Engineer at a startup. Photo by Matthew Henry.
Engineer at a startup. Photo by Matthew Henry.

The Career Gap for Startup Engineers

July 31, 2019 in Uncategorized

In early 2019, I stumbled across a fascinating challenge in the engineering community. Intuitively, I always knew it was there. As an experienced engineer myself who is more suited for the startup experience than the traditional tracks offered, I was well aware of the pain points of my own experience. I also managed over 50 engineers, and saw first hand how their own career progression was very challenging; for many, they didn’t want to become managers, which meant the only option I was left to offer them was that of a specialized Individual Contributor, which was too limited in scope. This persistent challenge was always there. What am I talking about? The massive career gap for Startup Engineers.

My discovery (or enlightenment) came through another challenge I was facing: I had a team of talented engineers with entrepreneurial mindsets and a passion for growth. These engineers, like other experienced, entrepreneurial engineers, were unique on the career spectrum. They each came with a Swiss army knife of talents and were most happy at work tackling a variety of challenging problems, from building products for new industries to scaling large complex systems. They’re lean. They’re agile. They have growth mindsets.

We had just sold my previous startup, First Coin Capital, and I was eager to keep this team together, despite not having another idea to work on. I knew from my own experience that if I didn’t keep the team together they would face the unenviable task of searching for new startups–a lengthy process–or avoiding risk and taking on the uninspiring role of a large corporate job.

It’s not hard for engineers today to find jobs. It’s hard for Startup Engineers to find a job they’re passionate about. They struggle, as I did, with the traditional tracks offered by large organizations: Too hands-on to be fulfilled as managers; too diverse to be pigeon-holed into a specialty. Startups offer the ideal type of work, but as they mature the work changes. This leaves this special breed of engineer with a common career dilemma: stay, and stagnate in an increasingly corporate environment; or leave, and endure the risks of starting something new. It’s why many Entrepreneurial Engineers find themselves bored yet hesitant to make a new move.

So I found myself thinking of solutions to the top problems these engineers were facing, in order to give this talented team a fresh career experience, and (without realizing it), nurture the beginnings of an engineering community.

These problems as we see them (and I’ve now conducted 50+ interviews to confirm my theory) are:

1. “It’s a lot of work to try and find the next promising startup.”

Most engineers are spending time working, not networking, which means that when it comes time to find the next startup, they’re limited as to exposure. Many startups are small, and under the radar. This issue is compounded by the fact that Entrepreneurial Engineers want startups that align with their passions, and that have the right company culture. Plus, it takes anywhere between 10 and 20 interviews (having fun coding fibonacci sequence 10 times?) to land the right role, and who has the time for that? Finally, if in a few months it’s clear that a startup isn’t the right fit (which happens), there’s a new dilemma of whether to quit, and have to justify the short stint on your resume, or stay to log the time but knowing it’s a losing battle.

2. “Quitting a stable job is a financial risk.”

The thing about startups is, while they offer amazing opportunities, they may not have amazing comp packages (at least at first). The once alluring promise of equity to offset the risk of an early startup (and lower pay) is no longer as enticing as it once was. Only a precious few startups really cash out significantly, and the likelihood of an engineer working at more than five or six in their career is low, and even if they could, the odds of one big exit is still against them, meaning there’s a lot of risk in a limited portfolio.

3. “Working for large enterprises pays well. But they’re unfulfilling.”

That leaves a lot of engineers deciding to hedge their bets and join a large corporation, sometimes with a promising innovation arm. There’s little risk and a lot of financial gain. However, the issue remains that large orgs have little incentive to move quickly, and often come with bureaucratic work environments that can be stifling, and inflexible. What’s worse, is we often hear that engineers don’t feel fully utilized in these enterprises, with only a fraction of their potential being tapped into.

And the list goes on: it’s hard to access good mentor, and they’re at the mercy of their current manager’s abilities; they may lack the skills or know-how to negotiate full compensation; and there’s not a large and stable community of like-minded people to learn from and share with.

From this realization, the idea of Commit was born as a way to provide a career experience between startups that de-risks, and reinvigorates Entrepreneurial Engineers. Commit is a community of mission-driven engineers who partner together and pool their talents, interests and experiences to work on passion projects, explore and work with new startups, learn from one another, and grow their skill sets (without sacrificing financial stability). And, while they’re at it, they can find their next big win, or just come back to Commit if things don’t work out. We designed it as a hub-and-spoke model to allow our engineering partners to work remotely, and according to their needs during this experience. We’ve also built in equity so that we operate like a true partnership, like the VC model, everyone benefiting from the diversified portfolio of startups we work with.

Commit is not designed to be a job. It’s a life-long partnership. And we hope you’ll join us. Visit commit.dev to learn more.