we need a new profession: startup engineer

August 19th, 2013 § 2 comments

Startup screen

Startup screen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Economic crisis is still the dominant topic in Slovenia, with worrying news and indicators popping up daily. At the same time, Zemanta has never been better, and is actually growing fast. Of course, because we are active on global market, rather than dependent on local economy. Except in one aspect – hiring.

We are looking for several new exceptional colleagues in our Ljubljana office. brilliant, smart, ambitious software developers. It’s not surprising that a lot of people are applying for the position, and I’m very happy to see that many of them actually fit the profile we are looking for.

I’m starting to call it startup engineer, to differentiate it from other software development jobs, like traditional IT, systems integrations or website development. many students coming from the universities here are not aware of the difference, and I think we, the startups, have to be very loud about how differently we work. here is a short list of the type of differences, would love to compile a longer one with your help:

  1. problem-solving: we are a product company, building a product of our own. there is no external client inventing and changing the specs all the time. there is no map of where we are going. we are learning with every step what the next step will be. thus there are not many repetitive tasks. every day actually brings new challenges. some people don’t handle such uncertainties well. startup engineers thrive in the challenge.
  2. freedom and flexibility: to a large extend we don’t care when and how you work. we expect you to do what it takes to understand the challenge well enough, to tell the other how you will solve it. hours, days, languages, locations are up to your judgment. some people cant handle this freedom. startup engineers love the freedom and grow with the responsibility.
  3. curiosity: the world is changing with incredible and accelerating speed, and we need to stay a step ahead of it. we need to understand the emerging technologies before they become standards. it takes extra time and energy, that doesn’t necessarily pay off always. startup engineers experiment and learn, because they cannot not to. sometimes that’s called being brave.
  4. global view: even when working on local problems, startup engineers have to understand the world at large, keep in touch with global trends, and think how the flap of the butterfly in silicon valley will affect us here and now.

there are several practical challenges that we are facing when trying to communicate why working in a startup should be attractive option:

  • I wish in the future, people looking to work as developers, would be aware of this difference well in advance. ideally even before high school, so that they can optimize their learning for the style of work that suits them best. we see a lot of very compelling candidates, that unfortunately end up working for banks and IT companies, simply because they don’t know that being a developer can mean very different things.
  • there is a prejudice that startup jobs are not stable enough, so specially young candidates are discouraged from applying for them. I find this mentality particularly cynical and obsolete. not only have I met a lot of very stable and healthy startups over the years, also the ‘stable’ companies are laying off incredible amounts of people these days, and government jobs are less and less secure as well.
  • some candidates, if they happen to know about startups, are convinced that they are not good enough to qualify. they don’t realize that what we need is first and foremost smarts and curiosity, and not PhD quality of theoretical puzzle-solving. at Zemanta, cultural fit is much more important than skills and experience. don’t negotiate with yourself.

I wish we could make this, ‘startup engineer’ a formal post-graduate university program. there are practical skills they could learn, to accelerate their growth, but these will change from year to year. more importantly, by having it as an option within formal educational system, we would be raising the awareness and actually giving some of the students a fair chance to realize their potential. creating it in collaboration with the actual companies would make sure the students end up with a bit more practically useful knowledge built on top of computer science fundamentals, and give them direct access to a pool of employers, that have been doubling every year.

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