Perspective: My Journey through the Software Startup World
Like many other college graduates, I was unsure of what to do after graduation. Spending my first two years in college as a chemical engineering student, I was exposed to many opportunities at petroleum engineering and pharmaceutical companies. When I switched over to study Applied Mathematics, I was unsure of what career I wanted. I very quickly crossed banking and teaching off my list. I knew I wanted to work in a fast-paced environment where I could create a lot of impact and help build something.
Through fate, I found my job at a startup. I was hooked.
I loved working cross-functionally across teams, collaborating with software engineers, and making processes more efficient. I worked in customer service, created business intelligence dashboards in excel, and learned to extract information from a database using SQL. I had a knack for technical writing and an interest in software development so I focused more on quality assurance and technical operations. I considered becoming a software developer, but I realized that I preferred working between business and technology.
I learned that the work I had been doing was the responsibility of the ‘product’ team in a software engineering group. My next two roles were product-focused. I facilitated implementations, created strategy with clients, drafted business requirements, and worked cross-functionally internally and externally to develop features for users. I was deep in the world of e-commerce and also had the opportunity to work with IBM’s Watson and learn a bit about artificial intelligence. It was awesome to work on software that was disruptive, innovative, and entirely new.
I start business school this fall at MIT Sloan, and through my brief interaction with classmates and other MBA students, I have realized that my career path so far has been pretty unstructured. I’ve only had one performance review in the last five years. More often than not I am figuring things out on my own, with no prior template or framework to evaluate my work. I have been a one-person team, talking to many other teams to meet a deadline or make sure a change from the client can be supported. However, I have also been challenged in a different way every day. I have learned to fail fast and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. My verbal and written communication skills have differentiated me as an invaluable member of the teams I’ve worked on.
There have been days where I get tired of the lack of resources, the chaotic environment, and the demanding deadlines. But, I wouldn’t trade the fast-paced environment and the impact that I have been able to see and create for any corporate or structured environment; it was a great way for me to dive into the real world after college. I’ve truly learned by doing and pushing myself to think outside the box.
So if you’re unsure about working at a software startup, I encourage you to just try it and see if it’s your thing. There are many other positions besides programming and marketing, and you can really see the impact of your work fairly quickly. You don’t have to have majored in computer science or electrical engineering to provide value; my experience has taught me that the most valuable people are the ones that find the gaps and fill them in. There is so much unchartered territory left to explore. Good luck!