One Way to Get a "job" With an Early Stage Tech Startup

Kristina Chodorow dropped some wisdom a while back on "How not to get a job with a startup." Head on over there and read up cause Kristina knows what she is talking about and has the mega tech chops to back it up. I'm gonna try and expound from the perspective of someone that has been and is being recruited by startups among others but I want to talk specifically about startups here. Specifically, I want to talk about being employee #1 - 12 or so. Ok, here we go, in no particular order.


Don't be in need of a "job"

If you want to get a startup "job" you generally already have a job or you do not need one; like say, you're in school now or you're a trust fund baby or you're a trophy spouse and they got bank and/or big heavy bags of coin to keep you posh. Not needing a job automatically puts you in the driver's seat and allows you to be selective. It also lets you appropriately weed out the better opportunity from the less better ones. 

Why "job" in quotes? Well, cause we aren't really talking about a "job" in the traditional sense. What we are talking about is an opportunity. A great opportunity. An opportunity to work with something you are interested in or passionate about. Something where you look forward to tomorrow and not to 5 o'clock. Those kinds of opportunities are out there and they can happen to you. Just be ready for it.


Don't be a douchebag

When you are working in a startup what you are really doing is spending a significant amount of time with other people. These people need to want to spend time with you. Nobody likes having to spend the day with a douchebag. Don't be a jerk, don't be mean to people. Don't think your shit don't stink cause it probably does. Be open to ideas that are not your own. Learn to accept constructive criticism. Be a "team player." If you are in the habit of reflexively saying things like "that's not my job", then maybe a startup is not for you. Cause in a startup you'll probably be asked to do a lot of things that were never itemized in a job description just because there is so much to do and not enough people to get it done.


Find some tech you like and are interested in

This is kind of critical. Remember, you are looking for an opportunity, not a time clock to punch. Find something, anything you are passionate about and dive into it. Eat it up. Devour it. Cause when you find that something and someone is actually paying you to do it all of a sudden it ain't work anymore. It's a good time and it's fun. Remeber, this is an opportunity. Not a "job." Example, if you hate Java and gc on the jvm gives you hives stay out of a Java shop. That simple. Cause you ain't gonna like it and it will show in many, many ways.


Participate in the Community

Like Javascript? Python? Erlang? Networking? (BGP not cocktails) Find your local meetup group and start going to meetings. Find an open source project on github or wherever and grok that code. Fix a bug. Join the mailing list and IRC channel. Answer questions. Be helpful. Other people are desperate to find someone like themselves that they can bounce ideas of off and talk shop with. Go out there, they are waiting for you.



Presumably you have found something you are really interested and passionate about. Well, talk about it. Get a posterous or tumbler. Get a twitter account. Get on HN or Reddit. Participate, write. Maybe you get so good at something that you can put a slide deck or demo together. Then you can give talks at your local meetup. Offer the meetup organizer a topic. Organizers are always looking for people to come and entertain for 40 minutes or an hr. Nothing says you know a subject like being able to talk about it and "teach" it to someone else. 

Let's say you're not a good writer. You're in luck! Take that function you just wrote and comment it up. Build a blog post out of a teardown of a function you found in some open source code somewhere. This will get you thinking about how to convey your thoughts and your opinions. Think of it as writers' training. The code is the the bulk of the post. You are just adding a bit of extra here and there. Before you know it, with enough practice, you'll wan't to go back and rewrite your earlier posts because you will have come so far with your new writing skills.



Now, if you've done those things and done them well enough, in truth, the jobs will come to you. Ya that's right. Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. You know all that stuff you did? You know what that is? It's your resume. Writing about all you've done builds a rich history of your interests and your strengths. It lets an employer get a feel for you before the first email. What it won't work for is for an established company. An established company has an HR department. An HR department needs you to fill out a form and submit a resume. If you want to do that there are lots of other resources out there to help you along that path. Again, if you've done your part you are going to get contacted directly by the founders, CEO, CTO, CIO, VP of Engineering or other like positions who know what they need, are aware of what you can provide and know that you are a good fit for them. A one page resume becomes a formality but not a requirement. I couldn't tell you when I updated my resume last.

As it stands, you could read this and say to yourself "ya, but in this utopian future of awesome opportunities, I am still waiting for said opportunity to knock on my door." Fair, but now lets talk about being proactive. By engaging with the larger tech world through participation and writing you will quickly find out about the various opportunities and new startups sprouting up all over the place. You will be able to discern an interesting situation when you see it. Let's now couple your tech skills with another passion. How about travel or healthcare or sports? If you look around you will see that there are people trying to apply technology to every possible endeavor to make it better, more efficient, more entertaining. In short, more competitive and attractive to customers. Look at a lot of the YC companies. A raft of them are not pure tech plays. They are a new breed of company where technology is central to changing the status quo. The future will be built by these companies and if you want to be at a startup this is the kind of company you will be at. Take your skills and drop an email or a tweet or a dm or a prvivate message directly to someone at the company. Remember, a startup does not have an established corporate barrier to navigate. Send a message straight to the top because in a company with less than 20 people there are no elevators.