What it’s like working as an Engineer in a startup company?

Steph Encina

It never occurred to me before that I would work for a startup company. Back then, when I would hear the word “startup,” my impressions were: “unstable wherein the company may close anytime,” “working late nights every day,” “messy codes and just want to ship fast." There are a lot of movies and series that showed these scenarios which are supposedly typical in early-stage startups. It seemed like a gamble to join a startup, especially when there are big and relatively more stable corporations out there that are equally enticing.

Eventually, I reached a point where I wanted to feel change. I felt frustrated because I encountered so many red tapes that come with proposing and implementing solutions. I’ve also been supporting the same product for a couple of years now. I noticed how technology is moving faster than ever before, and I wanted to be part of that movement. I wanted to start fresh with the life goals and tech goals I’d like to pursue. I found myself presented with a fork in the road: Should I continue working for corporations or should I start exploring and join a startup? What’s the worst thing that could happen to me and my career given the options?

In every company interview, corporate or startup, I ask questions to see if the job is aligned with my career goals and to get a feel of the company culture. It’s a two-way street after all. While evaluating my options, I entertained the idea of joining a startup because I became intrigued by how different it is from big corporations.

So, I took the plunge. I joined PayMongo, a financial technology company that enables businesses to receive online payments easily. I observed how the company would actively engage with businesses to cater to their payment needs and I also grew interested in PayMongo's products because it empowers Filipino businesses to get paid online. I found this intriguing and most helpful to the community, considering how the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital payments. This is what led me to believe that fintech companies open up a lot of opportunities, and PayMongo sounded like a company that I could grow with.

Based on my experience in PayMongo for the past few months, here’s what I observed so far while working with the Product and Engineering teams:

1. Culture of a sports team

In sports movies, every player’s contribution is important. Each team member plays their part in order for the team to succeed. It’s all about working together and utilizing the strengths of each player. It's about supporting one another and following through with the strategy. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay to scrap it out. The team will adapt based on the situation. We move as one.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller

2. Growth in the workplace

When I joined PayMongo, the organization was in the middle of implementing some changes in terms of how teams were being structured. More projects and product lines were coming in, and the teams were being reorganized to accommodate growing demands. I saw this as a good change because it was a strategy for teams to be more scalable.

I didn’t know anything about their technology stack. That’s okay! They will give you time to study and learn about it. PayMongo also provides learning resources to give you an overview of how each product works. This onboarding process helped me understand not just my product line, but also the overall picture of how it all gets interconnected. The codebase and architecture are also quite good and tells a lot about the company's discipline in maintaining clean code.

Interestingly, my entrepreneurial spirit was awakened as a consequence of working in a startup. It began when our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Jaime Hing III, would give us updates (on the management level) about the funding journey of startups like Series A, Series B, and so on. I felt that what we’re working on is not just to help Filipino businesses grow, because as employees, we grow as the company grows. I also appreciate that Jaime still makes time to hold one-on-one meetings with each team member despite his busy schedule. It was an opportunity for me to ask questions about his experience as a founder and get his thoughts about management strategies, or even architecture.

3. Tasks are prioritized based on impact

Circling back to my early impression about the long hours and hustle culture in startups, I once asked Jaime, "How come we don’t have this culture?" He then admitted that there was a time when they had to put in long hours just to quickly deliver the product. Now, things are relatively more stable and we are moving at a more manageable pace. Jaime, along with PayMongo's co-founders, discourages working overtime because this translates to bad time management. It makes a lot of sense because we can’t always solve everything in a day. We have to choose our battles and prioritize tasks that have the most impact based on our goals. It’s easier to do the smaller tasks for the sake of clearing your to-do list, but if you take a closer look and ask, "how will this help the bigger picture?" Then, that's how you’ll know what is more important and needs more time and focus. If you’re interested to know more about prioritization, you can read it here.

If you start filling the jar by first adding sand, then pebbles, you will not have room for rocks.

4. Open communication lines

What I like about the startup culture is how we can easily reach out to the founders, at least in PayMongo. We can talk to them directly and give suggestions or ideas. They are open to feedback. I personally don’t feel the hierarchy of the organization unlike in big corporations. I guess it may have something to do with the younger crowd. Sometimes, during meetings, Jaime would ask for our feedback on the format of the meeting and whether or not we found it useful. He would even send us a feedback form to collect our insights. I believe that initiatives like this give employees some reassurance that their concerns are being heard and addressed by the higher-ups. Moreover, our scrum masters are also tirelessly innovating the way we work and help keep the team connected, especially since we’re all working remotely.

5. The vision of the company is well communicated

When I was working for big corporations, it was normal to have regular town hall meetings. Top executives would present the goals and company targets. This would always leave me asking, "How will this impact our department? How can we help reach this goal?" It’s quite vague and unclear.

In PayMongo, the vision of what we’re aiming for is clearly communicated across the company. We know how we, as the Engineering team, can contribute to the bigger goal. We feel empowered to take action. If coming up with a final solution is not possible right away, we create skateboard solutions and then iterate or improve it later on. We don't obsess over perfect solutions. Instead, we focus on finding the heart of a product request and start working on a simpler version to get a headstart. Ship early, get feedback early.

Key Takeaway:

“An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” — Reid Hoffman”

Startups are a risk. But if you think about it, everything is risky. There is nothing permanent in this world other than change. What we can do is manage that risk and manage our priorities. Just like in software development, we create skateboard solutions and see how the product works. We iterate and learn along the way. We work as a team so we can ship faster and better solutions. We keep on communicating. Our product managers help us realize the value of what we do and our Engineers deliver these solutions.

As Engineers, it is fulfilling to see the impact of our work on Filipino businesses. We don't just code because it’s required of us. Rather, we understand the value of what we’re working on. If you’re interested in helping build the country's payments infrastructure, visit https://jobs.lever.co/paymongo to learn more.

This article was originally published on Medium on September 29, 2021.

Published date:
October 22, 2021
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