5 Ways to Work for a Tech Start-up—Even if You Can't Code
As we’ve seen in BRAVO's new series, Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, tech start-ups seem to be all the rage these days. Despite the fact that the show doesn’t exactly tell the standard start-up story (and that most start-ups actually fail), working for an early-stage company is a great way to take on more responsibility, make a big impact, and potentially make a lot of money.
Unfortunately for those who don’t know the difference between Python and PHP, start-ups always seem to be looking for engineers. That said, there are plenty of jobs in the tech industry that don't require knowledge of command-line or server deployments—you just need to know where to look. My company, InstaEDU, has exactly as many engineers as non-engineers, and 50-50 splits like this are common. After all, start-ups need people to design their product, communicate with current customers, acquire new ones, write copy, work with the media, and perform many other non-technical tasks, too.
If you’re interested in working at a tech start-up but don’t know how to code, here are five other roles to consider:
Working in support is a great way to gain exposure to tech, especially if you're a recent graduate. Support reps respond to users, help explain how to use the product, deal with policy issues (like Terms of Service violations), and decide how to handle feedback. Because they’re often the most in-touch with user happiness and issues, support staffers play a critical role in improving a company’s product. Names vary, but look for positions like User Operations, Community Advocate, and User Evangelist.
Ever received a personal welcome email from a new service you're trying out, or gotten a response on Twitter after mentioning a company in a tweet? Meet the Community Manager. At every company, the Community Manager does slightly different things, but his or her primary task is to help users feel appreciated and connected to the product, the company, and each other. This often means growing the company’s online community through social media, running events, creating content, and encouraging users to give feedback. In a small company, both community management and support may be run by the same person.
PR and Marketing
Depending on the size of the start-up you're interested in, PR (public relations) and marketing may be grouped together in one position, or might be two different departments. The one consistent thing? Your job will be to bring in new users and build excitement about your product. Start-up marketing budgets tend to be much smaller that those of established companies (sorry, no Super Bowl ads), so the best start-up marketers are creative, scrappy, and can figure out how to do a lot with a little.
Some of the coolest features of your favorite products are the result of great business development deals—think using Square to pay for your Starbucks or sending out tweets with specific hashtags to save money at retailers when you use an AmEx card. A business development manager helps broker deals like these, where two companies come together to make both their products even better for the end user. That said, it’s not all schmoozing; successful business development people do everything from tirelessly pursuing new business opportunities to reviewing contracts.
A product manager is the person who is in charge of designing how a product should work. Frequently, this role will include wire-framing how products look, designing "flows" (how a person moves through a site or service), working collaboratively with designers and engineers to make updates, and communicating with marketing about how to best introduce a new product or feature to customers. Depending on the company, this can either be a position that requires engineering skills or not. Example: New product managers at Google almost always have a computer science background, while Zynga frequently hires product managers out of MBA programs. (Although, of course, neither is still considered a start-up.)
If you don’t know where to start, consider an internship that allows you to try a few things, so can help you get a sense of which job functions you like. I first fell in love with start-ups as a marketing intern at Box, and through various roles in marketing and community management, built up enough experience to feel ready to start my own company.
So, my advice? If you can’t code—don’t let it stop you. There are plenty of places in start-ups for you.
Looking for a new gig? Check out the start-ups that are hiring at The Muse!
Photo courtesy of Shopify.
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