Patrick C. Keaveny

The Wordy Coder

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Startup Life

Life | Tech

About a year and a half ago, I decided that I wanted to start my own company someday.

About a year ago, I met a very talented aspiring Designer who when I asked if she wanted to become my creative department should I ever manage to start my own company, she said yes.

About eight months ago, I found out about Silicon Prairie News, a publication that works to bring news about the startup scene of Omaha to a wider audience.

About six months ago, I went to Silicon Prairie News’s Startup Job Crawl, an event where industry professionals and aspiring professionals come together to meet, which is where I met Jimmy Winter and Matt Barr of VoterTide.

About four months ago, I began work at  my very first job at a startup tech company known as VoterTide, which I had found through Silicon Prairie News, and where said Designer turned out to be one of my coworkers.

Today, I look back on my summer and reflect on the experiences I had living the exciting and ambitious world of startup life.

Startup life is really something else. I’ve worked for big corporations like Coors and Delaware North Companies, as well as for the Government odd-jobs, freelance jobs, restaurant jobs, and front desk jobs, and startup jobs are a pretty stark contrast from anything else I’ve ever been exposed to.

A normal day in startup life starts with walking into the office wearing whatever clothes I feel like, listening to morning banter between my boss and my other coworkers. Lunch happens whenever I choose, and often times involves the entire office going out to eat somewhere (and sometimes watching the adventures of a neighborhood  goose named Al). Work goes past sundown at times, and trips to the bar after are occasionally had. Work can even become your evening activity when you’re home, as it was for me regularly.

One of the things I enjoyed most about working for a startup was the work. A little while ago, a friend of mine said the funny thing about smaller companies that may not make as much money as bigger corporations is the expectation. At a big corporation it’s easy to feel like you’re just a number; however much more or better work you do for the company isn’t always appreciated, and you tend to feel like you’re dissolving more and more into the sea of the rest of the employees. At a startup though, the work-force is pretty short-handed, meaning you’re expected to give it your all. Most of the tasks I was given at work were incredibly abstract and complex, and I was frequently challenged to be pushed past my limit to come up with something that was worthwhile. At a startup, you are expected to be the best because they only want the best, and that expectation pushed me to be much better than I ever thought possible.

There were however some downsides to the experience. One problem I faced on several occasions was being able to distinguish the line between the professional and personal. In an environment where you can put your feet up on your chair and not worry about getting written up, working with bosses who like to joke around and take you to the bar occasionally, it’s easy to forget that you’re at work. For the first little while I was there I slipped in punctuality and showed up late on several occasions, something I felt at the time was because the job didn’t feel like a job in the strictest sense, and I mistakenly took things very casually, not realizing that I was indeed working for a paycheck, and had to show it.

The only other downside, which goes without saying in the world of small business, is security. While the pay is good, it’s sometimes discouraging knowing that the business may not always be around despite the place having some of the most talented people in the industry. Everyone working there can do everything right and the company may still go under, which makes you start to wonder if your paycheck will always be steady, and whether or not the risk of being at a startup company is really worth it. According to Eric Ries’ definition, “A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Those last two words, “extreme uncertainty,” means that there is no guarantee that the company will survive. This can be very exciting at times, as it feels like you’re living the ambitious and risky lifestyle of bigwigs like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg before their monumental success. At other times, it can be discouraging. That’s a contract you sign when you come in though, and if you like the job enough, it can be completely worth the risk.

At the end of the summer, I found I had learned exponential volumes of knowledge I’m not confident I would learn many other places. I learned ColdFusion, Python and JQuery. I had bosses who showed me cool tricks and abstract concepts who would even assign me tasks relevant to my interests (such as writing blog posts occasionally). I grew in my abilities as a developer and as a general worker and now feel a hundred times more confident than when I started. I even had bosses that inspired me through our numerous conversations, motivating me to never want to let them down. Startup life involves a laid-back but ambitious atmosphere, work that is challenging and satisfying, and the opportunity to work at a place whose future you actually give a damn about. In the end, it can turn out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.