Fortune 500 to New Venture (Startup Stories 19.02)

Vladimir Jojo Otchere , PocketNest, 2019 Hacker Fellow

Vladimir Jojo Otchere, PocketNest, 2019 Hacker Fellow

A year ago, I was in the final week of an internship for a Fortune 500 company

It was my first internship and a life changing event where I learned what it would be like to actually be a software developer. Writing code in school for a grade doesn't compare to writing code for a company to provide business value at all. 

Instead of working on short projects with weekly/bi-weekly due dates, I was working on projects that would continue past my internship period and be maintained and used by many more people to come. It goes without saying that…

The stakes were much higher, but they definitely came with some rewards.

The company I was working for had a cool, relaxed company culture that provided a lot of different attractive perks... daily free breakfast, weekly company-wide happy hours, annual festivals and events... the offices campus was surrounded by lush green grass, mile-long walking loops, and there was covered parking for cars. The company had a lot of interesting services for employees from dry-cleaning services to a discounted auto maintenance shop, daycare services for parents to a company workout facility, and more. 

My team and I during my internship with General Mills

My team and I during my internship with General Mills

My favorite part of the company culture was the relaxed unwritten rules of “1 on 1” meetings. Anyone could schedule a 1 on 1 meeting with anybody in the company, as long as each person’s schedule permitted, and I took this opportunity to learn more about people’s experiences working for a succeeding company of this size. I set a goal to meet as many people as time permitted. While working the 9-5 life during the internship, something occurred to me... I'd been fully accustomed to my typical college schedules which normally consisted of 2 or 3 morning classes -- that each lasted a little longer than an hour, late night library sessions during the weekdays, and no Friday classes. The thought of working for 8 hours straight for years made me shiver. 

With this thought in mind, I used the 1 on 1 meetings I had with other employees to learn about how people balanced working the 9-5 along with their personal life, and this yielded a perspective-shifting experience. 

A good job doesn’t just pay well and have interesting work, a good job also allows you to grow and explore your interests during the 9-5 (and hopefully, outside of the 9-5 too)

What I learned from the meetings was that the company supported its employees by allowing them to move to different divisions and try their hand at different types of work within the same domain. Employees were able to move up the organization when available or stay in a position for several years.

Now I’m working for a startup with less than ten of us

For the past several months, I've been working for a startup and it's been a completely different software development experience than I'd ever experienced. I’m working on a platform that is still in the process of coming to full fruition, and meeting people who are on a similar journey only with a different company. The stakes, still paired with their rewards, remain high but in a much different way than my first experience. 

I recently came across the philosopher Isaiah Berlin who made an important distinction between the concepts of positive and negative liberty. Although he originally made the distinction with a political stance, it can be applied to the larger corporate company vs. smaller startup company dichotomy. 

Positive liberty describes what an individual is free to do, but not what that individual is free from. Negative liberty can be described as freedom from interference.
— Isaiah Berlin

I believe that, generally, large companies tend to have values that are related to positive liberty, while smaller startup companies tend to align with the concept of negative liberty. While working for a large company, I had the freedom to explore software development in any department that had availability. I could use software to develop solutions that related to supply chain, human resources, finance etc. I also had the freedom to pursue positions i.e. data analyst, software developer, project manager. On the other hand, while at a startup I have the freedom to take the lead on certain projects, propose and implement new projects, and the freedom to represent the company through company pitches, networking events etc. 

What’s important to someone changes along with their life circumstances and I feel that I am in the position where a startup company, with negative liberty, is where I am most comfortable. I like the growth I’ve experienced in the past few months and I’m looking forward to continue growing as a software developer.

Our 2019 cohort of fellows. I’m all the way in back!

Our 2019 cohort of fellows. I’m all the way in back!

I’d like to thank the Hacker Fellows program for facilitating my growth and I’m looking forward to see where my career will take me and what I’ll learn along the way.

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Vladimir Jojo Otchere received his degree in Computer Science from Michigan State University with a cognate in French. He is a Software Development Engineer at PocketNest who develops solutions for financial planning, built on the idea that 90% of folks are missing at least one critical element to a complete financial plan.