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My Experience Freelancing for a Harvard Incubated Startup Visioning to Overturn Doctor's Education

by Vikranth Reddy 5 months ago in industry

It's definitely as conventional as you think

My Experience Freelancing for a Harvard Incubated Startup Visioning to Overturn Doctor's Education
Photo by Oskar Yildiz on Unsplash

Author's Note:

Everything in this article is my point of view as a core developer in a startup. I generalized it as much as I can, but not everyone's experiences are the same.

A little backstory about me for context: I am a recent grad of 2020 with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. With great efforts and a proportionate amount of luck, I was able to score an opportunity to do research at UTS, an Australian University. One of the projects I worked on among others was called Shark Spotter which in essence mitigates shark attacks by detecting sharks when they reach the shores using a custom-made surveillance drone and fortunately, it got NSW's government funding and a lot of news coverage. I got to meet government officials, made a lot of new friends, and a lot of memories by traveling including sharing food with strangers while hiking, dancing with strangers on the beach…and many other crazy things in my journey. 

But what it also did is open a lot of new doors for me, one of them is working at a Harvard incubated startup working to change how doctor's go about their education. It was then I knew why everyone runs behind getting incubated at big incubators. The number of resources like AWS credits, the advisory board that consists of big shots like chairmen of the biggest companies I know, the research facilities and manpower available who are unquestionably the best in the field….and many others. Somehow, I was able to land among the brightest minds in the world and I still make sure I am utilizing it the best way I can.

Now, coming back to the topic at hand which is my experience working for a promising but young startup. Hmm….. everyone has a different interpretation, so I would like to know yours in the comments as I weigh the pros and cons.

The Beauty of Working at Such a Startup

The Connections(Network)

Although overused the quote "Your network is your net worth" is still worth its weight in gold. When you work at a startup, you have direct and borderline unfair access to C-level people. 

Another suitable quote "It's not who you know, it's who knows you" also applies here. If you bring enough value to a startup( assuming it's going somewhere), you are not only earning first-hand experience on how a company is built and its growing pains which some people pay absurd amounts to watch and learn, but you get a front-row seat and are also improving your net worth by connecting and earning the trust of people who might potentially be leading a particular domain in the near future. All of this might look useless when you look at it in a short-sighted way, but if you are even a little ambitious and go on to do anything in this domain or neighboring niches, you would have quite a pillar of support.

The Learning Curve and Adaptability

I went from being " Hmm…not tried before, will take a bit of time" to "You shall get it in 3 days, tops 5 days" lol of course not applicable to everything but you really learn how to prioritize what to learn and what to safely ignore for the thing you are building. For example, if you need to build a React Component, you don't need to start learning what are the basics of programming, but all you need to know the syntax of javascript and foundational knowledge of react like state, hooks…etc. The 80/20 rule shines over here which says "Only 20% of what you learn will be used 80% most of the time". Unlike in large corporations where you're just another cog in the wheel, each employee in a startup is a valuable asset at the forefront of the business with every act of his/her making a difference to the company's fortunes.

You are also the developer cum solution architect cum DevOps guy cum project manager cum .. cum .. cum..cum…… gotta get that dirty mind checked mate. 

But you get the gist, right? You really get to wear a lot of hats and get to work on bleeding edge tech, just try avoiding the green hat(I am so sorry!!! They just keep coming)

In essence, Picking up valuable new skills will be a daily occurrence.

A Piece of the Delicious Sweet Pie(Stake)

I am pretty sure this is self-explanatory but I would like to expand on the different types of stake or other forms of stake you might get in a few little details in a different article. So, something to look forward to when you click that follow icon.

I would not like to disclose mine in a public platform but this is a common incentive found in startups.

Resources and Flexibility

Now, this is where my experience differs from the traditional route.

I guess you can say due to the generosity of Harvard or due to the connections from the advisory board or whatever, we had an almost inexhaustible source of AWS credits for FREE!! (Just kidding, we were given a set amount but could ask for a few more times for refills but that was still a lot). So, I could play around with many AWS tools in production capacity.

Also, the flexibility to work on the best stack I deem worthy gave me an epic sense of euphoria let alone building the infrastructure from scratch…...YEAH!!!!!!

The Not So "Bed of Roses" Side of Working at Such a Startup

Hair Whitening While Young(Stress)

Take it as a prophesy but "Thy shall start seeing the blurring of the line between Work and Life!!! while low key, your hair shall white!!!!". I mean like what did you expect, when you are with overachievers, you are forced to behave like them. Again, the stress is a variable and as you start getting more efficient and better at your craft, the stress will inevitably decrease, but definitely be prepared for a bumpy ride the first 2 months.

But I will admit my work got a lot easier and I don't spend as much time as I used to. I am sure the work didn't get easier but I just EVOLVED!! (ULTIMATE KANUMURAD!! → My last name + Charizard for all you curious fella's).

No Shopping Sprees 1st of Every Month(Less pay)

Well…..I guess you can say the pie was delicious but it didn't leave you burping….. as long as you get the analogy who cares about what's written to convey it right? Back to the point, it can be many reasons like to have more liquid money or to get you personally invested in the life and death of the company or any other combination of reasons, you now got yourself a share of the "Golden Pie". The catch is that you can't immediately eat it, but once you sell it, you'll never have to search for dough again, or at least that's what you are told.

You = Headless Chicken(Mentorless)

Senior engineers will not be able to provide you with the guidance you require. Mentorship is a win-win situation when done over a lengthy period of time. But not when there's a lot of turnovers, too much work, and the company is losing money by the day. Maybe at most a direction, but most probably you gotta figure out everything else by yourself.

In contrast, I have other friends who work for a larger corporation or a later-stage startup with a growing MRR, and they have additional possibilities to learn from top executives.

There's no wrong in being either, just choose what fits you better. Can you operate and navigate on your own? If yes, then great!! Jump right into the startup world. If no, acquire the requisite knowledge under a good mentor's guidance, and then jump into this tumultuous world.

You are chubbier but not taller(High Breadth but Little Depth)

Another decision if the startup world is for you is to ask yourself if you've found your calling……I mean like the field you want to specialize in whatever it may be like Frontend, Backend, Data Science, Robotics Engineer, ECG A02 Part Mechanic, or something like that. If you have done so, then in my opinion you should be searching for places where you can improve that specific area of your skill as I believe startups are for those people who have yet to decide on their career direction because of the opportunity to try out many different things. 

A friend I know said:

The ability to write REST applications in different frameworks is cool and all but it wasn't until I started working at ____ that I had the oppurtunity to optimize and write code that could scale.

In my case, I have been the SDE, Data Scientist, DevOps Guy, and intend to try my hand at management roles like Product Manager before I decide on my one true path. From my experience with working with other people, I can confidently say that I cannot compete with the guy who has been doing ML for the past year extensively, but what I can confidently say that I can easily make the whole application that contains the ML component albeit with a little reduced accuracy compared to the ML guy. It's your choice if you wanna structure your path so that you can drill down on a component or manufacture the entire machine. I intend to be in the CTO roles and such in the future, so I am training myself to be able to sit in such a role right now.

 Review your current path and model it accordingly to your goals. 

Another recurring theme, I keep hearing from my friends at the corporate is that they are stuck. The exact words were like:

Things are stagnant. Just every sprint I get a prod bug to fix . So go through the logs, understand the flow and identify the code. And then write the unit test for it. It is way too boring!.

So, make sure to jump ship if you are stuck no matter where you are.

The Possibility of Your Golden Pie Turning Inedible( Equity Becoming Useless)

It is a widely known fact that 9 out of 10 startups fail. So, you gotta realize the chance of you NOT cashing in your equity is 9/10, so please make sure you are betting on the right horse. Also, it should be noted that your shares are worth nothing until either your startup goes public or gets acquired and that doesn't happen in a year or two.

I believe that my bet is the right one and that is why I have turned down multiple better offers from larger companies, but if you are not sure, I recommend you to jump ship.


At last, my dear fella's, we have reached the end of this article. In my opinion, there is no good or bad but just "experience"(my way of thinking if it's done, it's done). Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think of my experience and share yours too in the comments.

I haven't yet left the company nor do I intend to yet, but if any of my colleagues are reading this, firstly I would like to say, don't tell me you've read it( I am a very shy guy and might run away embarrassed thus wasting a what could be a very productive day). Secondly, thank you very much for teaching me so much new stuff that I couldn't possibly have learned stuck in my man cave alone. I love you guys!


Vikranth Reddy

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