Unsure about your career choice? Try working for an early stage startup to gain some clarity. You’ll learn a lot about yourself along the way.
Struggling to find something you enjoy doing for a living, but passionate about the technology industry? If your personal situation allows the gamble, I recommend giving an early stage startup a shot. This is why.
I’m addicted to startup culture—I love the excitement and the energy. I love the experience of watching a company grow from a small group of people passionate about helping their target audience solve a problem, to seeing a product come to life that makes customers’ daily lives easier and more productive. Every early stage startup has it’s own culture. I’ve been part of the startup industry for 12+ years now, and have been incredibly fortunate to have ended up at two extremely successful startups in a row.
The two companies I’ve worked for started in what I’ve donned startup mode. Everyone does everything. Titles are fluid, people come together to support one another and do whatever needs to be done to be successful. It’s a little crazy, you learn new things every day, and end up helping with roles you never expected to encounter during your career. My titles have been Software Trainer, Product UX Editor, UX and Content Strategist, and now I’m Senior Manager of Design Community Partnerships. But these titles don’t even come close to covering the experiences I’ve had while working at these startups.
One of my favorite parts about early phase startup culture is the opportunity to explore and test out roles I definitely wouldn’t have had the chance to try in such rapid succession at a traditional company. I’ve discovered so much about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and career paths that I’m passionate about as a result.
I discovered early in life that I’m way too competitive to do sales. While I’m successful at it, I drive myself crazy trying to reach #1 every quarter. I feel terrible when I don’t reach that goal, and burn out quickly as a result. It’s not a good fit for me. There are people who absolutely thrive in that environment, but I’m not one of those people.
But during early stage startup mode, I helped out with sales calls doing demos for prospective clients instead. I was able to use my skillset to assist our sales team in growing our business, without the stress about hitting target numbers.
When I was in my 20s I did software training and traveled all over the US (26 states in 4 years!), spoke at user conferences and did 1000+ online webinars, and really enjoyed the experience. I was able to use my background in education to help the business grow revenue. I discovered that I really loved training, but that the intense travel took a toll on my quality of life after a few years. There are people who travel for work their entire careers, and they love it. It’s a great fit for them. It wasn’t the right fit for me during that phase of life.
At my first startup I helped out our support team during periods of high call volume. A few of the busiest weeks we had each year I would head over to their workspace and take calls several days/week to give the team a breather. I also helped with after hours emergency support. Helping people work through and solve their problems is incredibly satisfying, but the stress of being woken up and yelled at at 3am by an angry customer when things weren’t going well was really awful. I’m empathetic by nature, and was heart broken when people were angry and the solutions weren’t immediately available. It hit me hard on a personal level, and I couldn’t leave the problems “at work”. I took them home with me, even though there was nothing I could do personally to address them. I had friends in the support team who were able to help people all day, really enjoy the satisfying parts, and dismiss the rough parts as soon as they left the building. It was a great fit for them.
Then I got to help out doing a social media management overhaul. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to research solutions, and find a tool that helped us track our impact, and tie that impact to our business goals. Helping with campaigns was also fun. Seeing the direct impact the campaigns had on our business goals was very satisfying.
Eventually I transitioned to UX and Content Strategy, and found my true love. I loved everything about it. I loved the research side, and geeking out over analytics. I loved the usability testing side, watching people use our product and figuring out ways we could optimize workflows and tweak UI elements to create better experiences. I enjoyed doing UI audits and looking for inconsistencies in the product and coming up with a plan to correct them. I loved working on our content strategy to ensure consistent voice and tone throughout the product. I loved working with clients to uncover underlying problems, and wireframing new product solutions and concepts when we discover product gaps in the process. I loved the interdepartmental collaboration that went into bringing those wireframes to life.
Then I shifted into Partnerships. It’s been a crazy experience having the opportunity to connect with influencers in the industry, as well as with community organizations that are doing important work every day.
Right now through my role in partnerships I’m working with the Design for the Homeless organization, and it’s so satisfying to see people using their design and UX skillsets for social good. It reminds me that in the high paced cut throat tech industry, a majority of the people behind the scenes are kind, compassionate individuals. People that are most often in the news are not portrayed (or often wired) that way, but when you get to know the people behind the hype you find folks who are passionate about helping make the world a better place. Paying your bills is obviously important too, but the almighty dollar isn’t necessarily the most important focus.
That focus on the human side of design, and the focus on social good, education, and lifting up the community is what keeps me so passionate about working for InVision. I’ve never worked for an organization that 1. Scaled this quickly and 2. Maintained focus on doing what’s right not just for our employees as we scaled, but also for our users, the greater design community, and local charities as well.
We work with orgs and on projects that are focused on supporting the growth of diversity and inclusion in our industry. We invest heavily in creating books and courses and videos and training programs centered around giving all people, regardless of where they live or their background, access to the quality educational resources and tools they need to excel in this industry. We have an educational program that gives all students free access to InVision while they’re completing their education, and it extends for the 6 months after graduation so that they can to continue working on their portfolios and presentations while they’re job searching. I love working for InVision not just because it’s a fast paced exciting atmosphere, but because of the incredible, compassionate team I get to work along side every single day.
Finding a workplace full of compassionate people who are passionate about their work while remaining focused on supporting social good was definitely not on my list of goals when I entered the workforce.
When you’re looking for a new job, look for something you love to do that will pay your bills and let you live the quality of life you enjoy. But also look at the company from a broader lens. Are you in line with their mission? Would you be proud to say you work for the company? Do the employees you’ve interacted with seem happy with the company culture? (That said, don’t judge a company solely based on the experience a few people have had with the culture. I wrote an article a while back about how exceptionally subjective people’s experiences are with work culture.) Do they treat their employees right when it comes to benefit packages and room for advancement?
Don’t be blinded by dollar signs when you’re looking for a new job. Think about the big picture. Give yourself the opportunity to grow. Find an org where you can work with people who can mentor you and help you move forward professionally. And as you’ve seen with my career path, it can be very beneficial to keep yourself open to trying new things. You may just stumble across a career opportunity along the way that you had no idea you’d fall in love with.