From Corporate Data Analyst to Startup Tech Sales: 3 months in
I remember staring at the clock and counting the minutes until I could pack my things, leave my desk and go wait for the 3:30 pm bus that left the National Digital Park from Citywest. It took me about 4 minutes total from the time I stood up until I got to the bus stop. Walk down the office, down the two flights of stairs, through carpark one, cross the road, through carpark two, up the small concrete path that cut through the little hill.
I never missed the bus.
I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like work. But I would say that I wasn’t challenged. I wasn’t challenged enough to maintain my interest and attention. It was my first real job after college. I remember the day I got the news that I got the job. I was over the moon. A source of income, woo! Unfortunately, that became the primary redeeming factor of my job all too quickly. That is was a source of income. It felt much more like a job than a career, which wasn’t really what I wanted my first job out of college to be. To take a big risk and leave financial security like this after 9 months is very uncharacteristic of me in a sense, but I knew I needed to do it.
I’m not sure if it’s because I am a “millennial”, whatever that extremely broad and meaningless label actually means, but I really need to be challenged to be interested in something. I’ve never really been attracted to things that are easy in my whole life. I like to try challenging physical feats. I like to try to read complicated books. I like to listen to complex podcasts about nutritional and biomechanical science that I can just about comprehend if I pay attention.
They say once you get comfortable, you stop growing.
Stress causes adaption. Pressure creates diamonds. Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Yada yada. I became too comfortable in my corporate job very quickly. I feel like this was due to a number of factors, but the main one being culture. The company that I worked for didn’t have a culture that encouraged employees to excel, at anything. Not just their job, but at anything. I feel like it was full of great, hardworking and genuine people but that they were under-utilized because of the sluggish constraints of working in a global company. One thing that frustrated me about working corporate was that it took so long to implement any change or get anything done. If something isn’t working in at the startup I’m working at now it’s usually fixed or changed that day, and if not, that week.
The early days
I enjoyed my day to day more or less, but I was frustrated at the lack of challenge, the lack of stress, and the lack of personal growth. I am not special. I am not saying I am so good at everything and know so much that it is impossible to challenge me. I find things challenging on a day to day basis but there is a difference between finding things challenging because they are challenging and finding things challenging because there is little-to-no emphasis on communication, cooperation, learning or development.
I remember on my first day I went to work filled with energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and excitement. I was sitting without a laptop at someone else’s desk, temporarily, patiently waiting for a laptop with nothing to do and nothing to read. If I was going to design a first day to discourage someone from being enthusiastic or interested in their job, this is what I would do. But no matter, once I got set up everything would change right?
Over the coming weeks and months, my training was sporadic, reactive and done at what I would call a snail’s pace. I am all for self-directed training and taking the initiative, but I don’t think it’s the best use of anyone’s time to give someone a bunch of courses that are from a global corporate learning management platform that has almost no real relevance to someone’s day to day role.
I think material like this covering the basics and background of a company and their culture, values etc, is appropriate for the first few days or week but past that I think a well-structured and organized onboarding plan to enable a new employee to make the most effective contribution to an organization possible isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must-have. Giving people the information and guidance to succeed at the tasks that are going to produce the most value and results for their specific position should be prioritized over an overly complex and outdated code of conduct that nobody reads anyway.
I understand that a new hire requires a high amount of time investment in terms of training and development and that this isn’t the most attractive activity for seasoned staff. But if you aren’t required to invest this time in a new employee, why are you prepared to invest the budget? Recruiting someone without a very clear plan in place on how to get them to become a productive and positively contributing member of the team with goals, milestones, and checklists, is, in my opinion, irresponsible of an employer.
Maybe that’s corporate culture but maybe it isn’t. Maybe I was just unlucky. Maybe I was hired at a bad time. I was originally hired for a temporary contract role, so I had that working against me. None the less, I applied myself to try and get up to speed and absorb as much as I could to try and become useful and valuable to the people around me. There was a huge shortage of resource in the team I was hired to help. There were tight deadlines all the time. There were a lot of internal conflicts, little communication and a lot of wasted effort.
My experience was not all bad, however. I got experience working with large data sets, I got experience working with Salesforce, I got hands-on experience doing some pretty cool shit in excel and I got experience building databases for huge international manufacturers. And like I said about the people, they were all very polite, pleasant and friendly to work with. It wasn’t all bad right?
So maybe I’m the problem. I am not just motivated by personal growth, I am addicted to it. I compare my performance in all aspects of my life on a daily basis to a pretty neurotic level. Whether it be weight or reps in the gym, the number of meetings booked, pages or books read or if I beat my friends at trivial pursuit at 6 am on St. Stephen’s Day night (no alcohol was spared in the process of this game, obviously). I need to progress, I need to win, and I need to grow. Without growth, I feel complacent, purposeless and stagnant. That is no bueno for me.
Since moving to startup land though, that has all changed. I don’t know if I have ever grown faster in three months in my life since leaving the womb. And I think this is mainly due to the culture that exists in startup companies, at least in my anecdotal experience three months in. No one is ever going to look at you funny for asking a question. Over communication is encouraged (at least in the early days), there are no problems too small or dumb questions. Everyone takes complete ownership of their responsibilities. Nobody passes the buck.
This is the type of culture that facilitates new ideas, progressive thinking, and personal growth. Even going into a start-up company where they were very open and honest about the fact that they were still figuring things out themselves, I had a better first day and onboarding experience compared to one of the leading market research companies with much more access to funding, resources, and structured training.
That was a long way of saying, no I don’t think I was the problem. I potentially was a bad fit for that particular corporate organization, but I don’t think I was the problem.
One big difference
In startup companies, you are working with other people. In corporate companies you are working with co-workers. This is a very, very important distinction. The culture in my startup is that people take extreme ownership of their own work and performance but also everyone else’s progress and performance. If someone’s not doing well, they are not failing us, we are failing them!
In my first week in my startup, I had more one on one conversations with people I worked with than I did in nine months of working in corporate. This facilitated personal connections, real relationships and broke the ice between me and everyone else from the word go. As a pretty introverted INTJ, this helped me a lot. It allowed a comfortable space to have a casual conversation and get to know my peers and what they were working on in a comfortable environment. It was scheduled but nothing felt forced.
I also got introduced to an agile way of working. As someone who had never had any exposure to this format of communication and working before, it was initially very different. Stand up meetings were a completely new concept to me. I could see the benefits straight away. Problems were flagged quickly. Feedback was given early. Solutions were offered immediately or soon after. The important thing is that there is an open and transparent approach to solving problems in a solutions-oriented way. Not every stand up is super valuable but for the risk of catching something early, I can see the rationale for having it every day. One thing is for sure, my last company would benefit a lot from this sort of meeting structure.
I have really enjoyed seeing the positive impact of my work on the people around me and the company I work for. It sounds cliché but seeing that you actually make a difference gives you a sense of value, at least it does for me. I’m very driven, results-oriented, and output focused person so seeing the fruits of your labor and getting an acknowledgment of your effort is really satisfying and rewarding. This is something that I never experienced or felt in corporate. Working beyond a required minimum level of performance to keep things moving raised questions more questions than it did result in praise. This didn’t suit my personality.
I speak with my current manager every day. We work through problems, find solutions and have very regular communication. If I had an issue that I need to raise there is a platform and medium to do so. I cannot say the same for my corporate experience. I think I had 3 or 4 conversations with my direct manager in 9 months about work and one of those was me giving my resignation. The disparity of communication has a pretty direct correlation between my perceived relationship quality with my manager in both cases. I think that speaks volumes about how different both experiences have been.
While my current manager definitely has less experience managing people, he is way more effective at it, because he treats people like people and not as applicant [insert random string of numbers here]. He really preaches the idea of just being human. This should not be a revolutionary thing but just being human in 2018 is becoming increasingly rare. I know when people get busy and they’re trying to standardize processes, improve their metrics on last quarter and perform better on budget than last year corners get cut to try and please your boss and we try to do more. But at what cost? I can’t reiterate this enough. Just be human.
The difference in the user experience of having a management team that are capable of being human is enormous. Whether it’s through empathy, being approachable or just having a normal conversation about stuff that’s not about work that doesn’t feel forced — it doesn’t matter. It’s the genuine human element that makes all the difference in making work feel like a fun and comfortable place to be in my experience. For the end user, working with other people as opposed to co-workers is so much better.
I work a lot more hours now and think about work a lot more. Work literally never even entered my mind as soon as I left the building, not in a positive way anyway. I would think about how much I was dreading going back after the weekend or about how frustrated I was but that’s all. It was very rare that I was thinking about process improvements or how to fix a problem my company had once I left the building. Now my work feels like a 24-hour thing as opposed to an 8-hour thing. It is definitely a bit more draining and taxing on your mind and body, but I feel like it’s infinitely more rewarding and enjoyable.
A growth mindset is highly encouraged in my startup. I remember I shared a podcast that I thought would be useful for the rest of my corporate team to listen to, emailed it to my boss with a suggestion and I didn’t get a reply. People talk about books they’re reading, stuff they’re learning about and blogs they’re reading. None of this existed in my corporate experience. I am constantly trying to learn as much as I can outside of work, so I can improve my performance inside of work. This kind of blurs the lines between where work ends, and life begins. This potentially has the effect that can make everything feel like work. But if you are enjoying it, is it really work anymore?
I definitely enjoy my time at work a lot more. The day goes WAY faster, even after three months. It feels like I am constantly working to get as much productive work done every day before the clock hits 5. Not that I always or have to leave at 5, but I try my best to live my life under certain constraints and try to achieve more not by putting in more time but doing things more efficiently. I also gotta get home to eat and train to make those gains nahmean? For me, balance means making sure I am getting a lot of good training in and hitting the gym hard so as long as I get that in, I stay sane.
In conclusion, I think that for me the transition to working for a startup company has been extremely positive. It suits my personality type a lot more. It’s more fun. It’s a lot more rewarding. It’s way more satisfying. It’s overwhelmingly positive. At the moment I find it hard to see myself going back to a corporate company any time soon, unless there was an extremely compelling challenge, purpose or reason. Startup life is just too good.
Although, I am cognizant of the fact that this is all still so new. Everything is fresh and novel. I am still in my startup honeymoon period compared to how long I spent in corporate life. But my initial thoughts three months in are that I prefer this so far and I am interested to see if that changes or remains true. For now, life is great.
Are there times where its tough and I wish things were going better? Of course. We all want to better, all the time, by yesterday. It’s full of ups and downs, but you just have to try to savor the highs when you’re there and remember you’ll be back there soon when it feels like nothing is working and you’re experiencing the lows.
Life is full of peaks and valleys.