What’s it like working at a startup?

Yingyu Sun Computer Science, Entrepreneurship, Internship, Professional & Academic, Viterbi Life, Viterbi Summer, Yingyu

Happy day before spring break! Before I head out to Lake Tahoe for the weekend, I wanted to share some thoughts about an incredibly hot topic. Startups have been all the rage recently, as we can definitely see in that all-too-relevant meme: “Hey I have a startup idea, can you handle the development? I’ll handle the business side.” Especially being so close to Silicon Beach, college students are more and more invested in being the “next big thing.”

So here is what I’ve learned about working at a startup! Last summer, I worked as a software engineer intern at Slack, a team messaging startup launched in 2014. Slack aims to “make work life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.” At Slack, I experienced what it was like to work a smaller, closer-knit company. Here are some things I took away from the summer:

Everyone knows what’s going on within the team. My team consisted of around ten people: my manager, product manager, designer and a couple of frontend, backend, iOS and Android engineers. We had weekly team meetings and were all active online to answer questions, discuss issues and share ideas. Even as an intern, I knew what the iOS engineers were working on or who to reach out to for design questions. I definitely think having such close-knit team helps cultivate a stronger team culture and I quickly meshed with the team as an intern.

Disclaimer: Launching a startup is hard! I was lucky enough to chat with CEO Stewart Butterfield and CTO Cal Henderson, who both remembered what it was like in 2014. Before Slack was Slack, the company was actually a game startup named Glitch! Quickly the board realized that it wasn’t a sustainable business. So one day, all but maybe six people in the company were laid off, and they spent several days in a cabin in Canada deciding their next plan. And that’s when Slack was born! Stewart and Cal both recalled that this was a huge decision and they had no idea what could happen — they could only put in the work and hope for the best.

Their 2014 office had one room and one half-full minifridge, but a lot has changed. The Slack office in San Francisco is modern and fun! Nap rooms are available if you’re sleepy, the game room is open for mid-day breaks, and there is even a cute little library if you need a quiet place to work! Of course, the snack room is filled with all sorts of hip snacks. It was so interesting to chat with them since it’s so easy to jump to conclusions when we think about startups and their fun work environments and forget about all the work and effort put into getting that business started.

They cultivate a culture of learning. If I had to pick a favorite thing about Slack, this is it. As a company, Slack valued a culture of learning. From workshops to demos, there were so many opportunities for people to learn about what the company was doing, how the newest feature was built, and what next big thing the CTO was thinking of. My mentor encouraged me to sit in those workshops, even if they weren’t related to what I was working on, and hear how some of the smartest engineers thought about solving problems. I would ask questions about the architecture of Slack, how the messaging server worked, how security works at Slack and every person I encountered was eager to tell me more. Having such a welcoming and collaborative work environment really pushed me to learn more and do better work. I think a big part of working at a startup is that you are truly working with everyone there.

Working at a startup is fun! I had a great time at Slack and I’ll be interning there again this summer. Work is fast-paced and always changing, and every day is different. It keeps me on my toes and I can’t wait to go back in May!

Have a wonderful spring break 🙂

    About the Author

    Yingyu is a junior studying Computer Science. Click above to find out more!

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