Technology-based startups are on the rise, and with that growth, we can expect an increase in hiring trends for positions such as user experience designers, data warehouse analysts, and mobile app developers, among others.
However, Jim Newman, executive vice president of Acquity Group, reports having difficulty finding qualified candidates for such positions, as it seems “the bubble-burst of the early 2000s swayed many high school and college students away from these areas.” Even with the economic downturn, smartphone app downloads alone are expected to increase from 10.9 billion in 2010 to 76.9 billion in 2014, according to a study by International Data Corporation. American companies seeking professionals in the realm of digital and technology fields are turning to international candidates due to a lack of qualified candidates in the U.S.
Students nearing graduation in the fields of engineering, technology, and programming, as well as those on the business and creative side of the spectrum, can have a greater chance of landing their dream startup job through relatively new opportunities. Serious candidates can take advantage of self-learning and programs designed for non-technical employees, and doing so will give them a step up on the competition within the talent pool.
Tech Skills Needed for Startups
If you have a resume packed with credentials, recommendations from senior-level personnel at large companies, in-depth training, and academic projects, you might not be hired by a technology start-up.
“Without a well-stocked Github account, experience in working with teams, and comfort with practices like unit testing and test driven development – processes that allow small startup teams to continually improve their software without lengthy QA cycles – [you] will find it hard to get a great job at a startup,” states Peter Bell, an evangelist and hacker with hackNY. Bell has experience in startups and technology as a former SVP of Engineering at General Assembly, CTO at SKiNNiO, and co-founder of CTO School. He speaks out against the myths of landing a technology career with a startup.
While he has heard students claim the key to being hired is in high GPAs or top colleges, Bell claims that in his personal experience, both as an entrepreneur and CTO, the ideal characteristics of a software development candidate are not taught in school. “College can be a great experience, but to get your pick of the best startup jobs, you have to actively take control of your education and fill in the gaps that your college doesn’t cover,” Bell says.
Earlier this year, Bell toured New York colleges to speak to students about startups, a program sponsored by hackNY to direct students towards marketable skills for success. On his blog, Bell lists some tips from the tour for those interested in breaking into the best startup gigs after graduation.
Passion: Employees should not only enjoy what they’re working on, they should be passionate about it. If you only seek validation or a paycheck, you won’t be a good fit.
Learning: The best candidates are those who can be self-taught, who know some languages (such as Java or C#), and who have a working knowledge of algorithms.
Teamwork: Students should be aggressive and even stubborn, as long as they know to admit when they’re wrong and enjoy working on a team.
Additional characteristics mentioned by Bell include some obvious requirements, such as the ability to maintain working code, a focus on the product, and knowledge of current trends.
Training for Non-Tech Positions
In addition to the technical positions, startups also seek candidates for non-tech positions within the company. These positions require a degree of tech knowledge, as well as expertise in a particular field, such as sales, growth, or user-experience. How do students without a technical background achieve a career in a highly-desirable tech start-up? Before recently, they couldn’t.
Thankfully, this need was recognized, and innovative individuals stepped forward to fill the gap. Russ Klusas and Misha Chellam saw the necessity to train non-tech personnel and founded Tradecraft, a new school aimed at teaching the skills necessary to succeed in the technical field. The school is a hands-on training program with classes in UX design, growth hacking, and sales and business development.
Ryan Lawler of TechCrunch points out that “startups generally don’t fail because their code isn’t good, but they stumble due to poor user design, or growth strategy, or business development and sales.” Schools such as Tradecraft aim to create students capable of adding value to a company from their first day on the job.
Classes at this twelve-week program are taught by leaders within the industry and have a ratio of ten students to each instructor. Additionally, Tradecraft has involved top executives who mentor students, adding to the learning experience. However, even with instructors such as Match.com founder Will Bunker and UX designers Laura Klein and Kate Rutter, the school doesn’t concentrate on teaching. While some curriculum is involved, “for the most part, students will be focused on actually working on various projects for different tech companies throughout the course of the program,” reports Lawler. This hands-on experience with real startups not only looks good on a resume, it allows students to have a better feel for the type of position to seek after graduation.
Tradecraft isn’t the only learning program for non-technical students seeking employment in a technical field. Several other similar schools offer classes and hands-on learning opportunities for students seeking a leg up in the tech world.
Boston-based Startup Institute is one such school. Founded by Shaun Johnson, Katie Rae, Reed Sturtevant, and Aaron O’Hearn, SI provides “transformative educational experiences that combine hard skills with cultural acumen to increase the velocity and impact of future startup employees,” according to their website.
SI holds a “draw the owl” philosophy, which is rooted in the idea that students who will succeed in startups must be able to complete complicated tasks in a fast-paced environment with very little guidance. Classes include product and design, sales and business development, technical marketing, and web development.
In order to stand out in this tough job market, it is essential to enter the workforce with not only the knowledge required for your desired field, but with hands-on skills, practical experience, and the connections necessary to jump into a new position with confidence and ability. Tech students are encouraged to fill the gaps of their college education with real-life practice, including attending “hackathons”, while serious non-tech students can gain an edge in technology-based startups through schools such as Tradecraft and Startup Institute.