7 rules for start-up life

In today's climate there alot of glamour around having a start-up career. It seems as though start-ups has become the latest trend in "desirable" careers, much like how wall street, investment banking and corporate law was a few years before. But to be honest, as a career, it's pretty lackluster. To be quite frank its pretty shitty in the sense that there's alot of ambiguity and uncertainity around almost everything.

Will the company last a year from now, let alone a few weeks from now? What does my career trajectory look like now? I code for a little while, the company gets bigger and now I should lead a team, right? Am I working on the right technology that will make me more marketable tomorrow? Of course, we're in a start-up; everything we do are pretty valuable skills. What are the next steps that I need to take to get paid better? Being in a start-up means I get two to three times the number of years in experience as a big corp. right? How much is my stock options worth -- We'll be millionaires in no time. I don't need to worry about the future. We build this and we'll be set. We won't need to worry about our career, right?

These thoughts and questions are few among the many questions I've had along my ~10 years in tech. That said, I got into software engineering and start-ups because I'm a huge believer of there being a simplicity hidden within the complexities of problem. It could be the software engineer in me, but I'm driven in wanting to uncover that simple, elegant solution that was hiding in plain sight.

That might be why I'm drawn to stories like the mythic tale from antiquity where there existed a knot so entangled, that it had remained entangled for generations. And the legends had it, and the prophecies foretold that the person who would successfully free and disentangle it would reign over the lands. Yet, it remained unsolved despite its rich rewards. It was probably that big hairy audacious goal in its time and attracted the smart, ambitious "start-up" folks of their time.

Then along comes this guy, Alexander. He looks at the knot, draws his sword, and sliced it free with a single stroke. So elegant, so clever, so obvious. As a kid, hearing this story was amazing. I loved it. This is might be why I'm drawn to start-up and might also be the reason why I'm a huge collector of platitudes and truisms.

Yes. They can be cheesy and overly simplisitic when taken out of context. Yet, when I take the time to reflect on past failures and successes, I can't help but appreciate the wisdom embedded within them. While it might be ambitious to use them as a universalality of life. It helps serve as mental model and a 85% good enough framework to prepare yourself, filter your perspective and ultimately, help you overcome the challenges you will come to face.

That said, here are my best seven distilled over my 10 years as a working journeyman in tech start-up space.

  1. Have specific goals.
    Understand the difference between dreams vs goals. If you can't articulate a goal either in full, precise detail; it's just a dream. Dreams are not actionable but goals should be. The good news is that it's all up to you. The bad news is that it's all up to you. It's your responsibility to come up with clear, measurable, and worthy goals. Very rarely, will there be a clear next position that you can observe, or aspire to. It's mostly up to you yo figure where you want to go and who you want to become.

  2. Do the work
    Prepare yourself to strike when the opportunity arises but if you're there to execute, and you're green, don't make the mistake in thinking that you were hired for your strategic prowess. Learn. Being challenged? Not what you were hired to do? Keep doing it. Keep learning. Improve and get better at it. Learn with an end goal in mind. That way when and if there is a chance, you are ready.

  3. Input vs Output
    Concentrate on what you will do. Don't dwell on what you can't. Focus on getting better over of being good. Nothing measured equals nothing gained. This goes from an individual level to the your team.

  4. Be an optimistic skeptic
    Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Murphy's law. Two is one, one is none. Trust but verify. It's easier to trust other first when you have a plan. Have an end goal in mind when you're working in your start-up.

  5. Important vs urgent
    Recognize the difference between the two. Favor the long term. Winning can be a matter of when. Bottom line is that you will always be short staffed and stretched thin. Knowing when, where, and how to strike is an invaluable skill that only makes you more valuable over time.

  6. Ego is the enemy
    You are not entitled to anything. Don't expect others to change for you but you can always change yourself? Don't ever think you have all the answers. That's when you or your team is obsolete. There is not a single job that is beneath you.

  7. We're all dying but who really lives?
    Don't try to be like everyone else, compete like everyone else. Recognize who you are. Accept that there are flaws and that you could always become better. Embody who you wish to become.

"the sea - like life itself - is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don't worry - especially about things over which you have no control." -- Fleet Admiral Nimitz's father

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