My First Job: Laura Caffey

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I went to high school in a suburb of Dallas, where they offered a co-op program that allowed me to go to school until noon and work at a trade in the afternoons. I worked at several different architectural offices where I drafted by hand, with a T-square on a drawing board. My father was an electrical engineer at a large consulting firm. When I went to his office with him as a child, I would go to everyone’s cubicles to see what they were drawing. I loved to draw, so all of the drafting tables attracted me. He convinced me to become an architect so that I could use my creativity and design buildings.

Where I went to college, there weren’t a lot of architecture and engineering firms. I ended up waitressing during the school year and then worked at the architectural firms—including my dad’s—in Dallas during my summers. Career-wise, I was far ahead of the game; I went into my post-college jobs knowing exactly what to do. Waitressing taught me a different set of life skills, like being humble and learning to let a bad day slide off you. I learned to get used to taking criticism, and that all I can do is be my best—there’s never going to be a day where everyone loves you. I had a tendency to be the lone wolf and do my own thing, but waitressing taught me some good lessons in how to delegate, how to work on a team and how to ask for help. I’m a lot better organized than I would be otherwise.

Several years ago, I went back to waitressing while I was starting my new business, building up contacts and clients. It’s good to have several skill sets to fall back on. I was reminded that many of those lessons apply to architecture. It’s a team environment and it’s impossible for every client to be completely happy with every single thing you do. Just like with customers in a restaurant, you have to figure out how to mediate the situation and find a resolution. I’m only as good as my team is, same as it was with waitressing.

—As told to Hillary Richard 


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