Jeremy Olson

@jerols

Why I chose to work at a startup over a big company

Last year I wrote that I was moving to Silicon Valley to work on something new and crazy. Now that we are out of stealth, I’m excited to finally be able to talk about the work I’m doing.

One of the many GIFs I worked on attempting to capture what Coda does

Coda

Coda is a new kind of doc. The name literally is “a doc” backwards. The twist? These docs can flex to become as powerful as apps, no CS degree required. I think Coda is going to enable a new generation of makers and I couldn’t be more excited.

There is so much to say about the vision and product but our founder, Shishir, wrote a great post about it and I spent a couple really fun weeks on this landing page so I’ll refer you to those.

When I decided to close Tapity and move to Silicon Valley, I pictured working at a big company like Facebook or Square. I had worked at a startup (my own) for 8 years and was ready for something new. Out of the five companies that I eventually chose to interview with on-site, only one of them was a startup—Coda. When I talked to Shishir about the vision, I couldn’t get it out of my head. When I met the team in person, I was completely sold. Almost a year later, I consider choosing Coda one of the best decisions in my career.

A lot of folks struggle with taking a risk on a startup or working at a big company. There are benefits to both. In my experience, Coda presents the best of both worlds in most of the ways that mattered to me. I want to share my experience for those who are curious not just about Coda the product, but Coda the company.

When looking for a job, people seek different things. So instead of just saying that working for Coda is great in the abstract, I’ll quote directly from the list of “dream job” points I wrote when I was seeking a job a year ago.

In my dream job I could…

Have a big impact — I want to make a significant impact on the team and company as a whole. I also want to make a positive impact on the world at a scale I never could with Tapity.

Coda is the most inspiring and ambitious idea I have ever worked on, so the impact on the world is huge if it works. Based on the overwhelming response to our beta, I’m even more convinced that this is something people need and want and the potential market lacks a natural boundary. At close to 40 people, Coda is still super small so I’m not a cog in a big machine — every contribution matters, a lot. None of the other opportunities compared when it came to how my contributions could translate to potential impact on the world.

I had so much fun designing and coding our landing page
Exercise my diverse skill set — I don’t like being put into a box. Give me some freedom to prototype some of my design ideas in code and maybe even contribute to production every once in a while.

Generalists thrive at Coda. I’m primarily a designer but so far I’ve also had the opportunity to push code to production, design AND code our landing page, prototype ambitious ideas, and contribute to important marketing, branding, and messaging discussions. I’m the kind of person that would get bored doing just one thing and so far that has never happened at Coda. I’ve never felt that I couldn’t jump into areas where I had relevant skills and am often pulled into them naturally.

Same goes for all our roles. We have a writer who led our branding efforts and contributes to tons of important design decisions. Developers regularly contribute product ideas. Product managers mock up designs in a pinch. It’s definitely a “growth mindset” environment. Humans have an incredible capacity to learn new things so you lose a lot when you try to box people into fixed roles.

Be entreprenurial — if I have a great idea, I would have some flexibilty to pursue it and round up a crew that are excited about pursuing it with me.

A lot of companies will respond to this point with “we have hackathons!” Hackathons are great (and some of our coolest features started that way) but they are fleeting. What matters more is how easy is it for someone — anyone — who has a really good idea to be able to spread that idea, get constructive feedback, and collaborate with the right people to make the thing real.

I would give Coda a B+. I definitely feel that if I have a good idea, there will be a way to explore it and make it real (and I’ve had many such ideas become part of the product). The only reason I don’t give us an A is that Codans generally have strong opinions and you have to think through and defend ideas pretty strongly. That is good in a lot of cases but I think we can work on our feedback culture to give appropriate feedback based on the stage of the idea — early ideas are fragile and there are sometimes nuggets we should look for before focusing on the weaknesses. One thing, however, that I really love about our culture is that we are very introspective and are actively working on this.

Share — it would be great to be able to share things I learn and help market my projects through blogging and talks.

I haven’t been able to share until today but expect a lot more from me in the coming weeks and months!

Learn from the best in the industry — the best not just in skill but in character.

I think there are few companies that can rival Coda in this department. On the team side, we take hiring very seriously so the people here are the best of the best. I am constantly learning from my peers.

We had a bell rigged up to chime every time someone signed up on launch day. Perfect example of the ingenuity of our team.

On the character side, even though everyone is overqualified for their job, no one is a jerk about it. I’m always surprised by how approachable, humble, and helpful everyone is here. Our CEO, Shishir, is a great example. He ran product, UX, and engineering at YouTube among numerous other notable accomplishments but I’ve never once seen him act, decide, or or talk out of ego. I have gotten to work closely with him on a bunch of projects and I always learn something new but at the same time feel respected for what I bring to the table.

Beyond the immediate team, I’ve been floored by the kind of access we get to the titans of our industry. A few weeks after starting, I was asked to present some of my work at our board meeting (our board meetings always involve the team presenting their work). I of course said yes but soon thereafter realized this meant I would be getting feedback from folks like Reid Hoffman and John Lilly — crazy! Shishir is one of the most connected people I know so we’ll frequently have visitors like Phil Libin and Dylan Field come and drop some knowledge or look over our shoulders and give feedback like it’s no big deal. Not only is it just super cool but advice from these folks has changed the way I think about a lot of things, for the better. I’m learning more here than ever before.

Have reasonable, flexible hours — Long hours should only be an exception for me, not the norm.

This is the kind of thing that is hard to get a read on until you’ve worked at a place for a while. There is company policy, which may say one thing, and there is company culture, which may pressure completely different behavior. My personal philosophy is that you work better if you have a life outside of work. If I’m not getting quality time with my family, my work is going to suffer.

Mindy and Josiah having a great time at a company retreat in Carmel

I’m happy to report that Coda is amazingly family friendly. I‘ll admit that I worked some long hours in the couple weeks leading up to launch but that only happens in extremely rare circumstances for me and is completely voluntary. I don’t miss dinner with my family because of work. Weekends are reserved for family and I’ve never had any pressure to change that. People work based on what makes sense for their situation but to get a sense of our general culture, I offer the Slack test. During normal hours our Slack channels buzz at an alarming rate. It says a lot that on the weekends they are often completely quiet.

I also found that the “unlimited vacation” policy is not just a gimmick. People don’t abuse it but we definitely use it, which means I don’t feel bad for taking time off when I need to.

Bottom line: in my experience Coda provides the stability, family friendliness, and learning opportunities of a bigger company but at the same time provides the exhilaration, entrepreneurialism, and personal impact of a startup. I’ve honestly been having a blast and am doing the best work in my life.

If you have any questions or are interested in joining us, please feel free to shoot me an email or send a note to jobs@coda.io
Topics of interest

More Related Stories