This summer, I have been incredibly blessed with the opportunity to intern at Handy, a growing startup in New York City. Throughout the course of the summer, I will be commenting on some takeaways from my time as an intern. I vividly recall as a freshman always pondering what it truly meant to work or intern at a startup. Rarely did my fellow classmates intern at startups so there was no easy resource for finding out what it would be like.
I hope to shed some light on the startup lifestyle as a means to helping others potentially discover future career paths if they’re on the fence about joining a startup or opting to go elsewhere. I hope you find my insights valuable.
Professors relentlessly drive home the importance of data-driven decision making, however it is rare that one ever gets to employ such techniques to actually understand its importance.
At a startup, especially one in growth stage, data is crucial and it is everywhere. This plethora of information is used to drive all decisions regarding strategy, budgeting, engineering resources, new projects, etc. You must be able to comprehend how to effectively communicate this information, and be intuitive enough to use the data to seek complex answers. It’s a tough skill to pickup in the classroom, but an internship at a startup does a fantastic job of preparing you for the real world.
The added benefit to working with data at a startup is that it provides you the flexibility to initiate A/B testing on such short notice. At larger corporations it is uncommon that one could test their hypothesis given the data without extensive approval. Fail fast and fail often is popular term in the tech community, and that is certainly embraced at a startup.
PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT
One could argue that the people are an important part of any organization. However, the team is EXTREMELY important for the success of a startup. No matter what your role is, you will be working alongside and across various functional disciplines. Achieving growth ultimately boils down to the cohesiveness of the team. To move the needle, you must have an understanding and gratitude for each functional area’s work. You will not be isolated in a cubicle for 12 hours a day grinding out work solely for your team’s benefit.
As an intern at a startup, you have easy access to meeting other team members. Take the time to introduce yourself and coordinate 1:1 meetings. Not only does this open your eyes to other aspects of the organization, but also it deepens your perspective for how others’ work influences the company’s mission. Everything you do is a team effort and learning this early on is vastly underrated.
EVERY BIT OF PAST EXPERIENCE COUNTS
Students always ask what the best internship is to prepare them for work in a tech company, or a startup. I can truthfully say, after my first week on the job, the answer is: any job.
Contributing to a startup requires worldliness that seldom is required in specialized positions. Like I mentioned above, it is uncommon that your entire day’s work is centered on your core functional area. That being said, you will need to draw on various skills in order to effectively get the job done.
I started working when I was fifteen at a local movie theater. I then moved into retail and capped off my high school work experience dabbling in photography and videography for an entertainment company. All of these skills and learning experiences have become centerpieces of my responsibilities as an intern. From hustling in fast-paced environments, to telling a story that resonates with customers, any skill comes in handy. Even my time spent learning photography and videography has paid off in countless role to date, including my current internship.
To work at a startup, you truly have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Any job, whether it is a menial role or a prestigious position, will prepare you well for a startup internship. Every learning experience counts.
IT’S A LIFESTYLE, BUT ITS STILL WORK
Often students forget that while working at a startup has its perks, work still gets done. Yes, you have flexibility on dress code and your working hours. Yes, there’s food and cool games in the office. Yes, the perks go on and on. However, each and every employee works incredibly hard.
No one works the typical 9-5. In fact, some come in well before 9 and certainly leave well after 5. All these perks foster a culture where work does not feel like work. If you can freely get up and grab a snack, eat catered lunch, or mingle fun with friends for a bit, work no longer feels like a burden. Freedom from these little responsibilities makes a big difference.
While you will most likely still work a significant amount of hours (what job these days does not require working well beyond 40 hours/week), it is more mentally manageable when you have freedom and responsibility built into your day.
My first week as an intern has been truly incredible. It has deepened my respect for those that work in any growing company, within the tech industry or beyond. While I was once skeptical about “startup” internships, I think this first week has given me immense perspective. I look forward to sharing my takeaways as the weeks go on, and I hope you will all find them beneficial.