What it Takes to be a Successful Startup Software Engineer

Authored by senior engineering leaders from Cloudwave, Displayr, Simply Wall St, Campaign Monitor, Bluewater Control, Prezzee and Zeller

What it takes to be a Successful Startup Software Engineer

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Alex Gurr (Head of Engineering, Cloudwave)

A “can do” attitude, a willingness to learn (you’re never the best/perfect), great communication skills and the social skills to interact with less technical people (such as managers or heads of the company). It’s easy to code/improve your coding skills, but it’s all the other bits that are just as important.

Paul Kelcey (VP Engineering @ Displayr)

Ability to learn and have perseverance. Work well within a team. Ability to deliver on what’s needed to help make the business successful. Basically the answer to question 1 applies here because startups are looking for someone that can be successful within their organisation. There should be mutual benefit.

Xavi Ferro (Head of Engineering at Simply Wall St)

Attitude and growth mindset. At our company we are clear that we win as a team, so we win by being the best version of ourselves and enabling others to reach their best. Take ownership of things, become an expert, understand the customer.

Stuart Totman (Head of Engineering @ Campaign Monitor)

I think the most important thing that is needed to be a successful software engineer at a startup is the willingness to be challenged and adapt along the way. In large organisations they have the luxury of big engineering teams that concentrate in one area only. In a startup you need to be prepared to work on anything in any language. One day you may feel like a Front End engineer, the next you are elbows deep in a database, and the next you are all about DevOps. This means you will have a steep learning curve and can at times spend a large amount of time feeling overwhelmed. This is where teamwork is crucial. Your team is there to support you when you are stuck. 

One of the best things as a graduate you can do is before you ask for help ask yourself “What have I tried so far?”. If that list is small, spend a little longer trying to solve the problem yourself before asking your teammates.

If you approach problems with a positive attitude, learn from feedback you are given, and show you have tried to solve a problem before asking for help then I have no doubt you will be a successful software engineer.

Alexander Iskrenov (Head Of Engineering at Bluewater Control)

Curiosity. In a startup you can wear as many hats as you like. You can contribute on the backend, frontend, you can help with DevOps, often you can represent the company on events. The wider scope of operation you have the bigger potential you have for promotion once the company starts growing. Being curious to try new things, being available for your team, understanding what are the organizational challenges across domains is the difference between a successful rewarding career and just having a 9-5 source of income. 

Simply put it’s just investing in your personal development, so you can increase your value. This is a very simple thing that many fail to do, relying on their mentors or employers to do it for them. While your mentor, leader, organization, etc. can help you with guidance and involvement, the driver and initiative always lies with the individual.

Vinny Lawrenson-Woods (General Manager, Product Engineering @ Prezzee)

Firstly, I would say your willingness to wear many ‘hats’. In startups, especially early stage startups, all the roles you would expect to see in a larger organisation may not exist but obviously they still need to happen. This means there may be more opportunities to meet with customers, develop business requirements, design and build solutions as well as testing and creating documentation. At a later stage startup you may have more Product, BA and Test roles, but your ability and willingness to help in areas outside of your expertise will set you up for success. Secondly, proactively finding solutions to any gaps you see without waiting to be asked will make you a huge asset to any organisation. An autonomous mindset is always in demand.

John Wesley Salvador (Senior Software Engineer, Zeller)

I can’t stress this enough, be proactive and ask questions. One common mistake we tend to do as engineers is that we usually just do whatever task has been given to us. In a startup, everything is fast paced, meaning even task requirements get a little bit confusing and most of the time, incomplete. So asking questions and raising concerns will definitely save everyone’s time. Also, you need to make sure you have a passion for technology and software programming. You have to make sure you read articles, join programming groups, do programming exercises, know what the latest technology trends are, because if you don’t, you’ll definitely get left behind and there’s a lot of engineers out there with similar skill sets.  


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