There are thousands of articles and blogs out there about what it’s like working in a startup. Most of them extoll the virtues of Friday beers and remote working, but they struggle to give you much detail about what your work will actually entail.
In this article I want to dismiss the image of the utopian startup and focus on reality. So let’s get to the nitty gritty and allow me to explain what I’ve learnt in my role as the first dedicated front-end engineer at Pusher.
Find the balance between agility and quality
Working in a startup environment is fast paced, especially when you’re building digital tools. The market is changing, which means the product is changing and therefore you’re shipping updates all the time.
This has a big impact on the way you have to work. Whilst at University, I spent some time working for a digital design agency. We would spend months getting a product polished before delivering it to a client wrapped up in ribbons. In a startup it’s different. You don’t have spare time or extra resources to spend 6 months building something before you know if it’ll work.
That’s the reason Frank Robinson’s concept of a ‘minimum viable product’ has resonated so well with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond. In a rapidly changing market sometimes you have to get a product out there quickly to find out if it works.
Everything is about building, measuring and learning. So if you’re a perfectionist who wants to take your time polishing something that already exists, a larger business would suit you down to the ground. But if you’re prepared to jump on the rollercoaster of risk and accept that every mistake is something to learn from, then you might be better suited to startup life.
Be prepared for the blur of roles
In my final days at Uni we had visits from big brands giving talks about working for their company. To me I needed flexibility and something different to this well trodden approach that suits many others. That’s why I decided to join a startup.
Taking my role as a front-end engineer in 2016 as an example, I’m expected to know a lot of things about a lot of topics. Whether it’s trends in UI design, or the changes that the latest Google algorithm will bring. Do you need to be a master of all these things? Of course not. But keeping your fingers in many pots will help you go a long way.
Along with this blurring of roles, comes the ability to learn quickly. Not only do you need to be a bit of a generalist as explained above, you’re also expected to be able to adapt to unexpected challenges. Over the past few months, I’ve gone from developer, to photographer, to designer, to lego builder, and back round again.
Most importantly of all, love what you do
When writing this article, it seemed almost cliche to include this point. But then I realised it’s a cliche for a reason - To work in a startup you need to really enjoy what you do, remain curious and always experiment.
Real passion beats artificial amplification any day and in a startup this means taking ownership of the features, tools and trends you care about, then telling everyone internally and externally about why they’re so important.
Need a tool that doesn’t exist? Build it! Can’t find the right icon for your project? Design a new one! Think your boss could be doing things differently? Talk to them! Don’t be afraid to try things out. Taking initiative and enjoying what you do is a surefire way to shine, and when you’re working in a startup this can make all the difference.
Do you work in a startup? Finding out the same things as me? Let me know what you think by commenting below or find me on Twitter @alexjpate. Finally, if this sounds like the kind of environment you want to work in, be sure to check out our jobs page.