Why I Chose a Startup Over Amazon
by Daniela Miao
When I was searching for my first full-time job out of school, I was set on moving to Silicon Valley – the land full of tech job opportunities. Out of the myriad of options available, I was purely focused on big corporations – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. I believed that these big companies had existing structures, processes, and systems in place to help me develop my career. While that was all true, I decided after spending 2.5 years at AWS, that I wanted to try a new environment – one that was a lot smaller and allowed for more cross-functional interactions. That's why I joined Lightstep as a software engineer – back when it was a 14-person startup.
Being someone that over-researches all decisions in life, I listed out all the risks I was taking by joining Lightstep. Now, almost two years later, I'm taking some time to reflect on my original list of risks.
Being a foreign national employed on a work visa, my biggest concern was stability. I wanted to minimize the possibility of losing my job and being forced to leave the country. During the interview process, I spoke to the co-founders extensively about our product-market fit, company vision, and more practically, our runway. Ultimately, I was convinced that Lightstep would be a successful startup because of our developer-oriented product and our talented team. Plus, it wasn't realistic for me to have "guaranteed stability" – every company, including big corporations, go through unpredictable changes like downsizing and re-orgs. In the end, I decided to focus on my own career development instead of blanket stability.
Prior to joining Lightstep, I'd heard my fair share of horror stories regarding life at a startup – late nights, stressful deadlines, and frequently sacrificed weekends for work. I knew these were possibilities at any startup, and I was ready to work hard. Upon starting here, I realized how untrue this was, at least at Lightstep. We value a healthy work-life balance, and we all work hard while respecting each other's time outside work hours. Our team almost never Slacks each other about work on evenings or weekends – with the exception of urgent production issues.
Joining a tiny startup without much process and structure meant I was prepared for some chaos in my day-to-day work. I was both apprehensive about the lack of structure and excited about the opportunity to help improve the status quo as we grew. I have come to discover, over the past two years, that the "lack of structure" offered me more flexibility to work efficiently with cross-functional units of our company. As an engineer, I can communicate directly with sales, marketing, customer success, and recruiting – something rarely done at bigger companies due to compartmentalized departments.
One thing I really enjoyed about my orientation at AWS was learning all the different tools that made engineers' lives easier. Apollo, Amazon's internal deployment engine, was so effective that it inspired the release of an external AWS product called CodeDeploy. Losing access to all these useful tools was scary because I didn't know how our engineering velocity would be impacted without the proper tooling in place. Lightstep's monitoring and deployment system, even back in early 2017, was surprisingly sophisticated. I learned a whole new set of tools I had never heard of, most of them are open-source and created by other startups. I also learned to be "scrappy" – identifying gaps in our production tooling, researching existing solutions, and repeatedly trying them until I figured out how to integrate them into our environment. In a way, this experience makes me feel more "authentic" as an engineer because I now have deep insight into the part of our production system that was all a magic black box to me before.
As I mentioned previously, working at Lightstep gave me opportunities to interact with people in different functions of the company. I realized over time that I was interested in problems beyond our technology stack, and I became interested in the engineering manager role. Luckily, at a startup of our size, I could switch roles in a careful, yet speedy manner. After I told my manager I was interested, the company helped me make the official transition to my new role, and I'm still ramping up on my new responsibilities. Stay tuned for future updates on my transition from IC engineer to management.
Reflecting on my journey so far, I realized that while I was initially apprehensive about joining a startup, Lightstep has proven to be a place where I can grow, work on challenging technical problems and still maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of work. If this sounds appealing to you, come talk to us or check out our open jobs!