As a solo developer you’ve worked alone for many years. You tend to expect to take on the full load in every project. Then one day you end up in a small startup team.
You experience new emotions you never felt before. You feel out of sync. Everyone’s stepping on your toes. Touching your code. Shortly after you want to call it quits.
This feeling is normal. Learning to flow with a small number of other individuals is a little awkward at first. It takes practice, some catching up on interpersonal skills and learning how to articulate code in the English language instead of in your head.
Probably the most humbling, and maybe most painful, adjustment you’ll have to make is learning to swallow your own pride and not compete for the glory.
You’ll grow as a technologist
Even if you don’t consider yourself a team player, working in a team is an enlightening experience. You’ll learn how to explain yourself and your code, and this will make you a better developer. For the first time, you’ll have to challenge yourself to write code that others can read. That also means writing really clear documentation.
The synergy of your team will help you grow in leaps and bounds. Your team is like a support group. Each developer you work with will have something to teach you.
I’ve worked alone for years, but most of everything I know can be attributed to someone more senior than me. Working in a team has helped me grow in leaps and bounds as a developer.
The organisational principles you’ll be exposed to will make you more organised, even later if you go back to being a solo developer.
You’ll learn to swallow your pride
Be humble. Help team mates find their strengths. Be an authority, not an expert. Let others say you’re the shit. Don’t rub it in. After all, you’re probably not as good as you think you are.
Letting everyone know you think you’re the best puts you in a bad position. Talk big and you’ll be caught with your pants down soon enough.
And remember, what you value might not be what everyone else values.
So shut up, work hard and wait for the praise instead. Put in value and grow trust.
You’ll find your strengths
Working in a team will help you find where you fit in and let you discover your strengths.
Full stack developers have the opportunity of digging into a little of everything.
This is your chance to find your specialty.
You’ll make valuable connections and find new opportunities
Working in a small startup is exciting because the organisational structure doesn’t block you from stepping outside you’re supposed role in the team. Small tech startups are often more open to new ideas and will allow you a greater amount of freedom than a corporate job in a large company. Large companies tend to put more restrictions on what their employees can do, even during after hours.
Actively search for other ways to provide value, outside of your role, to the startup.
In small startups, you have a much better chance of shining, of meeting connections that could potentially change your life. In bigger companies with thousands of employees, you’re just another one of crowd. Easily replaceable and invisible.
But don’t listen to me. I’ve never worked a corporate job. I’ve been hacking away in the wild since day one. Opportunities can be found in any setting. However, I prefer to avoid situations where I don’t have the highest leverage possible. In the end it boils down to, “is what you’re doing taking you to where you want to go?”
With any luck, you’ll find some great mentors
You’ll absorb a lot from your teammates. However, there are rarer key individuals in the startup scene that are even more important to you.
Those are the people that you run into who later become your mentors. Experienced developers and entrepreneurs are probably going to help you more personally than all of the books you can read on your topic.
This, maybe more than anything, is a reason to join a startup. Whichever benefits you’re lucky enough to come across, your own personal development will determine your success. Mentors will help you develop yourself in the right way. In the search for the mentor, a startup is the right place to be.
Adjusting to a startup team is a process
Being a solo-developer is fun and gives you the freedom to do whatever the hell you want. It means you have original thoughts and haven’t depended on a team your whole career to pick up your slack. You’re hustle is pretty fine tuned, or better put, out of control.
Solo coders hold their independance dear. They work through problems with a vengeance and more often than not, work more than they get paid.
Our biggest downfall is the trap of thinking our personal style is all there is. Joining a team will challenge you to mix the personal style you’ve developed with those of other developers. It will challenge your thinking and help you grow as a developer. It will give you a first hand into how digital products are successfully developed and deployed. You will learn organizational structure and how to be effective in a small company.
So when you join a team, make sure they’re crazy, weird and the type of startup that makes an attempt to try new things other startups are not commonly doing.
I joined a team that decided to build their system on Node.js and MongoDB. I wasn’t planning on taking on a new language or tackling a new technology stack. But I was interested in learning some new skills and getting first hand experience of how a small semi-successful startup operates day to day.
Find startups you can learn from and exchange value with. Better yet, find a company doing something new and doing it successfully. The last thing you want to do is to get stuck pumping out portfolio websites in Drupal for the next five years. Yuck!