6 Replies - 1429 Views - Last Post: 11 September 2010 - 07:17 AM

#1 Brewer  Icon User is offline

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CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 09 September 2010 - 04:25 PM

We all have heard the stories of those few students who banded together and created the likes of Google, Facebook, etc. This topic isn't about those people. I want to know what you all think about Computer Science majors working for start ups. Is it a good thing? What can you learn? Do you have any experience? Would you suggest working at a start up over taking an internship with Microsoft, Oracle, etc?

Basically, I am looking for any insight you all have dealing with start ups.

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#2 Programmist  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 10 September 2010 - 03:40 AM

I'd say the choice of whether to work at a startup vs intern at a large company depends at lot on your personality and ability to learn on your own. If you are just starting out you may not learn all of the things that you need from a startup because there simply may not be enough people or time. Startups also typically do not always pay very well, but may have other benefits not offered by large companies (e.g. lots of snacks/drinks, casual work environment, telecommuting. etc). One of the positive things about working at a startup is that you may get to do things early in your career that you wouldn't normally get to do at a large corporation. For instance, you may get tasked with starting a small project and get to deal with every aspect of it from cradle to grave. This could include research, requirements gathering, architecture, design, development, testing, and support. Starting out at a large corp you might only get to do small discrete tasks like fixing a bug or adding a component to some app. Startups may also offer much more freedom when choosing technologies, frameworks, languages, etc, whereas a corporation probably already has a rigid process and technology stack in place. I'm generalizing, of course because every company is different, and there are varying shades of grey between the two extremes, but this has been my experience.
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#3 nooblet  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 10 September 2010 - 04:47 AM

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list and experience will vary so take everything I have to write with a grain of salt moving forward...

Disclaimer: I am an entrepreneur and have founded many companies/startups. My perspective may differ greatly from a startup employee as a result.

1] Startups are generally way more demanding environments vs their corporate counter parts. In a startup, you're generally expected to wear as many "hats" as necessary, although for programmers this is generally less true than other roles. You're generally expected to work extended hours if you must, especially if this is an early stage startup. You don't have a large team to collaborate with if at all and like Programmist said, you're probably expected to learn a lot on your own, even in terms of coding challenges. If you want to grow as a coder, there is a pro and con to this approach. Pro is you will learn a LOT since you most likely have to solve many of the problems yourself and fast. Probably more than if you would have had you worked for a large company. However con is because you're doing most of it on your own, if you're not the problem solving type, this can have the opposite effect.

2] More than likely you're expected to take a massive paycut unless the startup is already up and running for a bit and has either funding or revenue coming in. This is unlikely for early stage startups.

3] On the upside to the paycut is you're generally able to get some equity or stock option for being an early employee in exchange for getting an extreme paycut and assuming you believe in the vision of the company, the founders, and things turn out well, it can pay off (but regardless it's a gamble no matter how you look at it; nothing is guaranteed).

4] Benefits may not exist for a long time.

5] Depending on the programmer, some have a hard time switching off projects constantly. In larger companies, this is rare. in a startup, it happens all the time, almost weekly in some cases. If you hate switching projects constantly or is the type to get tied to code, this is a bad mix.

6] Pay is iffy at best. Even if you get some base salary, your job is waining until the startup gets funding, the founders have a lot of money to infuse the business with, or otherwise. If not, you can face times when the founders may not be able to pay. While I never had this problem personally, I know many people who have been down this road. It's a tough call and if you're badly in need of money for any reason, even to survive and have no savings, this is something I would strongly look at.

7] You will learn a lot more than just coding. Being an early employee in a startup means you will learn 95%+ of what the business is all about from every angle. Unlike a corporation where you only know what's going on with your work, a startup is so small that everything that happens you will know about even if you're not directly involved. This includes all facets of a startup and if you aspire to be your own boss, this is a tremendous opportunity to learn both from success and mistakes the startup will make. However there is little benefit for a programmer if all they want to do is be a programmer for the rest of their life and not start their own company.
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#4 Brewer  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 10 September 2010 - 05:28 AM

@nooblet

Since you are an entrepreneur and have started your own companies, would you mind also providing insight on starting your own company? Have you started any software companies? How did they do? Did you sell out eventually? Could you provide some pros and cons of starting your own business for a co-op program? My school offers 8, 12, and 16 month coops with the option of starting your own business and making that your job for the duration of the co-op.

Anything you have to offer on the topic would be greatly appreciated!

I would definitely like to start my own company one day, which is why I am interested in working for a start up.
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#5 nooblet  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 10 September 2010 - 11:08 PM

Sure. I did start a software company previously and I am currently working on another one. I'll give you whatever insight I can. Do note it's impossible to address everything without writing an entire book on the subject given the complexity of the subject but I'm more than happy to answer any question you might have. That said, I'll make a few comments to start.

First, I co-founded my last software startup with one other co-founder who is a close friend of mine. We started the company in late 2007 originally not as a company but rather as a software for personal use out of necessity. Being avid entrepreneurs ourselves, a lot of friends often ask what we were working on. As a result, we were showing people what we were doing and the software we were building to help us do some necessary tasks. Indirectly, one of our friends had asked if we ever considered selling the software. That eventually led us to forming a company and a startup.

Long story short, approximately 2 years later, we were acquired in a multi-million dollar transaction, so to answer your question, yes we did sell out. Ironically a few people asked why we sold. I figure I'd answer this here as well. Some people build businesses with the intent to one day get acquired or go IPO while others plan on building the company for life doing what they love. While the idea for this startup originally wasn't intended to be a company, we nonetheless didn't mind building it out long term. The decision to exit and sell ultimately was a result of a bunch of factors that led us to believe selling at the time was the best option. It wasn't like we decided from the beginning that selling was the way we wanted to go which may differ from other startup founders.

With that said, I never had any experience building a startup for any co-op program and I'm not 100% sure my advice would be valid given the nature of the question since I never participated in any co-op programs. However base on my personal opinion of building businesses over the last decade, I can honestly say I probably would prefer launching my own business outside of the co-op. I presume that doing so as part of a co-op (much like an incubator) comes with restrictions, terms, etc... things that provide no real value (in my personal opinion) and may restrict the growth of your company. I'm sure there are resources and stuff the school provides, however, I confidently say I doubt they compare to real world experience and resources you much rather get building your company on your own. However, without knowing more about what the co-op is about, I don't want you to take that as advice to choose one path over the other. Obviously given where I am at this point, it makes no sense for me to participate in those things but the same can't be said of others.

Let me know if you have any other questions.
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#6 Programmist  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 11 September 2010 - 06:37 AM

Nooblet - I'd be interested in hearing a more detailed version of your story. It would make a great podcast or article if you care to expound on it.
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#7 Brewer  Icon User is offline

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Re: CS Majors Working For Startups

Posted 11 September 2010 - 07:17 AM

View PostProgrammist, on 11 September 2010 - 07:37 AM, said:

Nooblet - I'd be interested in hearing a more detailed version of your story. It would make a great podcast or article if you care to expound on it.


I second this motion.

The biggest problem I see with starting a business during a co-op is the fact that after my time is over (be it 8, 12, or 16 months) I still have to go back to school for another year. So I have been on the fence about it anyways.

Would you mind if I asked the name of the company you sold? If you don't want to say, then I understand. I am definitely interested in starting my own business one day, I like the idea of being in charge of what happens in my company. Because of this I think I would sell before I went corporate, and I would keep stock in the company if it were an option, just in case.

What advice would you give to a university student that possibly wanted to go in the direction of starting their own company eventually? My school decided (this year, in fact) that they would no longer offer the Dual Major in Computer Science and Business, so that is out. I am currently debating between Hon. Computer Science (Software Engineering) and Dual Hon. Computer Science & Mathematics. Would one be better than the other? Also, what classes would you recommend? Business, Psychology, Philosophy, Computer Science, ect.
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