Hello Future Engineers

As part of our future plans, I spent two days at the university career fairs in Singapore as a guest of Infocomm Investments.

My task was two-fold, find the best new tech talent for ImpulseFlyer but also to let the soon-to-be-grads know about ‘real careers’ in software engineering and in small companies. A bank did not have to be their destiny.

So I collected emails and eulogised in person and tonight I sent a note to that list. An edited version appears below.

Hello future engineers,

When I left university I didn’t realise it was possible to have a fulfilling career in and around smaller companies, it took me four long years to leave the golden cage I’d put myself in. Don’t feel bad for me, I met my wife made some friends and it wasn’t all bad.

This is to share my particular passion for a career both as a software craftsman and also doing that work in startups or small companies.

Right. Down to business.

About small companies / startups

Small companies are a very different proposition to larger corporates.

Small companies:

  • Responsibility, quickly
  • Strong personal relationships
  • Relaxed work environment
  • Nowhere to hide, you will work hard (but won’t be exploited)
  • If you find the right people you’ll learn a lot
  • You get to bring your whole personality to work, but you’ll bring a bit home too

Big companies:

  • In theory, job security - but my experience is that your skills become your security. A good programmer/designer is rarely out of work for long.
  • You might prefer the formality and structure of a big company
  • You may be able to earn more money for less work
  • A recognised career path
  • You can generally leave your work at work

You’ll notice I haven’t put “fame and riches” as benefits of startups. Personally if that’s the reason you want to do web startups you’re going to be disappointed. Optimize for your own day-to-day happiness, get skilled, be lucky.

Your Personality

I’ll mainly be talking about the technical and design opportunities in this email, but most of the personality traits and behaviours are common in the non-technical roles as well.

Confident & outgoing: a quieter person may struggle with the banter amongst the individuals at this early stage of the company. It’s not that there is no room for quieter people in our company, it’s just that the makeup of the team is such that we’ve got quite a boisterous bunch right now.

Great communicator: design and development (and other startup work) is made much easier when you are able to express yourself well; both in person and in the written word.

Diligent: we do not have time to check every piece of work you do. You love to finish things, to ship code and to show people what you’ve done.

Self-motivated & Passionate: You see opportunities to improve things and you talk through the problem to come up with a potential solution. If you are only good at doing things you’re told to do, this job may not be for you.

A Good Learner: coming out of university education I do not expect you to have the exact skills I’m looking for, in fact I expect to invest time in training you.

We are looking for:

  • Software engineers to work in a variety of technologies (primarily Ruby on Rails with the potential to move into mobile applications)
  • Designers with visual flair
  • ‘Business people’ with the raw materials for sales, marketing, content and support roles

Good signs for engineers/designers are:

  • Working sites of your own
  • A professionally presented portfolio (design or code examples)
  • A blog
  • A github page
  • An interest in web technologies in addition to those you have studied

Things we look for in “business people” are:

  • Strong analytical skills, ideally with relevant internships or other experience
  • Exceptional presentation, communication and negotiation skills
  • Passion for travel

General Advice

You should bear this in mind when you’re applying to us, as well as any other companies.

Work out which companies you want and then make an effort to apply to those specifically, do not just spam out your CV to everyone. You may get a job that way, but probably not one that suits your personality.

Your CV looks the same as everyone else’s: thus we probably won’t cast more that a cursory glance at it. Keep it short. Take the effort to write a specific cover letter, listen to what I’ve said in this email, find out what the company does and who the individuals involved are.

Make a strong impression, not just with your cover letter and CV, but especially during the interview. If we don’t remember you after the interview, that’s a problem. But… for goodness sake be yourself, it’s ok not to get offered every job, it’s about fit between you and the organisation.

About Our Company

ImpulseFlyer is a e-commerce startup based in Singapore. We are a private (invite only) booking site for luxury & boutique hotels for affluent travellers in the Asia Pacific region.

I’m Andy, the CTO, meaning I’m in charge of design and development at the company, I’m the one you met at the careers fair. British guy, t-shirt, enthusiastic.

We are a small startup, with some funding, that launched in October 2011. We’re very design-focussed and we want to provide a pleasurable experience for both customers and our hotel partners.

We do not have a list of ‘open positions’. We’re small and agile and our own jobs change daily, so getting a job with us will be an exercise in learning every day.

So. Apply. If this sounds like you.

If we sound like a good fit for you, drop us an email. If you look like a good fit, one of us will meet you for coffee and we’ll have a chat and take it from there.

Now as well as making ImpulseFlyer look awesome, I’m interested in giving a little advice and helping you find a decent job. If you’re skilled but we can’t hire you (for whatever reason) I can always pass your information on to some other startups I know. But I’m only gonna do that for the right people. I’m not a CV clearing house.

And now, some general advice for beginning software engineers

Never call yourself a Java developer or a C/C++ developer, because that is what they taught you at school. You are a developer or a software engineer, the languages you use will develop over time.

By all means have a specialization, or tool you like to use for certain kinds of work, but don’t close your mind to new techniques and paradigms. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I also personally advocate against ‘certifications’ for particular brands of software (Microsoft, SAP, Oracle), whilst you’ll be easy for recruiters to place into jobs it’s too easy to end up doing the same work over and over again.

Work hard on your communication skills. They are as important as your technical ability.

We use Ruby on Rails, a great framework for writing web applications.


Online training:

Get e-books from these places.

Also… if you are serious about web development (of most sorts), you’ll want to be on a PC running Linux or a Mac. Windows is possible, but harder. Most engineers in small companies have a choice of their own development environment, more than 50% choose Macs.

Interesting SG places, meetups

And lastly a plug

RedDotRubyConf 2012, May 18th-19th

If you’re interested in working as a developer (particularly with Ruby) you could do worse than come to the conference on the 18th & 19th of May.

Note: I organise this event, Singapore’s biggest programmer conference, so I’d love to sell more tickets, thus I have an ulterior motive in raising it here.

We have awesome international speakers lined up and there will be developers from all over the region. You’ll have to spend your own money, but it’s a good couple of days.

Well done you made it to the end

I hope you found this worthwhile. If so you should follow me on twitter at @andycroll.

If not, never fear, you need never hear from me again. I wish you the best of luck in your search for work. Good luck.

If you liked this article you might be interested in my forthcoming Ruby writing:

Go and sign up to my mailing list to hear when I launch and to get a special discount.