From university to a startup
Figuring out what you want to do after university is scary. You don’t want to make the wrong decision, yet there is no way of knowing before you try it out. This process throws most people in a semi-existential crisis at quite an early age, and questions like “What can I actually offer? What role should work play in my life? Do I want a career? Does everyone else have everything figured out?” start popping in your mind. All these questions might fill up your head and give you a headache, so what you can do is reflect on who you are and how you like to work.
It was approximately a year ago, when I was a master’s student at the IT-University of Copenhagen, that I started figuring out where I wanted to work after university. I had written my thesis project about how to strengthen customer relationships with chatbots and since I found the technology exciting, I was also very eager to work with chatbots after I graduated.
I recently went back to the IT-University of Copenhagen to tell the story of how I took advantage of my thesis to land my current job at BotXO, but also why I chose to work in a startup rather than a big organization. I put so to speak, my two cents in advising other students in a crucial decision in their life, who are starting to figure out what to do after they graduate.
In this blog post, I will share some of the things I reflected on when I was looking for my first full-time job and how this led me to my current position at BotXO.
Who am I?
The first thing you will have to do is to reflect on who you are and be brutally honest with yourself, as it will only be a pain later if you are not.
Personally, I’m a Millennial with a capital M. I need to be passionate about what I work with and not just look forward to the weekend coming around. I say “need”, because there’s no way I see myself spending five days a week at a place, where I’m not excited about my job.
I prefer to work in flat organization and hate when there are too many structures that prevent me from doing my job. I have previously worked at places, where ideas, productivity, and creativity are killed because of too many structures and often the structures are just there, because… well they have always been there, so why change it? (Sarcasm may occur).
I like to work with people I care about – I will ask you how your weekend was or if your child is still sick with a cold and I will actually listen. I’m much more productive when I work with other people who are excited about their work and where we can have a shared interest in what we work with. It makes it feel a lot more like a community going to work and that you get to work with people, who are equally as nerdy as yourself, and not just waiting for the clock to turn 5 pm and then rush out of the door.
I also know that I thrive the most when I get responsibility. This stems from the fact that I learn the most by doing and in that way, I also become a better co-worker, as I can independently follow through projects.
Where can I become the most valuable asset?
The next thing I did after asking myself about who I was, was to figure out where I could learn the most and, in that sense, become the most valuable asset. Even though I had finished university, where I got a great foundation of academic knowledge, I now had to strive to get practical knowledge.
In this step, I also had to challenge my perception of myself, as sometimes it’s good to know that even though you prefer a certain thing, it could perhaps be beneficial to challenge yourself and learn to work in other environments than what is preferred.
Some of the value I saw in being in a startup is you get a lot of responsibility from the get-go. An example was that I from day one got assigned to create a knowledge base for our software and I had a month to deliver the finished product. From day one I didn’t know the software well enough to create content for the platform. I, therefore, had to make a strategy for how to create the knowledge base, how to structure it and be good at writing everything down whenever I would learn something new about the software.
In the above example, I had to be independent in my work approach, be able to execute and prioritize how and when to execute to be able to make the deadline. Being able to get from a to b and figure out how to get there is an important competency in any business, as you will need to create a plan for the project and stick to it and that takes structure. Being a good executer is also important, I didn’t wait around for someone to tell me how to do the task, I dived right in and continuously evaluated what I had done, what needed to be done and what could be improved but had a lower priority.
One month later we had the first version of our documentation and not just that we also had a strategy of how to maintain it.
My above example can sound stressful to some, as some like to have their hand held a bit more in the beginning phases of starting in job and that’s perfectly fine, as you have to respect how you learn the most otherwise there’s a chance that you will not learn anything from the job and you will end up being frustrated.
One tip I have, if you want to work in a startup, is to be critical of its business model. When working for a startup there’s a lot of uncertainty and it’s important that you consider the strategy for scaling the business to be sustainable and ask the relevant stakeholders in the startup about their strategies. If the startup is uncertain or doesn’t have a clear business plan, then there’s a chance that if you jump on board you might not have a job for such a long time.
What do I want to work with?
You might have a very clear idea of what you want to work with based on previous experience or maybe you have no idea what direction to go in – and let’s be honest: sometimes it’s not completely in our control of what we get to work with, as you can’t expect to land the dream job straight out of university.
I knew I wanted to work with chatbots, as I thought the user had been neglected in the development in the technology, which is also why I chose to write about it in my thesis, so I had the knowledge to offer and I had a clear vision for the technology’s development.
Chatbots can sound like a niche to some, but like any other software there’s a lot of different departments to maintain the product, so I also had to figure out where I would fit in. In my case, I started in one department, Customer Success, and ended up in a completely different department, Product Development. Now, this is not possible in any kind of company but reflects that I work in a startup and reflects that I have an IT background. I could easily be a part of any of the two departments, but I am passionate about the development of the product and can add the most business value in product development, which is why I landed here. The change of department therefore partly goes back to who I am, as I am the most productive when I’m passionate about what I do.
Sometimes understanding that getting the foot in the door at a company and prove your worth to then get the dream position, can also be an approach. The worst thing you could do is to feel like you are wasting time in a position because it’s not what you thought you would end up with. All experience when coming out of university is a positive experience, especially if the alternative is unemployment, as you will also learn things about yourself and what makes you excited to go to work in the morning and what perhaps makes you snooze an extra couple times before getting up.
I would argue the above three points are some of the most important things to consider when going from university to a full-time position. Everything else is just a surplus.