How to Land a Job at a Startup (Even if you live in the middle of nowhere)

I’m graduating in a month, and packing my bags and moving to Boston for a gig at a tech startup. It’s a dream job for me – I’ll be doing a mix of marketing and development work while going after a greedy industry that makes me mad.

I’ve received a few emails asking how to get a job at a tech company right out of school, and to be honest, I’m probably not the best person to ask. What I can share, is a little bit of my life’s story, so if you’re looking for a “7 ways to get a job after college” post, I’m sure there’s one on Mashable that you could find.

Side note: I currently live in Maine, and there’s not much of a tech scene here. If you live in a rural area, don’t worry.

 

Start Early

The most important thing you can do to land a sweet gig after college is to start early. I started interning in high school – this job wasn’t paid, and I did quite a bit of grunt work, but I learned important lessons and it laid the foundation for future job/internship opportunities.

It’s also important to remember that every job is a learning experience. I worked at McDonalds and learned exactly what I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing. A couple years later, I worked for a landscaping company where the boss would stand around and yell at me every time I messed up. As miserable as I was working at these places, I learned some very important life lessons.

 

Learn to Code

My path to learning how to code was very strange. Back in the heyday of Myspace, I watched my brother playing around with customizing a profile, and I thought it was strange. I also was getting sick of high school classes, so I decided to check out a local vocational technical center (best decision of my life by the way). I thought the teacher was awesome, and decided to learn HTML and CSS.

The summer of my junior year in high school, after emailing every web shop in town, I got an internship (2 days/week) at a local web design firm, and learned how to build Joomla sites. If you’re wondering what Joomla is, don’t worry, you’re not missing out.

Over time, I’ve taught myself Ruby on Rails, and although it’s not my strong point, I’ve seen payoffs simply because there’s not an abundance of marketers who can also code. Blending different skills is a great way to differentiate yourself!

 

Start your own Business (Or Freelance)

As soon as I finished up my web design internship I started asking friends and family if they wanted a website. My first project was $200 dollars, but I learned how to negotiate a rate and charge for my services.

Oftentimes, I wouldn’t have a clue how to accomplish a certain task, so I would spent time searching for a solution. In school, most of the learning is “spoon-fed” to you, so this was a new challenge.

Lastly, in high school I was obsessed with playing soccer, so I started a website for high school sports in Maine. I remember visiting local businesses and asking them if they wanted to advertise. I was rejected constantly, but I learned things that school will never teach.

In a startup, one of the biggest challenges is finding paying customers, so having some amount of experience on your own is a valuable asset.

 

Network (Quality, not Quantity)

I went to school in Boston for my freshman year of college, and I met some really smart individuals. I am always reading articles where people say “hang out with people smarter than you”, and it’s 100% true. My advice is to focus on quality over quantity when networking. Don’t think you need to know everyone in order to land a job in a startup. It’s not true. My first interaction with my future employer happened because of a single retweet from a friend.

 

Be Found Online

This next section could take a variety of different forms, but if a startup can’t find you with a quick Google search, you don’t exist. Answer questions on Quora, post your weekend project on Github, or create a website to showcase your skills – this all adds up! I’ve found that blogging is best for me, I’m trying to become a better writer, and it’s great way to practice. It doesn’t take long to setup a WordPress blog and hook up your domain name, this is a quick win!

 

Get your Foot in the Door

The best way to get your foot in the door is by doing contract work. This is a low-risk way for the startup to get used to how you work and communicate with the rest of the team. Oftentimes, this can transition into a full-time role, so don’t worry if you get started as a contracter, just focus on doing a great job.

 

Be a Part of a Team

I played soccer quite a bit growing up, and as a result, I was exposed to team dynamics. As a freshman, I would be responsible for tasks like taking care of the equipment, and as progressed to being one of the older players, my role changed. Likewise, this happens at work, so it’s important to learn how to deal with adversity, and present a compelling argument.

While I encourage going out and doing work on your own, it’s also extremely important to work in team situations. I suggest blending the two. Freelance in your free time for extra income.

 

Hopefully this helps – once again, start early. I’ve found that inertia is a great thing, and small wins snowball into bigger opportunities. Let me know what you think on Twitter or Hacker News.

 

  • http://www.lukethomas.com/ Luke Thomas

    Boundless!

    • jcap49

      boom congrats!!

  • http://twitter.com/librarythingtim Tim Spalding

    Damn. I hate to see another good one leave. If they go belly-up, apply to LibraryThing.com—headquartered in Portland, Maine.

    • http://www.lukethomas.com/ Luke Thomas

      Tim, I have intentions of moving back (although many years down the road). I still have family and friends up here, but if you have time, I’d enjoy meeting you. I visit Portland 1x/month as my wife’s family is in the area.

    • http://twitter.com/librarythingtim Tim Spalding

      I’d add that I think that marketer/programmer is a difficult horse to ride, especially coming from Maine.

      Hacker works. Hackers respect hackers, and talented ones will go somewhere. New ones often demonstrate their skills by developing something in their spare time—either their own or helping on an open-source project. A good hacker doesn’t even need to plan that out—programming is what they want to do most of all, so it just happens. But marketing’s something else. Most hackers don’t respect marketers. And I don’t think a Boston-based company is going to care as much about marketing experience in Maine. I may be wrong.

      More generally, I’d either learn to code well or not mention it. When I hear someone say that they program but not very well, I think “so they’re a dabbler.” Programming isn’t rocket science. If you want to know it, make the effort and know it for real.

      My $0.02. Good luck in Boston.

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Raymond Duke

    Great story and all the best in your new job :)

  • http://twitter.com/SauravTom Saurav Tomar

    Its the first thing I read this morning, and boom what a read. Congracts :)

  • Liudas Sodas

    “middle of nowhere” I thought is like Kazakhstan or Siberia. However nice story!

  • Will Kriski

    Enjoy! I switched into IT after a master’s in engineering by going back to school for a 6 month fast-track program which had a 4 month work term (which is key). The startup ended up hiring me. But after lots of ‘stock option’ promises I now go for the money directly and found a niche market (integration) so that the rates are much higher than usual. Paid off my mortgage in my 30s, saved a buttload and moved to the country on the east coast (and take short term gigs now working from home so I can focus on practicing jazz guitar and my own little HTML5 projects. I even wrote an ebook about my career advice. Life is sweet!

  • http://twitter.com/GasbaKid Djamel Gasbakid

    straightforward way technic to go from learning to startuping….great time reading