun working retail was, it would be slow earnings. I couldn’t do that to myself for life. I’m no doubt good at it and loved the regular interaction with customers and coworkers (it’s rare when you enjoy both), but it would be a job that’ll always undervalue me and find me disposal when someone else is willing to do it for less.
Profits in retail means cutting costs in crucial areas and overworking the staff, while keeping pay stagnant. Even though Project Team supposedly has it good, in-house means the team is considerably underpaid compared to 3rd party contractors. Logistically in-house means it gets potential done faster without pushing paperwork up one chain at a time. My dream is to work, enjoy it and being paid for my worth and then some!
It would also mean that I would be without a reliable source of income. I live my boyfriend and his family, which I am indebted to and I set to study my brains out. A Gofundme (conditional for a scholarship for their online pre-boarding course) was also set up. I was committed, until I wasn’t.
It wasn’t a match. I was gilded by the promise of creative juices magically flowing if I successfully complete the program and taking on side projects to demonstrate I was dedicated to the craft. I am also outwardly quiet and awkward in large group public settings. I didn’t even want to create a product! That makes it difficult to be a “developer”, I’m way better at the maintenance and testing of current products. So at that moment, this blog was born.
I am a Jill of Trades, a master of none. No two days were the same for me. At Target, I rarely stayed in one spot an hour at a time, whereas my neighboring cashiers manned the same register for an entire shift. I relieved people on breaks. I did the same at Best Buy so no one besides my supervisor really knew what I was up to on a given day. I just got the job done. I loved it, I commanded respect based on ability and I filled in the cracks.
And I seemed to excel at hustling. I had side jobs that I’ll share in this site that help keep me afloat. Bills and student loans were still there. I overcame The Fear (reference Friends). When Chandler says “That’s much worse than being 28 (yes, that’s me) and still working here” at the end of the clip, that felt like a punch in the gut. Believe me when I experienced firsthand exactly how that feels. Both figuratively and literally.
The sad reality is the latter half of the year 2016, I made more from my side hustles than I did in 2015 transitioning over to part-time. The month I worked full-time, I made about 4months of my part-time salary, so it wasn’t easy to walk away. But you know, money will come and go. There will be opportunities where money flows and other days you wish that money should grow on trees. What matters now is getting brave enough to be that change you want to be.