Living in the Land of Silicon Alley

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I thought I found my dream survival job. Back in February, I had no jobs lined up as I headed into pilot season with an ever dwindling bank account and had to make a decision: get a steady day job.

I have been down this road many times and no matter how much saving and preplanning for work baron winter months, I still end up short because of unexpected expenses or that no one was hiring anyone freelance until mid-March.

So I scoured my usual leads and after a week of “sorry, not right now”, I took the plunge in the scary abyss of Craigslist.

Tanya, do you really want to sink this low?

Hungry tummy: I’m sooooo hungry.

A day later I found myself at a Starbucks at the cusp of Silicon Alley. Across from me was a relatively good looking guy who looked younger than his real age, but being a fellow age defier, I can tell when someone is pushing 40 when they wear a Built to Spill T-shirt and have that “Please don’t notice I am almost 40″ look behind their eyes.

We chat until the boss comes bouncing in. A bubbly millennial with the energy of a dreamer and doer. After a quick look at my resume and a dynamic interview filled with boisterous praise on how incredibly talented I was, I left with an offer to have flexible part time work that would allow me to go to auditions and bookings with a decent weekly wage and in a totally creative environment. SCORE!

I admit, I give good interview. But for an ad that was only looking for 2 days of survey work on the street for $15 an hour, this was a dream come true in my eyes.

Did I mention I was desperate for work? Yeah, my bar was low and I would have taken a scone as payment.

Red flag #1: You got a job off Craigslist. There are better vetted sites like Glassdoor and The Muse, that actual give you an overview of the work culture at your future new job home, even allows you to compare the salaries of the position you will be taking.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much research other than looking through their website and the first two articles on Google.

On February 15th, I stepped into my new job title of Event Coordinator/ Content Producer. Their offices were based out of a coworking space in SoHo. Funky work stations with ultrasonic charging packs attached to the laptops of budding millionaires. This place even had an open kitchen filled with unlimited Caption Crunch, jars of candy and percolators of coffee. I was in an adult play land of startups, a think tank cramped with designers, app makers, techies and the occasional dude who found out that there was a place with free Wi-Fi and food.

My first week was the catch up week. I had to learn what they needed, who they were and hurdle all the tasks being thrown at me by the CEO.

“Could you clean up this article and publish on our blog?” really meant I had to rewrite an entire article, learn how to use WordPress and find photo stock images that related to this start up in fresh and interesting images.  I had to learn several new applications every day. I am not exaggerating; every day was a brand new technology or system I had to get up to speed in less than 24 hours.

“We use Trello, Slack, blah de blah and we need to do a competition analysis, so drop what you are doing to research 15 different competing apps and break that down into 10 columns in an Excel spreadsheet.”

I fucking hate spreadsheets. But, I wanted to impress them and knock it out of the park with every task. I was going home after long days only to crack open my ancient laptop (I am the only person in that loft without a Mac) and studying all I could about each new application thrown at me that day. Needless to say, I was met with positive feedback in the form of heart emoji and “you rock” emails.

Did I mention I was originally hired to organize events and produce a web series?

Red flag #2: I should have asked a lot more questions when I was pulled into a training meeting for wire framing. “Oh, we all do a million things here. We are a team!”, she sang as she rattled off more tech terms than I knew what to do with. My head hurt, I needed a bowl of Caption Crunch to process it all. I wanted to believe that me doing a good job at everything would get me my first paid producer credit. I was poorly mistaken. *Crunch, Crunch*

After two weeks, I barely saw our CEO because she was off doing work like things called meetings. I would meet at the Loft at 10am and be one of the first people to show up alongside a designer she immediately hired for the other business-

Red flag #3: The other business. I thought nothing of it at first but when I quickly realized I was assigned task for both theses nebulous businesses, I should have started looking elsewhere.

But hey, I was drinking her Guinness flavored Kool Aide, so I didn’t think this was any more unusual than when they changed the actress playing Becky on Roseanne after its fifth season.  I’m flexible and love a challenge. Besides, I was getting a steady paycheck.

Red flag #4: Paychecks were ALWAYS late. Yup, I had to send a few reminders to get paid with every invoice. Text, emails to all her emails and sometimes smoke signals. “It was processed” sounded like she must have done it, right? Well, come to find out that however she was “processing” those checks was certainly not from the US. I did evenly get it into my account, yet it was usually about 10 days from the date she said she was paying us.

I did love what I was doing though. After a few weeks of getting up to speed and getting to work on the web series, I was so thrilled to be there. I even made a work friend and we would do after work-like things like HAPPY HOUR(S). Ah, that is what it must feel like for the rest of the working world: work hard and drink your margaritas even harder!

I can’t tell you how I relished my long nights after work creating episodes and doing preproduction with a budget. I was ecstatic to bring in a brilliant comedy team of talented actresses to be in it. I will also admit, I loved making spreadsheets for this…ok, I had help, but it was glorious to see the comedy gold manifest for the teeny screen. I was on my way, baby!

Red flag #5: Delays. “We are going to hold off on all things you are doing at the moment.” I received an email a few days before going to set which shut down production and therefore shut down my steady stream of income. I don’t know if I can actually call this a red flag but more of a wakeup call. What I thought was going to be my way into financial security was actually a just another short term gig.

Not only was I pissed off that my job was swept under the rug because investors and a new project manager found my role an unnecessary one, but that I believed her to be a good person. Nope. Just to spare you the drama, I will give you what I learned from all this:

  1. Get contracts that you both agree on and that a lawyer will look over. You can get an inexpensive quote or have a place like Lawyers for the Arts help you with the jargon you may not understand.
  2. Ask for your worth! If you need to make a $50 hourly minimum, ask for more and negotiate. I know I asked well below a normal rate of my job title and in the future, I am going for the rate of my expertise. If they don’t want to pay but promise you future pay, go somewhere that will honor your worth and pay you for it.
  3. Do the very best at the job you are hired for, but be ok with stating your boundaries. In one meeting, I was asked to also do a customer service job of answering the info email and I said oh hell no. I was already doing a job of 10 people and that would have sent me over the edge. You can only do so much and when you try to do everything to please people, your work suffers. Hell, you suffer. Self-care is priority and you can only do your best by stating what you can and cannot do.
  4. When they don’t want to pay you, use the Freelancers Union. They have so much good stuff like templates and resources to make sure they pay what you are owed. My last invoice for that start up took a month to get paid with a harrowing email exchange resulting in next steps for legal representation to get them to pay. New York has joined in the fight and the Freelance Isn’t Free Act now prevents unpaid invoices for freelances in all industries.
  5. Move on. I’m an actor. Shows get canceled, tours get put off or you might be let go in the middle of a run. So when thrival jobs end, well it’s part of it. I had my feels for a hot minute but was I going to really stand by this job if a series regular role came along? No. I can easily adapt and learned a few new skills for my next totally awesome job. Anyone looking for junior UX designer? #kiddingnotkidding

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Tanya Perez

About Tanya Perez

Tanya Perez is a recovering bicoastal actress currently living in NYC. Some of her TV and film credits include Orange Is the New Black, Blue Bloods, Madam Secretary, Hal Harltey's Ned Rifle and The Girl from Monday, ABC Family's Jane By Design and Law & Order. Her most notable stage appearances were in Seattle Rep's production of Anna in the Tropics, Sonia Flew at both CATF and Laguna Playhouse, and her sold-out solo show at the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Her self-produced webseries Itty P & DJ Model-T was nominated for two StayTuned TV-ITVF awards for Best Comedy and Best Actress in a Comedy. She is also incredibly talented with balloons, laughs inappropriately during movies, and loves her four-legged roommate Tia Tortilla.