After graduation, a change of plans

For seniors about to graduate, spring may be filled with dread as much as it is filled with relief at the end of gray Oregon skies. The transition from academic study into an enjoyable, rewarding career can feel daunting, if not altogether insurmountable, but many people have managed to do it.

Chris Armes said she was lucky to stumble into urban planning after finding an interest in geography. After a summer job with the Forest Service that refined her skills in geographical cartography, or map-making, she found a job that lets her work in the field daily.

“I just took a lot of different classes,” she said, “then declared my major after I realized how much I liked dealing with urban geography.”

After graduation she volunteered in the City of Portland’s Planning Bureau twice a week.

“I just gave them my time,” she said, “and I think I bugged them until they gave me a really minimal job.”

She made $6 an hour, but said it was worth it. She said she was in and that after the funding for each of her projects ran out, the service would always come up with something new for her to do.

Armes is now a permanent, full-time staff member in the City of Portland’s Department of Transportation. She is currently working on a big project, splitting up East Burnside into a one-way street, with Couch Street going in the opposite direction.

She said her days depend on the phase of her project, and that she may be in her office all the time. During the construction segment she usually spends half the week in the field. She said that a big part of her happiness at work is due to her great coworkers.

“If you’re not around people you like, it’s over,” she said.

Tim Hall said he entered college loving math, but by the end of his first semester in his first calculus class he had discarded his plans of becoming a high school math teacher. An adviser recommended a computer-programming course for his second semester.

“I was lucky to find programming,” he said. “I loved it right away.”

During his junior year Hall took a semester off to accept a paid position with investment company Edward Jones. In addition to competitive wages, he earned a full semester of credit for his work with the company.

He said his school was high on image, that his adviser tried to steer him toward graduate school, claiming that he would make more money afterward.

“He asked me how much my salary would be in this tone like I was being stupid to pass up a grad program,” Hall said. “I told him, and he was like, ‘Oh. Well, you should take the job then.'”

After 10 years of programming, Hall said the job is often very bureaucratic. He said an increase of status reports and tracking makes it monotonous.

“There’s still plenty of opportunities that aren’t so uptight,” he said. “I used to work for a small insurance company. They’re more temporary situations, so I guess you’d have more control. But you don’t get health insurance.”

Hall advises prospective programmers to learn as many computer languages and technologies as possible.

“In this industry, there are constant regulatory changes that have to be learned and dealt with,” he said. “The year after I graduated, my school revamped the curriculum to be more current.”

For lawyer Josh Barrett, returning to his private practice was the key to remembering what he found interesting about law in the first place. Barrett participated in the debate team during high school, studied business at Montana State University, and then sat for the Montana State CPA exam.

He worked as an accountant in Montana before enrolling in the law program at Willamette University in Salem. After law school, Barrett established a private practice with Black Helterline LLP, a firm in Portland.

After several years, he tried out a stint as a staff lawyer working within Lime Financial Services, but he moved back into private practice with Black Helterline last month.

“Maybe it’s the honeymoon period, but it surprises me how much I’ve enjoyed it lately,” he said. “As a company lawyer, it just wasn’t as stimulating, interesting or challenging.”

Barrett said his days are mainly filled with office work. He averages two meetings per day with clients, as well as a couple of schmoozing and networking lunches each week.

Barrett said he works long days that start around 6:30 a.m. and stop when he goes to pick up the kids by 5:30 p.m. He said there is also occasional weekend work and that he was at the office on Easter.

“Don’t go to law school just because you don’t have anything else to do, or because it sounds cool,” he said. “If you’re thinking of law school, ask yourself why. Don’t go unless you have some good answers.”