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Software engineer Seán Durban reflects on the high-impact development opportunities on offer in emerging companies.
Hey 👋 I’m Seán, a software engineer and first-time blog writer so bear with me!
I’m still quite early in my career having only ~1.5 years experience before joining Freetrade and was previously at much larger companies.
I quickly found out that the latter wasn’t a great fit for me at this stage of my career.
I’ve jotted down some reasons why startups appealed to me and why they may be a better fit for you too.
With great responsibility, comes great learning
Not quite what Uncle Ben (😭) said but it still holds.
There’s no denying that increased responsibility is daunting, but we all love to rise to a challenge.
It also helps cultivate evolution as we adapt and grow to meet new demands.
Most importantly it increases the scope for failure, undoubtedly the source of some of our greatest insights.
When you compare roles at startups and scaleups vs more established companies you might notice a difference: the lack of a formal ‘grad programme’.
This isn’t because junior roles don’t exist, but because the focus remains firmly on impact and forward movement towards the startup’s north star, so they need all hands on deck.
This mindset trickles down to the work you do in your role, there’s no busy work or ‘starter’ projects.
You’ll be tasked with real feature work and given real responsibility in spades.
This is exactly what I was after.
In my first three months at Freetrade, I was tasked with redesigning our order flow and building limit orders on Android, key elements of our upcoming Plus launch.
I had very little mobile development experience, but this added responsibility drove me to take ownership quickly and pick up new skills on the fly.
It also put me in a position to get to know everyone as I had to leverage the team effectively.
For me, there’s no substitute for getting stuck in when it comes to learning.
Life on the startup ISS
Astronauts on the ISS (International Space Station) are expected to fulfil a wide range of tasks outside their core mission.
Likewise, at startups, employees get exposure across the board and are called on to fulfil different roles depending on demand. Not only will you get insight into other disciplines, but you’ll have an opportunity to voice your opinion and get involved.
According to NASA, the ISS is run by 1.5 million lines of code, that’s a lot of scope for errors and, besides, it’s space so things can and will go wrong.
Crises at startups are less extreme in their outcomes but still occur and require the same ability to pull together to mitigate the issue.
Being familiar and involved in fighting fires is not something many people get exposed to at early stages of their career.
I’ve had my fair share of long days as the on-call engineer, but there’s something inspiring and invigorating about being a part of the response to a crisis.
For instance, check out how the whole company pulled together in January.
No bureaucracy merry-go-round
Startups can’t afford to move slowly or get caught in the analysis paralysis trap, or their competitors will be two steps ahead by the time they launch.
It can also be an incredibly frustrating environment to be in as an employee when you really want to be maximising the amount of time spent on the core function of your role.
But ditching the merry-go-round does not mean startups work recklessly, it means working smarter and considering the impact of every decision and action on their goals.
This relies heavily on the ability to manage competing priorities, a fundamental management quality that you don’t always get to grow early in your career.
We’re only at day one in our mission to get everyone investing here at Freetrade and one of our values is grit: we won’t give up until we get there.
This results in an almost endless list of things to do, aka a lot of competing priorities to manage!
I get to flex this skill every day from planning the order of initiatives to pick up in the quarter all the way down to deciding what in-flight project to direct my focus to on a Wednesday afternoon.
Product focused, user-led
A major motivator for many people is the impact of the work they do.
I fall into this group. ✋
I love to hear of people benefitting from what I’ve had a hand in creating!
We all know the tech industry moves obscenely fast (where did Clubhouse come from?) and every market has more variety and choice than ever before.
Because of this, startups really sink or swim based on their user adoption and loyalty, placing the ball firmly in their court. It becomes necessary to create a product or service that attracts and continues to woo its users.
This fosters a strong product focus that positions you much closer to the users.
It then becomes significantly easier to identify how your work is directly translating to real, visible impact. Creating a work-impact feedback cycle that is ever-rewarding.
We’re lucky to have a fantastic user community at Freetrade.
They consistently bring brilliant ideas and challenge us to do better.
Reading and hearing how Freetrade has a positive effect on the lives of so many is an incredible motivator for me.
But we’re always striving to improve and help get even more people investing.
Designing and developing a user-centric product is a challenging but delightful pursuit.
I would argue that the team around you is just as important to your growth as the work itself.
It’s who we collaborate and communicate with on a daily basis, and ultimately who we share our successes and failures with.
People join startups for various reasons whether it be a love of the product space or the opportunity to work on green-field projects, but they’ll have a motivation in common: to be challenged in a high-pace environment and to aspire towards a common mission.
This can be an incredibly valuable quality to surround yourself with early in your career, as you see first hand how senior peers constantly exceed expectations and drive standards forward at the company.
It also fosters a culture of learning and knowledge sharing. There’s a wealth of experience that if leveraged correctly can lead to an invaluable support network of peers and mentors.
Ultimately you look upwards when defining your career path, so why not set the bar high?
If it wasn’t obvious, I strongly believe a high-growth startup is the best place to be early in your career.
But many of these aspects apply at any stage of your career. It’s never too late to get involved in something that inspires you.
I’ve learnt an incredible amount in my short few months at Freetrade and can still see massive potential for further growth here. On top of that, I get to work with an incredible crew on a great product with a wonderful community of users. 😍
Importantly if any of this resonated with you, get in touch.
We’re hiring and we’d love to have you at Freetrade.
The views expressed above are those of community members and do not reflect the views of Freetrade. It is not investment advice and we always encourage you to do your own research.