Exactly five years ago on this day on Sep 30, 2013, I packed all my life's belongings in two suitcases, and left for school at Boston. I was going to embark on a new journey, and I was excited, and worried at the same time. Attending graduate school would mean a lot of learnings, experiences and fun, but I also knew that I needed to be able to pay for the hefty school fees, living cost and more. Therefore, I quickly started to speak to my seniors from school, did research and started applying for hourly jobs throughout MIT and Harvard, that would allow me to generate the income needed to pay for school.
Reflecting back, the hourly jobs that I worked on in my first two years in the United States was instrumental in enforcing my understanding of hard work, grit and paying back. At the same time, I was able to improve my personal skill sets, including public speaking, mentoring, language skills and more. It was an enriching experience working hourly jobs.
I had an amazing time working hourly jobs to see myself through MIT and Harvard, and here are the different hourly work that I did while I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1. I worked as an hourly tour guide for Harvard Student Agencies
There are thousands of tourists that show up at Harvard yard every week. They come from China, Korea, Japan, Europe and more. I wanted to have an experience that would allow me to improve my public speaking skills, meet new people and introduce Harvard to potential future students (most tour guides came with parents and their children who wanted them to one day attend Harvard).
In order to get up to speed, I needed to fill up a paper application form from Harvard Student Agencies (took me 2 hours), trek all the way to the office to submit the form. (wish Workstream existed then!) and do manual paper on-boarding. At the same time, I needed to memorize the three lies of John Harvard, the "founding father" for the university, learned about the different routes of the school, and shadow a few of the more experienced tour guides. After over 10 hours of in-person training, I was ready to go! I started working for $25 per hour for the job and had a range of fun experiences from showing high school students from Japan, to bringing a group of professionals on a fun tour of Harvard.
2. I served as a resident advisor at MIT with one of the fraternity / living groups
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my time while in Boston, where I served as a resident advisor forEpsilon Theta, or "ET", which is a fraternity of co-living group within MIT. I was provided with room and board, lived with 25 brilliant MIT undergraduates majoring in computer science, physics and mathematics, and learned a bit more about engineering, American culture, and living with really smart people.
As a resident advisor, I needed to organize activities (of course I organized bi-weekly basketball sessions), mentor the students and be a friend when they needed a listening ear. I met many good friends during my time at Epsilon Theta, including living next to a student who came to MIT when he was 15 years old (he's now doing his PhD at Stanford at age 19), going for morning runs with the students, and talking about programming.
3. I worked as an hourly translator for Harvard Business School professors
As the same time, I signed up to be a translator at Harvard Business School for several professors who was hosting professionals from China. There is huge interest in classes at Harvard Business School with regardings to finance, law and economics. I conducted research online, found one of the school job boards which was looking for fluent Mandarin speakers, went through a 3 round interview process and got the job. The job was great as it had a hourly wage of $50 per hours due to the technical translation needed. I put in hours preparing for the various translation jobs in between classes I was taking on my own, and was able to save money to cover my school fees.
4. I signed up as an advisor and mentor for Harvard college students
Finally, I also signed up as a advisor atAdams Houseat Harvard College, which was the house to alumni including Henry Kissinger, Andy Borowitz, and more. I served as an advisor, where I met with many students, who I count as friends today, including Noah, who is an amazing engineer today, Christina, who used to compete in the Olympics for the United States in figure skating, and Edward, who is an outstanding tech entrepreneur today. I held office hours, where I would provide career guidance, feedback on resumes, and set goals for these students.
Juggling 4 hourly jobs, while attending graduate school and taking classes, starting a logistics startup at Harvard Innovation Lab, and figuring out next steps in life was a challenge, but it was also fulfilling, exciting and laid a strong foundation for me. Both my parents were hourly workers, and I grew up in my family learning about the different challenges an hourly worker faces, and to be able to see myself through graduate school by taking on different hourly jobs, and learning new skills, was a very experience for me which inspired me to start Workstream, an automated hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers.
I love to trade stories and hear about your hourly workers. What was a time you worked as an hourly worker?
Desmond Lim is co-founder and CEO of Workstream, an automated hiring platform for companies hiring hourly workers. He is a graduate of Harvard and MIT Media Lab, former product manager at WeChat, and investor at Dorm Room Fund. He is based in San Francisco and lived in Palo Alto with his wife and two young daughters.