4 Questions To Ask Before Starting Your Career in Product

question-marks-Copy-866566-editedThinking about your career after college can be an intimidating process. I recently graduated from Boston College and joined HubSpot’s engineering team so it wasn’t long ago that I was interviewing for my first job out of college and wondering, like millions of undergraduates today, where I would start my career.

During college, “career decisions” are short term; internships usually last a few months throughout the year or over the summer. The great thing about an internship is that if you realize the company isn’t necessarily for you, you have the flexibility to leave at the end of the summer. In the real world, it’s important to find a place to start your career that fits you best; somewhere you will want to stick around after three months and, most importantly, at a place that allows you to grow, learn, and make an impact.

I know my decision to work at HubSpot was the right one because nine months later, I am still excited to come into the office every day. So, I want to share some questions that are important to consider while searching for the best place to start your product or development career.

1. What technology stack will I be using?

For my first job, I wanted to work for a company that was using the latest languages, frameworks, and tools to build great products. That’s why when I interviewed for a development position, I always asked about the company’s technology stack. Ask your interviewers to elaborate on which languages and tools the front end and back end engineers most commonly use to build their applications, and whether they are exploring any newer technologies. You may not have a perfect understanding of which languages or technologies you prefer yet, but by identifying their tech stack, you can research other companies using the same technologies to gauge if they are on the cutting edge or behind the times.

In my experience, it was clear from the responses to these questions whether or not a company was always improving and finding better ways to solve problems for their customers, or if they were stagnant and potentially approaching technical or product bottlenecks. You want to be working with technology that gives you the freedom to contribute new ideas, be creative, and ultimately grow your technical skills faster. 

On the Sidekick team, our front end stack includes CoffeeScript and Backbone.js, and our back end stack includes Python, Java, and Kafka. Recently, our leading front end engineers at HubSpot explored Relieving Backbone Pain with Flux & React and released an open source store for Flux. As a result, our team is integrating these new front end technologies in areas where we can improve our product’s speed, reliability, and functionality for our customers.

2. Will I love spending my time on this product?

In college, you had limited time in each class Monday through Friday and throughout the week, you started and finished homework assignments for several classes. In fact, you were never talking about or working on the same thing from the morning to the evening every day. A fundamental question I asked myself when considering HubSpot was- will I want to spend all of my time working on this product? Your time is important, so make sure you spend it on something that you love and are passionate about.

Think about who your product’s users will be. Do you want to build new features, answer support tickets, and fix the issues facing these customers? Do you want to fix different problems for different customers? Or, do you want your users to be other engineers at the company for whom you can build amazing infrastructure that enables them to create the next best product? You might not know the answers to these questions, but I recommend joining a company where these options are available.

On Sidekick, I work on the core product team but also get to answer support tickets and fix bugs for our customers. We work on problems that directly affect users and paying customers, and we can see the impact our contributions have on our product and customers. Not only do I get to help our customers every day, but I often collaborate with our support and sales teams. All of these aspects of my job are an important part of why I love my job.

3. Who will I be working with?

Since we have time on our minds, have you thought about the fact that you’ll be spending all of your time working on a product with other people? People starting their career often focus on salary, vacation time, or perks. But the reality is that you will spend more time with your coworkers than you will with your family, friends, or roommates. That’s why it is unbelievably important to find a place where you love the product and the people who are working on it.new_twitter_bird_vector_by_eagl0r-d2yth6g

When Drew Houston, the CEO of Dropbox, gave a Commencement address at MIT in 2013, he said: "They say that you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Think about that for a minute: who would be in your circle of 5?”Follow this mentality when you are interviewing for jobs. Ask about your potential coworkers. Who will be managing you? What are they currently working on and what have they worked on in the past? Will you be in an environment where people will help you grow, and you will help others grow?

At HubSpot, I get to work alongside incredibly intelligent problem solvers (who I actually like spending time with outside the office, too). My tech lead has a PhD and Masters degree in CS from MIT and reviews my code, and our marketing, sales, and product efforts are led by a group of HubSpot VPs that founded Sidekick and share their experiences with the entire team. As a result, I am becoming not only a better software engineer, but also have the ability to grow and learn about running a successful business.

4. Will I be working towards achieving my goals?

Throughout this entire process, understand the goals you want to achieve at your full time product or development position. Do you want to start your own company some day? Or, do you want to become a product lead or senior level engineer? Again, you don’t need to have definitive answers to these questions, but consider where you might see yourself in one, three, or five years and strive towards finding a place where your time is spent on achieving these personal and professional goals.

Why? Because that mindset provides a simpler and easier way to consider different opportunities; will company A give you the opportunity to reach your goals? Will you be spending time learning the skills and working alongside people that will help you reach these goals at company B?

You may have noticed that I mentioned several questions for you to use both before and during the interview process. None of them were about salary, vacation time, or if there are ping pong tables at the office. You’ll find that when you start your career, working with the right technology stack on an interesting product with amazing people trumps anything else. Not only will you love what you do, but you will also spend your time achieving your new goals and aspirations.

Peter Casinelli

Written by Peter Casinelli

Peter is a software engineer on the Sidekick team. Follow him at @PeterCasinelli

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