oisin thomas
Oisín Thomas

3 Reasons to Code at a Startup

6 min read

I am closing in on a year working with the EdTech startup, Diglot, and to say I am still loving it a year on is an understatement. Technology is a great field to work in right now and there are so many options out there for programmers now. With this abundance of opportunity also being entangled with prestige and monetary incentives, it becomes more difficult to find what really works for you – to find what aligns with your needs, values and desires. For me, Paul Graham’s essays provided ample reasons to want to work at a startup and after nearly a year, all those reasons that got me into it still hold very true. I hope by sharing a few of them with you, you can see if your polestar also lies within the ever-growing constellation of tech startups.

A Party of Adventurers

Another reason mean founders lose is that they can’t get the best people to work for them. They can hire people who will put up with them because they need a job. But the best people have other options. A mean person can’t convince the best people to work for him unless he is super convincing. And while having the best people helps any organization, it’s critical for startups.

— 'Mean People Fail' by Paul Graham

Startups by their very nature begin out smaller than large organizations, and that means you generally get to know people much better than you would otherwise. But to work with people beyond a business understanding, you have to resonate with them – they have to be nice. As the saying goes, “If in life you can’t choose what I do, let me at least choose who I work with.” This is particularly salient to startups when you will go through the vicissitudes of starting a business – the rollercoaster of emotion that it is: you need to have people you can rely on, laugh and grow with. For it all to work, there needs to be a bond, and in that way you are like a party of adventurers battling each problem and striving for each milestone along the way. I can attest that there is nothing more wholesome than not just liking your work but also loving the people you are working with.

Diglot is a lean startup but is the exact opposite of mean – instead having an awesome community and cofounders. Despite being remote work completely thus far and the pandemic itself being a very isolating period for everyone, I have developed strong friendships with the people here and there is a simple joy in being part of it every day. And you can find your niche too: with the plethora of startups out there, you can not only choose what you work on, but also who you work with, and maybe even start your own party and found a startup.

Relentlessly Resourceful

“But finally I’ve figured out how to express this quality directly. I was writing a talk for investors, and I had to explain what to look for in founders. What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They’d be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That’s not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can’t simply plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are; you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to keep trying new things.

Be relentlessly resourceful.”

— 'Relentlessly Resourceful' by Paul Graham

You will find yourself finding old methods not working, having to reach past the cutting edge to something novel and new. You will have to plan projects of unknown sizes, spread and concentrate resources appropriately, listen and learn constantly and keep iterating. In the chaotic world of today which seems to be ever-accelerating in its rate of change, isn’t a perfect microcosm of that the startup? And when you are trying and doing things constantly in live we call it living and exciting, and when your work mirrors it, so too does your work become a living exciting thing. At the best, as Paul Graham says, “work” and “life” goes from a slash to a dash relationship – and who wouldn’t want their life taken over by what they love?

At the very least you will be able to find out whether you have a deep interest in the work. When you experience that burning curiosity to explore and code beyond the task at hand, you soon realize you are working on the right kind of problem.

"Real Artists Ship" Culture

“For good programmers, one of the best things about working for a startup is that there are few checks on releases. In true startups, there are no external checks at all. If you have an idea for a new feature in the morning, you can write it and push it to the production servers before lunch. And when you can do that, you have more ideas.”

— 'The Other Half of “Artist’s Ship' by Paul Graham

I don’t think there is anything more infuriating and soul-destroying as a programmer than knowing whatever you do will have days, weeks or months of checks before being released (if it ever gets released at all). From personal experience with projects both personal and business, the cost of checks or bureaucratic red-tape can be detrimental to productivity and ultimately satisfaction.

You also get to understand from first principles what checks are indeed necessary as instead of starting out working with lots of checks, you end up working from zero upwards.

How many times have you taken a test, only to not be able to cognitively unload it and work on the next task fully until you get results? And perhaps to make matters more frustrating, the next task is dependent on the results of the task completed… But with startups, that red tape is left in the drawer that is firmly closed, giving you fast turn-around times that allow you to pivot and learn faster, keeping you keen by staying lean.

And there we have three reasons to join a startup – all without mentioning the joy of moonshots or potential fortune and glory! I hope you found this piece at least interesting if not informative. I’d highly recommend looking into the startup space when looking for a career, and if anyone is interested in learning more about what Diglot does, check out our website, or about opportunities at Diglot, feel free to message me.