Transition from Being a Big Company Employee to Working at a Startup (Part 1 of 2)

Transition from Being a Big Company Employee to Working at a Startup (Part 1 of 2)

Last week I attended a talk by Bryan Starbuck (on Twitter @BryanStarbuck), a serial tech startup entrepreneur and a former Microsoft Engineering Manager, about how to transition from a big company (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc.) employee to a career at startups.  Bryan provided great insights and practical advice for people interested in this process.  I’d like to share with you a summary of this talk and the main takeaways.

Today, in part 1 of this series, we’ll cover the topics in the first half of “Become a Startup Employee from a Big Company” –

Understand your target

  • An important decision – Do you want an “early-stage” (near founding) startup or a stable, mature startup?
  • The common way early-stage startups add people
    • CEO / co-founders
    • 2 developers
    • 1 designer (or another dev)
    • 1 marketing person
  • Usually few or no “Program Managers”

What startups look for

  • Technical
    • Developer
      • Decide .NET vs. Open Stack
      • Envision using the stack 8 years from now.  Invest in that stack.
      • Open Stack is still important for .NET developers
      • Focus on a web app language AND a mobile app language
      • Breaking into a startup job may be harder than you imagine
      • Currently a huge demand for iOS and Android developers
      • Companies want a mobile app developer who also know their web app langue
      • .NET/C# startups are more common in Seattle than in the Bay Area
    • Test
      • Rare to have testing engineers in a startup with less than 10 people
      • Testing is far more automated.  Startups have to automate tests
      • Open source testing automation tools are amazing – Selenium, Jmeter, Waitr, Load UI, Cucumber, Concordion, etc.
      • Big- or mid-sized companies can hire Software Test Engieers
      • Often product software engineers write tests
      • Or, test engineers write test code in the same product source tree
      • Test Engineers can consider becoming DevOps
    • DevOps
      • Becoming popular because of cloud computing
      • Companies using cloud want a “DevOps” instead of an IT person
      • IT people spend time managing hardware. Hardware is now in the cloud
      • DevOps need to handle all code issues between the product and the cloud platform
      • DevOps can be software engineers
      • Companies want a DevOps person who can code
  • Program Manager / Product Manager
    • Program Managers and Product Managers are not exactly the same thing
    • Microsoft’s Product Manager = Product Marketing elsewhere
    • Startups often reach 15+ employees before hiring a product manager
    • Microsoft clones in Seattle with Program Managers: Expedia, Zillow, Redfin
    • Microsoft Program Managers can transition into
      • Product Manager (often at B2B startups)
      • UX Designer (while outsourcing graphic design)
      • Hustler (early stage person for business tasks, such as getting sales or biz dev deals closed)
      • Online Marketing
  • Marketing (B2C online marketing)
    • Online marketing is a hard to find skill
    • It’s very technical and can be place to thrive for technical people
    • It’s not the old-school “Mad Men” marketing:
      • Creative ads for TV
      • Can’t measure ROI
      • Try creative ideas.  Results also unknown and not fully measured
    • B2C online marketing is about:
      • SEO algorithms
      • Arbitrage PPC keyword buys
      • Science of measuring conversion rate and metrics
      • Work towards 100% measurable
      • Buying 100,000 keywords and optimize with tools and automation scripts
      • Viral marketing equation

To-dos for getting a startup job

  • For early-stage startups
    • Go to and other similar match-up service
    • Networking events
  • For all startups
    • Apply to company job openings
    • Enter resume into Monster and CareerBuilder
    • Have a great LinkedIn profile
    • Networking events

Next week we’ll cover topics in compensation, understanding startup mentality and the next steps.  Stay tuned.

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