From Nap Rooms To Hoverboards: Working At A Tech Startup Is Every Cliche You Imagined
A few months ago I moved halfway around the world to start work at an internet company. The entire experience has been a perfect cliche. There are nap rooms, pool tables, massage chairs and on each floor, a fully stoked beer fridge. The main mode of transport within the office is Razor Scooter. Recently I was playing a game of pool and a man glided over to the table on a hoverboard, watched me for a minute and then silently hovered away.
I’ll be honest, sometimes it feels as though I’m working on the set of Portlandia. Carrie Brownstein is going to pop up and put a bird on me at any moment.
On top of all these perks, I’ve actually had some serious readjusting to do, and I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Working at a tech company has been unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and the biggest hurdles were not anything I could have predicted.
#1 Your role may not be clearly defined
You’ll probably be given some kind of ambiguous title like ‘Content Producer’, ‘Distributor’ or ‘Director of Storytelling’. But what kind of content do you produce, and how do you distribute it? This could be entirely up to you.
Don’t expect to walk into a tech company and be spoon fed tasks and responsibilities. There’s not going to be anyone standing over you making sure you have assignments to occupy your work day. A lot of your time will be spent finding projects to work on, and creating jobs for yourself. Initially this was strange for me, as I’d always worked in environments where roles and responsibilities were clearly defined and tasks were handed down to you from someone higher in the pecking order. Now I’m free to pitch my own ideas and pour as much time and effort into them as I please.
#2 There will be resources, use them all
If they’re there, use them. Or at least try to use them once. As a newbie it can be hard to get your head around all of the new processes in a workplace. This leaves little time for utilising the abundance of resources that you might have available to you. If there’s access to extra curricular programs, enrol in them.
I have 100% made the mistake of not partaking in extracurricular activities, and have gotten far too comfortable staring at my computer screen. I’m yet to take part in any ‘How to re-evaluate your life and create proper goals’ or spiritual enlightenment workshops, and god knows, I could really benefit from a bit of guidance.
It’s taken me three whole months to borrow a book from the company library, which is literally 30 metres from my desk. I mean, I have to walk past it to get to the bathroom. No excuses here, just sheer laziness. Don’t be as lazy as me.
#3 Network as much as possible
No matter how big or small the startup, chances are you’re going to be working among some pretty amazing and inspiring people. The larger the company is, the more of these people there are, but conversely, the harder it is going to be to get to know them and work directly with them.
Make sure you don’t get trapped in a department bubble, where you collaborate with only the people you can see from your desk. If you’ve got a problem that you think someone from a different department can help you out with, grow tall and ask them. The solution is going to be better informed, and you’ll create connections that are going to help you in the future.
The same goes for work events. Setting a goal like introducing yourself to two new people per event is super achievable. I’m not talking about the standard chit chat that you do when you run into Becky from primary school on your way to the kebab shop on a Friday night. I’m talking speed date worthy chat. If you think of networking like speed dating, in that you have a very short amount of time to impress someone, chances are the other person is going to remember you when they see you next. For extra points, throw in a weird (but not too weird) fact about yourself.
Hot tip: don’t tell anyone about the time you choreographed an interpretive dance to LeAnn Rimes’ ‘Can’t Fight The Moonlight’ as a 12-year old. The world will never be ready for that. If you’re still in doubt, read up for extra guidance on what not to reveal to your colleagues or how to network without hating it.
#4 You’ll experience The Imposter Syndrome
A friend mine who works at a large search engine that starts with G first told me about this after she experienced it herself. It basically describes the feeling of being surrounded by high achieving individuals, and feeling like you don’t belong amongst them, or that you’re a fraud. You start to live in the fear of being ousted as a dead weight by the geniuses surrounding you.
I felt this. I was thrown into an environment where people were amazing and well spoken and articulate and genuinely knew their shit, and used a LOT of acronyms to describe complicated formulas for measuring complicated metrics. In my first week I sat in lots of meetings trying to maintain a calm exterior, while internally my brain melted like a VHS in your car on a 40 degree day.
When I started to feel the Imposter Syndrome coming on I realised I had two choices: man up, or sit back and sink into the wallpaper. I learnt what the acronyms stood for, and started by speaking up and putting forward small ideas, until eventually I felt I could back larger projects. Soon, I began to feel less and less like an imposter and more like I belonged.
#5 Don’t sit back and wait
You’re going to have to get out there and be pro-active otherwise you’ll end up bored and miserable. Don’t be that person who rolls into work, spends most of their day reading Buzzfeed lists and then walks out at five on the dot.
It’s up to you to get your name out there as the go-to person for whatever your specialty may be. If your skill lies in creating well performing Tinder profiles, then let it be known. If you’re a wizard with words and compete in slam poetry championships then tell your colleagues about it, because slam poetry is cool. The more people that know about your skills, the more those skills can be put to use.
Obviously all of these things need to be learnt on a personal level, but knowing what to expect (or what to not expect) can definitely make the first few months of life in your new role a whole lot easier.
Tegan Reeves is a Wollongong based freelance writer who isn’t afraid of oversharing. She writes for Beat magazine, BRAG magazine and is always up for a Fleetwood Mac singalong.
Lead image: Silicon Valley/HBO