Working for a Startup: 6 Mistakes Software Engineers Make When Accepting Job Offers from Startups
For many software engineers, working for a startup is the goal. They have dreams of being at Google or, perhaps even better, starting on the ground floor of a company that’s about to disrupt the market.
Focusing Too Much on the Money
One of the most promising factors about working for a startup is that you might make a lot of money. Sure, maybe not at first, but when the company finally finds their market or goes public, you could see a serious bump in pay or even an actual payout.
That’s generally not what happens, though. If you’re lucky, you’ll work at a startup that simply pays well and offers some nice benefits. Still, don’t count on it.
In any case, your top priority when working for a startup should be finding one where you have an opportunity to learn new things and refine your skills as a software engineer.
This way, even if your startup doesn’t become the next Google or Facebook, you’ll have some serious intellectual assets you can take to your next job interview.
Not Getting Any Equity
Depending on where you are in your career, it’s not unrealistic to expect that part of your contract will include equity in the company. While we just mentioned that you should put the opportunity to learn something over a sizable salary, it’s still wise to look for equity.
As a software engineer, your job is an important one. Working for a startup will most likely mean helping with its primary product or service.
That’s a very important role. As such, if you’re not going to make the big bucks, you should at least ask about getting equity in the company. Even if your company never makes it, your stake could make for a nice little sum of money.
Getting Too Excited About Perks
For a lot of people, the whole point of working for a startup is that you get insane perks. At this point, they’ve become cliché: the relaxed dress code, flexible schedule, ping pong tables, video games, on-campus restaurants, etc.
While Google popularized this sort of thing, it’s now become standard even for startups that may not have a lot of backers.
Although we hate to throw cold water on the whole thing, this may be one of the most underrated features of working for a startup. First off, as a software engineer, you probably aren’t going to have a ton of free time to enjoy using the company bowling alley.
Those flexible schedules you hear about—where employees can take off as many days as they want—are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Companies like Slack have actually begun turning the tide where these crazy perks are involved. Their philosophy is that people should show up, do their work and then go enjoy their lives—not waste time playing air hockey.
Not Researching the Founder
The person in charge of the company is always important. Most of us don’t really give it a second though when we accept a job offer, though. We take for granted that the executive team knows what they’re doing.
When you work at a startup, there’s an excellent chance that the person calling all the shots is, well, literally just one person. There’s a CEO steering the ship and no executive team or board to guide them.
Look into this person before deciding to work for a startup. They may have a history of founding short-lived companies, meaning you’ll be looking for a new software engineer job in six months.
Neglecting the Importance of a Good Network
LinkedIn makes it extremely easy to get a look at who else is working for a startup you may be entertaining an offer from. Often, their website will have a list of employees too.
Whatever the case, this is a major factor that far too many people ignore before accepting a job offer. Ideally, you want to work with other software engineers who will help build your network.
If the startup fails or you simply decide to move on, you’ll be in far better hands if you have a group of fellow engineers you can call upon for help finding another gig.
While most people focus on the founder before working for a startup, look at who else in the company may be able to help you in the future.
Not Knowing What Working for a Startup Will Entail
You may be thinking that it would be impossible for someone to accept a job before fully understanding what their role would be, but this actually happens fairly regularly. When it comes to startups, the likelihood is even greater.
Sure, you’re a software engineer, but at a startup, you may be asked to wear several hats. Maybe you’ll also be working on the site or asked to build a server. You might not even have experience with some of the tasks you’re being charged with.
However, there’s also a superb chance that you’ll find that working for the startup simply isn’t remotely enjoyable. A lot of your work may never end up seeing the light of day. Many software engineers have worked for weeks only to see the results get tossed to the side.
Furthermore, you may be figuring out a lot of things on your own. This is particularly the case at smaller startups where you may be the only software engineer. There’s no team around you and the person you report to may not have a strong handle on what your role requires.
Make sure you have the details of your job in writing before you sign anything. You can never predict what working for a company will be like with 100% accuracy, but that doesn’t mean you need to show up on your first day to a complete surprise.