Startup life: What I thought vs reality
Blog post by ELP Student Julio Soldevilla (Mathematics| Class of 2022)
Before starting this internship, I had very little idea of what to expect of the experience. I had learned a lot about startups during the semester, but how would this compare to the real experience? While I must admit that many things were as I imagined them, there were also quite a few very different.
First, I should comment about the team. I was expecting to work in a small team, but I didn’t foresee how small the team would be. When I began the internship, there were 8 people in the whole Neurable team. During this summer, another person joined the team full time and 4 interns (including me) came for the summer. In such a small team, I see how everybody has a good friendship with each other and everybody is comfortable talking to each other about topics relating the company. Even for the interns was easy to blend into the company culture and really feel a part of the company. I want to make special emphasis on the company culture. It is customary for everyone to share a bit of what happened during the weekend with everyone else and it is also very frequent to have team lunches or dinner. I think these small acts really strengthen the bonds among the workers of the company and make work flow more smoothly. From my perspective, it is way easier to solve the problems that might come up in the everyday work and brainstorm ideas for new features for the products when everybody in the team is connected and on the same page, as is the case with such a small team and a great company culture.
But not only was I surprised by the size of the team and the company culture. During such short time in the summer, I expected to have a well defined project to work on for the whole summer. However, after finishing the first part of my work, I realized that there would probably be a lot of changes in my future tasks. My supervisor directly asked me to put on pause my main project and start contributing to a couple other ideas. I should say I had heard of how in a startup many times there are sudden changes of direction, but living this situation was a great experience. This forced me out of a relative “comfort” zone I had established within my project to explore these new ideas. Although these new ideas had to be postponed too eventually, I liked the experience of jumping around different teams, contributing with different ideas and learning about how the different problems the company wants to solve were attacked.
Finally, and related to the last point, I was really surprised by how fast the whole team solved problems. This happened during an important period of data collection. For one of the main products the company is working on, we needed a huge amount of data from different people. To do this, we organized a team collecting data and gave out flyers and online promotions to get random people to do a test of our technology. During the first attempts of data collection, we noticed an issue with the software that was affecting the data collection process. This issue needed to be corrected promptly or else the data would not be useful at all and the process would need to be repeated. Immediately, the whole team started looking into this issue and conjecturing possible reasons for this problem. After just a couple of hours, the engineering team was able to solve the problem. This allowed the data recording to continue and is helping the development of the product. I was amazed at how fast everybody was able to pinpoint the issue and find a fix to it after just a couple of hours of brainstorming and discussing with the other team members.
Overall, these are just some aspects that not only made my internship experience really great, but also showed me some of the main differences between working in a bigger, established company and a startup. I think this type of experience and contrasting is definitely valuable for someone interested in the startup space in the technology industry. Even though I think I had a different image of working at a startup before starting this job, the actual experience was much better than I expected.