Why Choosing a Small Company with a Big Mission is the Best Decision You Can Make For Your First Job in Tech

Choosing your first job out of college can seem like the most daunting task you've had to make since deciding which college to attend. This post is for new college or bootcamp grads in the tech space who are either deciding where to apply/interview or have already received multiple offers and are deciding which to accept. I graduated in May 2017 and started at Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), an educational technology company comprised of less than 150 people in New York City. After my first six months as a professional engineer, I hope that sharing my experience can help.

First of all, size matters. #

Choosing between a big technology corporation and a smaller startup, drastically different options, can be difficult. The larger, well-known powers can seem more attractive in the tech space: they have longer lines at your local career fair and bigger booths at conferences, they are recognizable names that will impress your friends, and perhaps they even pay better and provide a nice training program with a class of instant friends of other new college graduates, just like you.

At a startup company, like TpT, I was given a unique opportunity and lots of responsibility from day one. By my second day, I had made my first pull request in Elixir, a language I had never used before. By week two, I was already pushing features for the iOS mobile app to production. I even broke a piece of the mobile app in my first month for thirty minutes, but because of the company’s focus on growth and my coworkers’ patience, I was able to take responsibility, create a blameless postmortem and learn from my mistakes.

For me, there is no better way to learn than by doing and that is exactly how my experience at TpT has been. While lectures and presentations may teach you skills, they don’t help you setup your local environment, learn to debug real issues and allow you to touch the live code base. In my experience at a small company, I have had the privilege to develop a personal relationship with a more senior engineering mentor on my team.

Lena and Jacqueline pair programming (Credit: The Muse, TpT on The Muse)

Instead of attending a training program, I worked side by side, pairing with Lena for a couple of weeks to get comfortable in my new role. I will say that this was a very special experience: not only did she serve as a mentor in my career, teaching me engineering practices, inviting me to join women in tech events and introducing me to volunteer opportunities with ScriptEd, but she also helped me transition into the real world, advising me on 401k plans, health insurance and adjusting to life in New York City.

One of my favorite aspects of TpT is the culture. #

We make transparency a priority here, which means the ability to attend any company meeting or contribute to any conversation. At TpT, the company is your oyster. If you want to grab ice cream with the Engineering director, that is encouraged! If you want to choreograph a silly dance for the CEO, he will gladly participate!

With our small, cross-functional teams I have the ability to engage my curiosity and question all kinds of decisions, enabling me to understand how a business works at all levels. I have read access of the entire production database and codebase and can explore the innovation of any engineering team! When I am wondering about a product decision or code syntax, I can easily walk over to the team or developer and ask.

For example, I was recently working on making a database storage change to add logging of our mobile users' sessions for our iOS app. We were already hooked up to Google Analytics’ BigQuery, but our API developers did not have access to this data in our production database. I ended up refreshing my Python skills and writing a database process using our Forklift ETL to transfer the data from GA to our production database. This was my first attempt at using an ETL so I paired with another, more experienced engineer! This project gave me the opportunity to work with developers from all different teams in the organization to pitch my proposal and gather feedback. Some meetings led to new ideas and knowledge-sharing while others led to new relationships! The dynamic and open culture at TpT makes it easy to chat with anyone about anything.

At a mission-driven company, everyone on every team is working toward a common goal. #

Whether a finance or engineering team member, each and every one of us is aware of the mission, to empower educators to teach at their best, and has the opportunity to create a positive culture that drives us toward that goal. The business objective is important, but at our core, we are all dedicated to helping and empowering educators, making for a less stressful work environment.

Within my first month at TpT, I learned so much about education that made me incredibly grateful to have even graduated from college. According to the US Census, only 29% of US citizens 18 years and older graduated from high school in 2016. I want to change this. To be at a company like TpT with a strong North Star, it is easy to find the passion to work hard to help educators and students, increase that percentage and close the achievement gap. This fire is ubiquitous at TpT - we all strive to achieve our goals with a clear, valuable purpose.

When you ask most people what their favorite thing about their company is, they will say “the people”. During my recruiting process, I asked this question in every single interview, and they all gave me this easy answer. But, at TpT, I am surrounded by the most amazing, fun, patient and talented people with a myriad of experiences and backgrounds. I am constantly learning and feeling challenged by my colleagues. I have never had the “Sunday scaries” that my friends all talk about because TpT’s’ fun and inclusive culture fosters my professional growth while making it an exciting place to come every morning.

So, if you want a full start class of other recent graduates, a two week training program, a cafeteria full of free lunch, and a narrow, but defined focus on a particular team or project, then perhaps a larger company is for you. However, if you’re willing to take the risk and accept the freedom, challenge, and growth of a startup, you will find yourself contributing quickly, you will only be the new person for about one week and you will find countless opportunities to develop yourself and your career.

If you’re interested in growing your skills fast and developing for a good cause at Teachers Pay Teachers, please get in touch! Checkout our job openings here! I’m at jacqueline@teacherspayteachers.com.