Working as a developer in a start-up, especially in the pre-release or shortly after the release, requires a slightly different skill set from what the same position would in a bigger company. Being part of a small team often means that you need to take over tasks that you wouldn’t have thought as part of your job description. It also means that some of the decisions that you make might have a pretty significant impact, so you need to make sure you are in the right mindset when joining a start-up.
1. A desire to learn
As I already mentioned, a start-up developer job might have you involved in activities you haven’t predicted, from areas where you might have little to no experience. You might even have little knowledge of the company’s domain of activity. In these cases, and in most of the following points on this list, a desire to learn is vital for your success as a developer. If you prefer a job that puts less pressure on you regarding this aspect, start-ups in their incipient phases might not suit you very well.
2. Critical thinking
The simple flow of receiving a task -> doing it -> getting it reviewed will not always work in a start-up environment. Trying to make sense of your tasks is one of the most important steps if the product is still taking shape. Don’t be afraid to question any requirements that you got just because you consider someone to be your superior — sometimes, they might have gotten the wrong understanding of what needs to be done.
Closely tied to the previous point, sometimes you might also receive tasks that have an incomplete description, or completely lack one — not because anyone is lazy, but simply because they are busy with urgent matters. And since the person who would be able to answer your questions is not available, you need to take the matter into your hands and figure out what Done means for that particular task. This might involve taking a look at the requirements, mock-up or other relevant documents; not doing anything isn’t a solution, though.
4. Communication skills
This should go without saying, but being able to hold constructive and meaningful conversation regarding your product is an essential skill for a developer in a small, developing company. Moreover, the ability to explain what your work to everyone else, without going deep into technical terms, is probably going to save your life sometimes. It often happens that non-technical people do not understand what is going on in the development team, and therefore feel like not much is actually getting done; being the person who proves the opposite is going to be a huge advantage.
5. Product/user focus
While writing code is fun, and writing good code feels very accomplishing, you will sometimes need to swallow your pride and write less-than-optimal code because that feature is needed now. You might get time to fix it and raise it to your standards in the future, or you might not. Nevertheless, your focus should be on enhancing the product and delivering value to the users, not on writing the most beautiful code in your life.
6. An open mind
Getting an idea right from the first time is hard. Direction changes are inevitable in a start-up, whether that happens in regard to the product itself, the technology stack that you are using, or the activity flow in the company. Being flexible and open to discussions and changes are essential in such situations and they will get you a long way. Tying back to the first point of the list, you need to be hungry to learn new things. An attitude like “this is not in my job description” when it comes to changing the technology stack, for example, might but the company, especially if it’s a small one, in a pretty tough spot.
If you enjoyed the article, make sure to also check Feeding your creativity as a developer, as some of those tips might suit you well as a start-up developer. Also, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter, in the bottom of this page.