Why I Left Big Consulting for A Startup

*This is NOT me or my family, but it is something I’d probably do, if given the opportunity. The origin of the photo is unknown

One month ago, I was an IT consultant at a Big Four firm, working with Fortune 500 companies to help them solve their problems around IT compliance/risk, cybersecurity and operational technology. It was a stable, well-paying job with a clear path for upward mobility — one that brought a lot of security for my wife and son.

I left that security for Astronomer.

But … why?

If my last 10 years are any indication, it’s crucial for me to be in a position to effect real change. Before the consulting firm, I was a Special Agent in the FBI. And before that, I served in the Marines. I did both to protect what I believe are the fundamental rights of every American: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

As the world changed around me, however, I saw the influence technology was having on our culture. It was important to me that American businesses’ data remained secure and that they put their data to use so they could grow. My background (and security clearance) uniquely positioned me to rejoin the consulting sector in order to begin working with some of the country’s most significant companies.

What’s funny is, if you know me at all, you know I’m not interested in playing it safe. If I’m not moving a million miles an hour, it’s too slow. I thrive in chaotic, quickly-changing environments where innovation is encouraged and risk is an everday reality. Yet here I was, in a large corporation, mitigating risk for organizations and on a personal trajectory of nothing but comfort for my family. It just didn’t feel right.

So when Astronomer recruited me, I considered both the personal ramifications and the product I’d be selling. After careful consideration, for five major reasons, I quit my consulting job, packed up my family and moved across the country.

Reason #1: Purpose

The average person in the United States spends approximately 47 hours per week working. With an average retirement age of 63, most people spend nearly 90,000 hours working in their lifetime. That’s a lot of time to spend doing something you aren’t passionate about.

What I love most about my role at Astronomer is helping our clients better understand their own data so they can meet their goals. In a world that’s absolutely inundated with data (for better and for worse), we provide a solution that every organization needs, whether they use Astronomer or someone else. The challenge of using cutting edge technology to solve real world problems creates an excitement that keeps me going — and is worth the 90,000 hours.

Reason #2: Culture

Big corporations claim great culture, a steady paycheck and seemingly “endless” opportunities to increase responsibility and move up the corporate ladder. They offer superiors who have tremendous amounts of experience, along with mentors, coaches and performance reviews. All great promises, but in my experience, the execution often falls short. Too many managers and processes can stifle rapid growth, and the sheer size can create a team dynamic that may run smoothly but feels impersonal.

Many startups, on the other hand, consist of a small team working to achieve a huge goal. That means they have to collaborate, sacrifice, fail and succeed together, from the highest ranking person to the lowest. This is often accomplished while sitting in a co-working space where all are created equal.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best teams in the world. From high performing corporate teams to the highest level military special operations, I’ve seen cultures that breed success. Some common threads are creativity, trust, flexibility and fun, all of which describe Astronomer.

Reason #3: Opportunity to Lead

Founders frequently communicate their vision for the company and serve in leadership roles; however, in order for the company to thrive, everyone needs to lead within their role, which results in every person on the team feeling valued as an integral part of the machine. A willingness to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and work shoulder to shoulder with our team and our clients is the style of leadership required at a startup.

Astronomer, as an organization, has the same opportunity to lead by example. I get to be hands-on in helping businesses succeed in the Data Revolution through capturing, organizing and broadcasting their data. Better yet, I’m operating within a company who wants to lead the way for that to happen broadly by building an open source platform.

Reason #4: Flexibility

At a startup, flexibility is built into the DNA of the organization. Not only are they more nimble when it comes to decision-making and more open-minded when it comes to innovation, but advancements in technology allow teams to collaborate with ease and at low cost while technologies such as Slack, Webex and Google Docs allow teams to work from any location at any time. This flexibility encourages better work-life balance, while empowering teams to work around the clock (ie. higher productivity and employee satisfaction). Work from the beach, take a camping trip, travel the world while using technology to work remotely — the essence of flexibility.*

That same DNA is applied to our product, which makes selling easy, because we really can solve almost any data problem, no matter how complex. The Astronomer platform has to be lightweight and flexible because of the world we live in, and Astronomer’s developers know this. Creating that kind of platform, even if it means iterating on the typical SaaS platform to come up with a hybrid (machines + humans!), comes naturally to them.

*Sidenote: It can be a challenge to discover the best spots to work in a new city, so we’re committed to creating some guides based on what’s worked for us. Look for our first such post — about Denver — coming soon.

Reason #5: Potential for Growth

In a big company, you’re often limited in your personal growth and earning potential. Not to mention, the rate at which you hit a plateau for learning is far quicker than at a startup. From building a strategy for growth to collaborating with developers, you’ll learn quickly how a business operates and become well-versed in operating in an uncertain environment.

Of course, with higher risk comes higher reward. In this era of technology, startups have the ability to grow from inception to a $500M exit within 18 months or less. We at Astronomer, like all good startups, see that potential for ourselves. But that’s partly because we see untapped potential everywhere. There’s always more we could do with data, and this “where can we go next?” mindset energizes me. So much so, that I made my decision to join Astronomer.

It still feels surreal to think about how quickly I left a sure thing to enter exciting, chaotic, stressful and rewarding new territory. But stepping out of the known into the great unknown provides opportunities for growth, flexibility and leadership that shape an entire career. Yes, I love being a part of startup culture. Mostly though, I love being a part of Astronomer, a highly talented team, including former Facebook, Oracle and Big Four employees. Together, we’re helping large and small companies solve their data problems — and, I hope, empowering them to change our world.

Originally published at www.astronomer.io.

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