My life at a tech startup

…and why I’d do it all over again!

Bristol (UK): where my startup journey began!

How did it all start…?

After finishing my second year studying Sociology at the University of Leeds I was looking to take a year out to gain some real work experience to give me a better idea of the type of job I would want to go into after I had graduated.

I was about to give up the search and go back to University to finish my degree. After searching on the local job site I came across a 10-week internship at a tech start-up called Gradient in ‘the heart of the vibrant tech scene’.

With nothing to lose I applied, the application process involved attaching your CV and 200 words on the latest tech trends that interested you most and why. Two hours of googling and researching later I had managed to pull together 200 words I attached my CV and sent off the application. After a phone interview and a face-to-face interview I found out I had got the job!

My first day: what awaited me at my desk!

The idea of working for a Tech startup was exciting but I knew had so much to learn. Being a millennial who is quite tech savvy I really thought I had a good, but basic, understanding of the world of tech; but it turns out I knew very little.

Within the first 10 weeks, every day I was learning something new from the current problems with tech, problems with productivity levels in companies, how the modern workspace has evolved to grasping the tech scene in Bristol and what it really takes to run a startup.

At the time I joined we were a team of five; Simon and Rory the two co-founders, Elliot our full stack engineer, myself and Maryam, who had also just joined as a marketing intern.

At that time the company was going for a complete rebrand of their information retrieval tool Gurn. (If you haven’t already, then you should check it out!) The release was scheduled for Jan 2018 and there was a lot of work to be done.

Rory, Me and Maryam planning the release

It was so exciting to see the early stages of Gurn and to have the opportunity to follow its journey from a beta version to a fully functioning tool — it has been a great experience. My journey started off as a 10 week internship, after that ended Rory and Simon asked me to stay on for a paid role, and then 11 months later here I am.

What were my expectations?

Initially, entering into this experience I really had no expectations, knowing very little about anything tech related, having little work experience I really had no idea about the type of work I would be doing or what the startup life would be like.

Starting off as a marketing intern I guess I was expecting to do standard intern jobs like planning and entering data, but I quickly learnt that in a startup there is no such thing as a small job.

Within the first few weeks I jumped straight into my first tasks which included researching the problem space of knowledge workers struggling to find the information they needed to do their jobs, analysing the competition and defining the company’s brand voice.

By the end of my first 10 weeks I had learnt so much about who our competitors were, the different sections of the company from the backend development to marketing and all about the problem space; plus the top tech evangelists who talk about all things productivity and digital transformation, who at the time were our potential target audience!

What did I do and what did I learn?

With the rebrand well underway, we needed two new websites: for the company itself and an updated website for the product. Simon suggest that I have a go at building the websites. With no experience in website creation or even design I hesitated, but was willing to give it a go.

Across the next few months I had designed and built both the Gradient and Gurn websites to fit with our new brand style and continued to work on designing assets and building new web pages throughout the rest of my placement.

Me taking the headshots for the new Gradient website

Learning to build a website in the backend of Wordpress and developing an understanding of how to use CSS to style webpages, was something that I had never even considered being interested in before joining Gradient; but within the last six months I have really developed these skills and would feel confident enough to go out and build something on my own!

Throughout the rest of my placement I took part in a range of tasks from building support pages, setting up and creating content for social media, creating campaign emails and creating content and assets for both customers and social platforms.

Rory and Simon, the co-founders, were so open to letting me see all aspects of the business, both the good and bad, which provided me with a great insight into what is really like to set up and run your own company whilst trying to juggle real-life at the same time.

What are my key takeaways and reflections?

In a start-up, absolutely nothing happens unless you make it happen

This quote from Marc Andreesson for me sums up my time with Gradient well. It is amazing how much you can get done with such a small team, as each team member had a big role to play within the company into order to move the product and the company forward and I was glad I could be a part of it.

My time at Gradient has made me realise that it is possible to create amazing things and make a real difference even if you don’t have the ‘necessary’ experience at the start it is always possible to learn new skills independently by actively accessing all the resources that are available online. The skills that I will take away from this experience have exceeded any expectations of the type of skills I was hoping to gain at the start of this year.

One of the Twitter ‘Article Cards’ I designed

I cannot thank the Gradient team enough for this experience over the last 11 months — I have developed both personally and professionally. It has been a real eye-opener which I would recommend to anyone who is looking to start a career in tech or even unsure about what they want to do. Being part of the Gradient team has brought me endless opportunities to develop a range of skills by completing a host of different tasks and projects. It has been a invaluable and extremely rewarding experience.

I will certainly miss the #StartUpLife but I can come away from this experience knowing that the knowledge and experience I’ve gained will now be invaluable in my future career choice. I am looking forward to seeing Gradient (and Gurn!) go from strength to strength!