Startup Life: What I Thought vs the Reality
Blog post by ELP student Noah Finer (Computer Science| Class of 2022) Interning at Productiv
Shortly after I arrived at Michigan, I knew that I wanted to work at a startup at least one summer. I loved the thought of working on high-impact projects, taking on lots of responsibilities, and being deeply involved with the growth of a company. However, since I had never had an internship like it before, I didn’t know what to expect.
I’m currently working as a software engineering intern at Productiv, Inc, a startup backed by Accel and just a little more than a year old. I’m with a team of 20 people split across an office in Palo Alto and Bellevue and joined two months after launch. I’m loving my time here, and many parts of it totally surprised me.
It’s faster than I thought
I’m living in Seattle with three roommates working for Amazon. They spent the entire first two weeks going to mass intern informational meetings, watching videos about Amazon’s complicated infrastructure and internal tools, and setting up their work computers.
I started coding my feature on my second day.
I knew startups were fast, but Productiv’s speed was far beyond my expectations. Every Friday, we hosted an hour-long demo day where usually two to four major features were shown to everyone around the company and our business end gave us updates on new leads, pilots, and finances around our business.
It honestly took some time to adjust to how quickly the product I was working on evolved. At the start, I struggled to fit in to this fast-paced schedule and was worried about my code getting shipped then immediately breaking everything. But, after asking question after question to my co-workers and being honest about what I did not know, I soon got into the flow of development and figuring out what no one had time to explain. And after the first chunk of my feature was pushed to clients without breaking anything, I gained confidence to do more at an even quicker pace.
It’s freer than I thought
One major mistake I made during my first few weeks was expecting far more guidance in what I was supposed to do. I was nervous about making changes that would totally break our application, especially as an intern who just joined the group working in frameworks that were relatively new and a hefty product coded by a dozen people.
My intern project was little more than a simple UX mockup when I first received it. I wasn’t told much else than what files to add my code to at the beginning, which totally freaked me out as I scrolled through the hundreds of folders of code that made our application.
But soon, after I started getting busy into my first week of building features, I embraced this lack of guidance and added my own ideas and interpretation to the mix. I added new files instead of adding to old ones, I created additions to my feature without being asked, and I gained the confidence to reach out to co-workers in our other office for advice.
It’s way more fun than I thought
Yeah sure, there were some nights where engineers were up until 3:00 a.m. updating production for important demos the next day. I definitely put in a few longer days here and there. I also am guilty of coding on the bus back to my apartment one evening. But every time I’ve put in an extra-long day, I’ve done it because I honestly wanted to.
Productiv and the startup vibe has been an unbelievably rewarding and fun experience. It might be the excitement of living in a new city, learning programming tools that have been on my bucket list for some time, or working on a feature that both me and the rest of the team believe in.
However, while I am very busy, I’m honestly not as stressed as I thought I would be, and neither are my co-workers. I always have time to grab coffee from my WeWork in the mornings and way too many cups of kombucha in the evening. Our team gets lunch at a new restaurant in Bellevue every single day. And more than half of the employees have kids, my manager runs double marathons, and two of my coworkers are busy moving their apartments.
Productiv, and most other startups, are simply a group of people brought together with a passion to bring something new to the world but taking the risk of doing it in their own, new way. While it can get harder and busier at times than working at a big tech company, the higher flexibility, freedom, and responsibility is something I probably couldn’t have found anywhere else.