Startups drive much of the discourse in our modern software culture. Its seems like everybody has a story of how their buddy went out west, raised a boat load of capital, and was a billionaire by the age of 30. Of course, someone else is quick to chime in with the stories of pizza and Redbull infused late nights and people sleeping under their desks. Riches can be made, but at what cost? If you want to just be a normal human being, working at a startup sounds like a horrible idea. If you do think that, you’re wrong.
Working at a startup really isn’t like the depictions in Hollywood or on the first page of Hacker News. Those stories are about founders. The lives employees are in the normal middle between surviving on ramen and purchasing a fleet of Ferraris. Most likely, your job will resemble many other jobs, complete with a reliable paycheck and health insurance.
So if it’s a job like any other, why work for a startup? Startups have two benefits that are hard to find in more established organizations.
Startups are the best way to become a domain expert. As the needs grow, so to does the scope of the problems. Tools help you work smart and are central to the teams ability to out execute the competition. This also means that you find yourself on the edge of knowledge much quicker than someone following the traditional path.
For me, that’s meant learning the ins and outs of Spring Security, ElasticSearch, html email, and AngularJS among others simply because I needed to do something. For other members on my team, it’s meant learning everything about Salesforce or Pardot. Being a domain expert was never the goal, but a consequence of having the opportunity to do so much stuff to help the company succeed.
The second benefit that’s hard to find outside of a startup is joy. Startups are full of people that want to be there. They enjoy what they do, who they work with, and the unifying idea behind the company. They revel in the experience and in every win. They are enthusiastically naive about the future. It’s still work, often it’s hard, but it’s work that contributes to the lightness of being. I don’t think you can get that anywhere besides a small team where there isn’t much friction to accomplishment.
For these two reasons I think that you should work in a startup. A real startup, not a Series D ventured backed large company masquerading as one. Of course I think that, since I work at one and want people to join my team. However, there are reasons to work in services or for a big company, which will be the other two posts in this series.
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