Not all opportunities are created equal, not even in the democratic world of technology. For new or recent college graduates, this is an important point to make—not just philosophical, but practical. If you have a decent degree and a good head on your shoulders, you’ll have no trouble finding some tech jobs out there; which job you take, though, could shape more than just your near-future paycheck. It could impact the trajectory of your entire career.
The Big Guys vs. The DIY Model
Consider a couple of extremes. You can try to get a job for Facebook or Google, and you may well succeed! But make sure you are ready to compete with the Ivy league graduates, that probably know someone that works at one of the giants in Silicone Valley. There’s something to be said for jobs like these. Working for a big-name technology company will look good on a resume, and experience with a heavy hitter is certainly useful.
Then again, just consider the level of competition that goes on inside one of those places makes me shudder. What are the odds that you’ll really be able to distinguish yourself, rise through the ranks, and become something—someone—truly special and sought after? If you’re honest with yourself, you know the odds to be pretty slim. That has nothing to do with your competence or worth, and everything to do with how cutthroat these places can be. In my humble opinion going into a fighting cage is no way to enter into the world of technology. Staying Zen and focused on what makes you happy will be the ultimate reward really.
Starting Early and Young
Look my background in marketing and communications with a 10 year stint in ad agencies, probably etched my career into the search arena. I learned a lot and I’m glad I started there, but honestly, if I didn’t jump on the dot.com wagon I’d probably would have faded into the non-digital world of writing corporate media kits or worst some PR piece no one really cares about or wants to read. How exciting, right?
I’m sure speaking a few languages and always being curious of human behavior solidified my passion for search. I took a few graduate courses in industrial psychology and by then I was knee deep into running an international marketing and copywriting agency. I was one of the lucky ones that endured the early years of working online and had the will, skills, and know how to stick around. Would I do this today? Probably not therefore, young Tech graduates have the world at their feet and technology is now doing all the walking and talking.
There are alternatives. One way is to get together with some of your friends and launch your own new company. You may find success this way—fighting tooth and nail for it, every step of the way—or you may not. But this is a hard and unpredictable road. It takes a level of capital (or at least VC experience) that most recent grads don’t have. And what happens if your idea goes bust? “Failed business” is good life experience but not necessarily a stellar entry on your resume.
Somewhere Down the Middle
But of course there are other alternatives to consider. There are tech ventures between the Facebook/DIY extremes, and taking a position for a mid-level tech company, or a startup that’s gotten some funding and has some forward momentum—call it a midstage startup.
There are a few options why this middle-of-the-road approach might be ideal for recent grads, and the foremost reason is simply this: You’ll have a chance to do work that really makes a difference. You’ll get chance after chance to prove yourself and receive the recognition you deserve. At Facebook you’ll just be another cog in the perpetual social media machine, and at a brand-new startup you’ll have to devote a ton of energy to getting people to notice your product and take your business seriously. Somewhere in between is where you’ll find opportunities to do great, creative, forward-thinking work.
From a career standpoint, there are further advantages. A company like this has some semblance of structure to it, yet there aren’t yet a dozen levels of management filling out the C-suite. You can come into a work environment that has a real foundation to it but also have plenty of opportunities to prove your worth, and to grow along with the company.
And yeah: Having a decently reputable startup or young-but-not-too-young tech company on your resume looks good. These days, it seems like everyone has “startup” experience, but being affiliated with a business that survives past inception and really starts gaining traction—that means something. So does being one of the early parties, getting in on the ground floor of a promising young enterprise.
The bottom line: Recent graduates who have a head for technology—social media, app development, or whatever else—will find opportunities out there. Sometimes, when considering those opportunities, it pays to be a little choosy.