The downsides of working for a tech startup
I have to admit, my employer is nothing like I expected. In fact, what I’ve experienced over the last 12-plus months has truly surprised me.
Let me explain. Before I got my current job at a big Canadian bank, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what working for a bank would be like. Bureaucratic, slow to change and mega buttoned down. I also thought I had a pretty good idea of how they saw people like me, a tech millennial with all of the perceived not-so-redeeming baggage. You know the stereotype — entitled, self-occupied, with a questionable work ethic.
Because the truth is, banks aren’t just for bankers. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to even see a traditional banker where I work in Waterloo, Canada’s buzzing tech corridor. The reality is, banks are innovating. They are hiring developers , marketers, investment advisors, engineers, designers, philanthropists, lawyers, deal makers, customer service specialists, traders and the list goes on.
When I graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in computer science, my classmates and I had big, if not slightly inflated, aspirations. We were wide-eyed and ready to take on anything the universe had in store. We set our sights high: Silicon Valley high. Failing that, we were convinced our talents were duly served at some cool, “forward-thinking” tech start-up where we’d rack our brains, change the world and, naturally, have some wicked fun doing it.
At that age, it’s safe to say money was a motivator, but in truth it didn’t begin and end there. We were hungry for creativity — working with super-intelligent and driven people on innovative projects that challenged us intellectually and that made us question what we knew, and how much more we could learn.
Eventually, I found my startup: A small tech company that had all of the perks you would imagine. Yes, we had monthly video game nights and meetings on couches.
But as fun as it seemed at the time, I soured on the experience quickly. Work-life balance is not a badge of pride at most startups. Time and resources are tight, and because projects are dependent on capital investments, you don’t have a lot of options for what you work on. Most importantly it’s hard to find meaningful career growth opportunities as your managers are, for the most part owners, not trained mentors and coaches. Their main focus is getting a business off the ground, less so on employees’ professional development. We all craved the opportunity for professional growth, but my colleagues and I had no such direction or credible path. So I went looking.
I’ll be honest, working for a bank was the last thing I thought I wanted. I mean, my grandmother and aunt were both bank tellers and their experiences added to my own perceptions about what it would be like: Super formal environment, check. Long corporate meetings, check. Working on Excel each day, every day, check, check AND check.
I didn’t think I’d fit in with the culture, the people or the workplace, but I craved an environment where I could advance my career – somewhere that had the scale to support me with the best coaching and mentoring. Guess what? Big corporations have that.
And not only do they have astounding support systems for career growth, they’re starting to replicate the start-up model. The Silicon Valley mindset is taking over, and large corporations are building departments that encourage a culture that is innovative, collaborative and explorative. My coworkers replicate the passion and energy you’d see at any young company. It feels like a startup, but with the brand credibility and network of an established company. Plus, I wear jeans on the job, work remotely from Waterloo while the rest of my team is in Toronto, and our office could be easily mistaken for any sleek start-up in the Valley (foosball table included).
Nearly every industry out there has technology embedded into its business, which means tech talent is in high demand, and not just from technology companies. In fact according to a recent report, 58 percent of tech jobs in Toronto alone are occupied by people in non-tech industries such as banking, healthcare or manufacturing. The race for talent is on, and fellow techies – we’re in high demand.
So as you consider your own career path, I’d encourage you to challenge yourself to see beyond the stereotypes. I’m definitely glad I did.
Troy Molnar is an android developer at TD Bank Group.