What is it like to work at a startup in San Francisco? Is it really as stressful as people say? In this article, Tiffany Citra shares the ups and downs of working at a tech startup in San Francisco.
“Oh, Silicon Valley?” is a response that I often get when I tell people back home that I code for a living in San Francisco.
Well, not quite, but close!
Roughly an hour drive away from the city, Silicon Valley refers to areas in the southern part of San Francisco Bay Area. Home to a gazillion research facilities, tech giants (including Facebook, Google, Apple, to name a few), and smaller companies alike, it definitely is an exciting place to be as software engineer.
That said, a good number of well-known software companies actually have their main offices in San Francisco, such as Uber, Pinterest, Dropbox, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Google has a smaller office here as well, while Facebook signed a lease for their new SF office a couple of months ago.
Similarly, the startup that I work for is located in the city. (As a side note, my office is located in Financial District. It honestly feels pretty good to walk in T-shirt and jeans when almost everyone else around is dressed up for work.)
In this post, I’d like to share with you my experience working at a relatively small tech startup (50-100 people in the entire company) as a first job, living in San Francisco, and working in the United States as an international hire—all of which very exciting, although can be a bit challenging at times.
How’s my first full-time job been so far?
Short answer: it’s awesome!
The team consists of 15 software engineers. It is small enough to feel like I am making tangible contribution to the product we are developing, while still sufficiently large—with a few experienced senior engineers—to get the support that I need to grow my technical abilities.
It is great, though a bit scary, to be given a lot more responsibility as a new grad than I expected. At a startup, it is very likely that you work on high-impact projects alongside much more senior team members.
Moreover, things are moving at a much faster pace; I write a lot of code and inevitably break things, but I learn not to freak out, fix them, and avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Most importantly, I love the fact that I get to personally know the people that I am working with. I am able to have frequent communication with almost everyone in the company, both from the engineering and operation teams, including the co-founders themselves. We would sometimes go on team events and hang out outside of work.
That said, there are obviously trade-offs to the positive aspects above. Due to the smaller size of a startup, everyone tends to be busy with their own work. This means that you may not get the structured support (e.g. orientation, more comprehensive onboarding process) that you would get at a large company. Moreover, the fast pace that the company is moving in can mean that the code that is shipped is not always perfect and does not always follow the standard best practices.
In the end, it depends on what you value and what you want more out of your first job. I personally find that the independence and opportunity to contribute outweighs the not-so-nice aspects mentioned above. Further, I try to make it up by being more proactive myself and putting in extra effort to improve my skills independently outside of work.
Do I have a life outside of work?
Good question, and yes, I do! A lot of people think that working at a startup means having much less of a work-life balance compared to a larger, more established company. While that may be true to a certain extent, it really depends on you and your company culture. My coworkers have plenty of interests outside of work themselves. I am certainly not expected to work long hours as long as I can get my projects done in time.
San Francisco offers a wide variety of things to do, the only downsides being some of them can be pretty expensive and have excruciatingly long lines. At the same time, however, this means that there are enough other activities that suit your budget and time constraints.
In the past six months living the city, I have visited a few art museums and installations, tried out various dance and group workout classes, eaten the best ramen I have ever had (in my life!), and attended this year’s Women’s March, among few other things.
Moreover, the Bay Area has great outdoors, especially for hiking. I have been taking advantage of this and going on day hikes with friends. It always feels great to spend some time outside after being mostly inside and not physically active for the entire week.
How is it working in the US as an expat?
Again, I can only say good things.
In San Francisco, especially, it feels very much international. I recognize accents daily, talk to people who have spent a significant part of their lives abroad, and find that people around me are generally very open-minded and friendly.
One thing that can be stressful is applying for a work (H-1B) visa. It is important to clearly communicate your immigration status to prevent further complications down the line. I would advise anyone to find a company that explicitly provides sponsorship and has an experienced lawyer that is familiar with the visa application process.
All in all, I realize how lucky I am to be in the position where I am right now. I am fortunate enough to be able to complete my undergrad studies in the United States, which made my transition to working here after graduation significantly easier.
If you have any other questions about deciding on a first job, joining a startup, and working abroad, feel free to reach out and ask away!