Ms. Start-up Business Development works in business development at Peek, an online travel start-up that combines e-commerce, design and editorial content. She has translated the hallmarks of a liberal arts education - critical analysis, writing, argument development and delivery, expression of opinions – into a career in technology. Her career advice: be a sponge that soaks up knowledge and always stay hungry for opportunity and experience!
ZD: Describe your current job; a normal day.
A: I am a “Jack of all trades” at the moment. There is no typical day in my role, which keeps things exciting and interesting! Right now I work in business development, user experience research, product strategy, sales strategy, operations... the list is ever-evolving. At an early stage startup, there are awesome opportunities to wear many hats, and to learn something new at every turn.
ZD: What was your major in college?
A: Psychology, with a citation in Spanish.
ZD: When you were in college, what did you think you would be doing when you finished? What was your actual career path? How did you find yourself on this path?
A: I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do after graduation, so I was heavily influenced by the opportunities that were clearly within view – I spoke to older friends who had already ventured into the working world, and I checked out the companies that came to campus to recruit. Google fell into both categories, and my Googler friends were very happy there, so I headed to Mountain View, CA to hop on the bandwagon. Google feels more like college than the real world, so it was an easy – and very fun – transition. But I quickly found myself craving more responsibility, more chances to build a varied skill set, and greater opportunities for impact, so I started looking into startups. I reached out to friends in the startup world, who were incredibly helpful in finding and evaluating opportunities, and found my current job through a friend of a friend who was an MBA intern with the company for a summer. (My insider tip: if you want to work at a startup, talk to people in that world, because startups often don’t have the resources to recruit, or even post opportunities. But don’t neglect the postings – VentureLoop is a good place to start. And don’t hesitate to send a résumé to a company you’re particularly interested in, even if they don’t have any jobs posted at the moment!)
ZD: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? How do you plan to get there?
A: My 5-year plan is still pretty up in the air. But I think my current role, where I’m so involved in all aspects of the business, will help me to figure out what I’m best suited to, and what suits me best. I’m hoping to start identifying areas in which I’d like to become an expert. Those could be on the business end of things, or in non-technical product-focused areas.
ZD: What did you think was the most important thing you learned while in college? Did that help you in your career? What do you wish you had studied or studied more of in college?
A: I don’t know that much of my academic liberal arts education really translated into useful and valuable knowledge after college…But my advice would be to use college as an opportunity to hone some widely applicable skills: thinking things through (from all directions), critical analysis, writing, argument development and delivery, expression of opinions, etc. If you have any interest in tech, I’d also highly recommend getting a basic understanding of computer science!
ZD: Looking at where you were back in college and where you are now, what is the biggest surprise you encountered in the work world?
A: For many of us, college graduation serves as a bit of a rude awakening, since we’ve become accustomed to always having the foreseeable future already planned out for us. That is, we always knew what was coming next – graduate from 8th grade, go to high school; graduate from 12th grade, go to college – but a college degree opens the door to a world of possibility and uncertainty. You can do anything, but that sounds just about as helpful as “you can do nothing”. Having to decide for yourself what to do next, how to do it, where to do it, and with whom to do it is somehow a huge surprise, and it sneaks up on you pretty suddenly. Luckily, time is on your side. Just take a stab at pinning the tail on the donkey, and see where it takes you. Explore a career path, and don’t be afraid to readjust after you’ve had a chance to dive in. Remember: ultimately, you can do anything (or nothing, but the former is preferable!)
ZD: What do you feel is an important quality to do well in your field?
A: Flexibility, and hunger – for experience and opportunity, that is. Life at a startup means rolling with the punches, constantly readjusting and reprioritizing.
ZD: Do you have one piece of advice for college students interested in pursuing a career in your field? What worked? What you would have done differently?
A: Be a sponge, and soak up know-how. Experts are usually happy to share their expertise with a startup – it’s flattering to them that you look to them for advice, and they are genuinely excited to play a part in helping you to build something new and exciting – so don’t be shy about reaching out for help.
ZD: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in your workplace?
A: A former co-worker once told me “don’t run away from something, run toward something.” In other words, don’t just avoid what you don’t like – instead, figure out something you like (or something you think you might like), and pursue that. Things turn out better that way.
ZD: What do you do in your spare time? Do you have a hobby? What book did you last read?
A: My sometimes crazy and unpredictable schedule doesn’t lend itself well to a hobby, but I’m working on it. It’s that whole work-life balance thing… :). I last read Shantaram – an amazing story, and I love the scattered insights and bits of wisdom that come from the most unlikely of places/characters, but it’s a hefty one, so don’t expect to finish it off in one sitting!