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Listener Question: Harshitha Asks About Startups Vs. Personal Projects

Published 2/15/2017

In today's episode, we talk about creating effective communication protocols.

Today's episode is sponsored by Dolby. One of the most important things you can do for your application is ensure that the quality of your audio is strong. You already know Dolby and sound quality go hand-in-hand. Check out how Dolby can help you at spec.fm/dolby.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I answer the listener question from Harshita. Harshita wrote in and I'm going to abbreviate some of some of this email but Harshita wrote in with quite a few questions specifically around what to do about side projects versus going and working for a startup. Harshita said, I'm an international master student from India studying computer science at the University of Florida. I recently started listening to your show and I realized that with all the practical knowledge you have I should probably present my dilemma to you. Now my goal is to pay off my university bills and I need to get a job here in the United States to do that. I'm a computer science graduate but I recently started to enjoy web development. My skill set is not very good though. So I decided to learn new technologies and over the winter break develop a chat application with Node.js and jQuery, HTML5 etc. I started looking for web developer summer internship and I was contacted by a startup to start the internship right away on an equity based salary. My university requires us to complete at least a year before being eligible for CPT training. I told the startup CEO about this and he wants me to work on a volunteer basis for the startup. Now when I got this email by the way I had to look up what CPT training was. As far as I can tell CPT training particularly at Florida, University of Florida is something like a cooperative program. In other words you can go and work on the job and get university credit for it and it looks like from Harshita's email that he's unable to get credit for this work until a year has been completed. So moving on with the email, dilemma. As I'm just recently starting to learn new web technologies should I try to boost my skills by working for the startup or should I continue building my own independent projects like the chat application during my free time. I ask this because the coursework this semester is pretty hectic. I know that GPA doesn't really matter a ton and learning and improving your skills is just as important. A few points to consider. This company uses node, PHP, JavaScript, etc. which I'm familiar with but the huge amount of code in the Git repository of the project is very overwhelming. Also my resume is not very good. I believe my chances of scoring an internship as an international student are not that great so I might want to take this opportunity based on that fact. Finally my question, should I take the project up or should I learn to build things only on my own. My GPA is at stake. Harshita, thank you so much for writing in. I know this is a dilemma that you're facing and a lot of other people probably find themselves in similar dilemmas where you're presented with a potential job opportunity and you're not sure if you want to take it now. You don't know if you want to work on a project for example for free or if you want to wait, build your own skills and work on it later or pursue something that you feel like is more worth your time later on. I do have some advice for you. I have some ways of looking at this particular subject that I think are going to be enlightening. Now the first thing that I want to do is kind of frame this discussion around your varied, your multiple motivations. The first motivation is obviously learning. This is such an important one in actual learning. When I say actual like real learning or literal learning, what I mean is you are gaining skills. You're gaining new knowledge and you're able to apply that knowledge in some practical way. That is really what learning is about. That is one motivation. A secondary motivation is to keep your GPA at some minimum level. This is important for a lot of reasons. Potentially you have a scholarship or maybe you just want to keep your GPA at a minimum level so that you can put it on your resume later on or maybe you have a personal motivation to keep your GPA at a minimum level. You may have some number that you don't want to dip below, for example, a 3.0 GPA. Then a final, a third motivation that I think you're probably trying to juggle is trying to get a job or an internship after you finish in your degree or perhaps an internship specifically for this CPT training that you're talking about. It's important to identify these three motivating factors because really they're going to collide in some ways and then in other ways they're going to help each other out. One motivation may increase another motivation. We're going to talk about those motivations right after we talk about today's sponsor. Today's sponsor is Dolby. If you're like me, when you hear Dolby, you think of theater quality sound or you think of your home sound system. Dolby audio technologies, right? This is how we've kind of developed our understanding of this brand. Dolby is far more than just theater technologies. Far more than just sound that is sequestered only to the movie industry. The reality is you probably need better audio in your projects. You may not recognize this, but users, 90% of users have said that good audio quality is important across their ecosystem. In other words, on every device they use, not just when they go to the theater and not just when they're watching TV in their homes, but also when they're on their iPhone or when they're browsing a website that has audio on it, users want good quality audio. If you care at all about the user experience and obviously you're taking the time to focus on the visual design, hopefully, right? Why wouldn't you also take the time to focus on the quality of audio? Now, the reality is you probably already have decent quality recordings. Your actual audio source may not need any changes at all. It's actually likely that you need to use a different codec to get higher quality audio. Now, you may not know this. You can get surround sound in the browser today. So if you're developing a browser application, any kind of web-based thing that has audio, you can get surround sound audio for that application. And it works on major platforms like iOS 10 and it works in the Windows Edge browser. A lot of support is being added for the Dolby surround sound codec. And you can get this stuff converted, by the way, for free, using the kinds of converters that you're probably already using, like, for example, Adobe Audition, or you can use Dolby's online converter, totally free for you as a developer. Go and check out what they are offering to Developer To increase the quality of your audio. Head over to Spectre out of him slash Dolby to learn more about what Dolby is doing for developers. You can increase the user experience for your users, not just around the visual design and not just around the performance of your application, but also around the clarity of the audio in your application. Go and check it out, Spectre out of him slash Dolby. Thank you again to Dolby for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So I'm answering her sheath's question about what to do in this dilemma of whether or not to do personal projects versus volunteer on this on the startup. And I'm going to come out and say what I think you should do first. And then I'm going to detail how I arrived at that conclusion for you, Hartsheetha, because we're going to use these motivations that we talked about just a moment ago. The three separate motivations that you have in the scenario. One is being learning. And the second is the actual academic marker of learning, your GPA. And then finally, your job eligibility. These are three primary motivations that you're trying to determine, you know, use these things as your pros and cons kind of thing. I believe you should take the opportunity to learn at this startup. I think that's the best route. And I'm going to detail a couple of kind of caddy us to that. First of all, understand that when you go to volunteer for a startup or when you volunteer in your work, you need to have very specific and explicit expectations laid out on the table. So for you, Hartsheetha, you need to protect yourself from various circumstances. You have to understand that when you go and work at a startup like this, they are benefiting from you. And if you're not equally benefiting from them, you're going to burn out. Right? And if your volunteer work that you're not being compensated for monetarily, if that comes in the way of your other motivations, then it becomes a threat to those motivations. And what that means is that you are providing to this to this startup, you're providing energy to them. Right? And in most scenarios, there are very few scenarios where to me, it makes sense to work for a company that has money for free. And if possible, even if it's a very small amount, I would highly recommend that you pursue an internship. And in this particular case, even ask directly if there is a compensation package available so that the expectations and the interchange between you and the startup, Hartsheetha, that transaction becomes very clear. They are providing you with some specific value and you are providing them with some specific energy, some specific work. Now what this means is you need to sit down and write out what it looks like for you to work at this startup at a sustainable level. If you are not being compensated, then your volunteer work at this startup must always be flexible to your other motivations. Right? Hear me very clearly. They are benefiting from your extra free energy and they don't have to give much of anything unless they provide some level of, for example, peer review or mentorship to you. These are things that could be non-monetary value that the startup is providing to you. But what I don't want you to do, Hartsheetha, is walk away from this podcast, this episode of the podcast and expect that this foot in the door that this one startup is providing to you is worth all of the energy and open ended amount of energy. That foot in the door opportunity is incredibly important. But if this startup tries to make you think for some reason or another that they are the only ones that will give you a foot in the door on the basis of volunteer work, that's just simply not true. There are plenty of organizations that would happily allow you to be a volunteer and get your foot in the door. So understand that the foot in the door is not the only determining factor here. Right? Your energy is worth some level of compensation, but it doesn't go inless. Right? You can't just simply say that I will work an inless number of hours on a volunteer basis. That's not realistic, it's not practical, it's going to burn you out. Ultimately, you're going to resent that process. You're going to get frustrated with the startup and you'll probably will see your GPA decline exactly how you're expecting. Instead, if you're going to be working on a volunteer basis, it should be flexible in your favor rather than in the favor of the startup. Once again, this is a very uncommon thing for me to recommend. Flexibility in your favor rather than in favor of the startup basis. But in this case, because you are providing this as a volunteer, this is something where you really hold the keys, right? And you should hold the keys. Don't allow your imposter syndrome to cause you to overcommit to something that isn't worth overcomitting to. Now, on the flip side of this, it's very important that you understand this is going to be more valuable than you doing side projects. Quite simply because you get the interaction with other people and you're working in a real world scenario period. So the way that I wound up at this at this position is if you are already going to be working for free, right? If you have side projects that you didn't plan on monetizing, you're going to be building chat application similar to what you already be already building. Well, the piece on your portfolio where it says real world experience, that's going to be significantly more valuable for your long term employability. So if you already had planned to put energy into side projects for free, then it's a better idea to put that same amount of energy into a real world experience into a real world workplace. Right? So that's how I arrived at that conclusion. But understand that when you have your own side projects, that same level of flexibility needs to be implemented for whatever deal you sign with the startup. Make sure they understand that you still have a high priority placed on your education. And remember, all of these different motivations, they at some point can threaten the other motivation, right? So your desire to keep your GPA up, right? Your desire to keep a 4.0 GPA may end up sabotaging your desire for employability or perhaps even your desire to actually learn, to learn practical, right? And the same is true for the others. Your desire to learn practically, if you are just spending time trying to pick up new skills, like for example, if you're spending all of your time on side projects, well, that's not necessarily going to have the best effect on your employability and it certainly won't have the best effect on your GPA. And finally, if you're only focused on employability, then you may see that sabotage your learning objectives. You may see it sabotage your GPA as well. The key thing here is balance, right? You have to understand what your minimums and maximums are. You have to set boundaries for yourself and act confidently. Remember that no one needs to be taking advantage of your time or your energy. And you need to keep in mind throughout this process. It's going to be very easy for you to feel inferior and for you to feel like this next decision is going to determine your entire career, but that's simply not true. So if you feel pressured by this startup, so this is another caveat for you, if you feel pressured by this startup to put more energy into it than necessary, or if they're trying to tell you that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and that if you get in now, that the equity opportunity could make you a millionaire in the long run, but they're not willing to pay you today or they're viewing you as so, so much of a junior developer that you have to somehow earn your, earn your keep or earn your do or put your dues in, right? That's not a healthy environment for you to be in, especially as a student. And I highly recommend that you take a step back and approach things more sustainably a little bit slower. It's easy to believe the hype. It's easy to get into this Hollywood mentality of what it means to be a developer that the equity is somehow going to be worth millions of dollars in a year or two, right? But the reality is usually different from that. So in the same way that I would recommend that you don't waste your money on lottery tickets, I also recommend that you don't waste all of your energy on a startup for free. With that said, remember this is an opportunity to gain real world experience, and there's very little that you can substitute for real world experience. Thank you so much for listening to the show today. Thank you, Harshi, for sending this fantastic question in. I think it gets to the core of a lot of questions that students have and people who are considering doing, for example, spec work where they're working for free for the sake of experience. That's really something that I would like to discourage most of the time. And really, if you're going to be doing something like spec work, it has to benefit you in a tangible way and you have to put boundaries around it. So that's kind of the summary of the answer. If you're going to do work for free for this startup, then make sure you have the correct boundaries around it and that you're actually going to get a real benefit from it. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. If you don't want to miss out on future episodes, make sure you subscribe. In whatever podcasting app you use, of course, you can always find every episode and spec.fm. Along with tons of other great content. Like, for example, does not compute another fantastic programming related podcast. Highly recommend you go and check that out. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you to today's sponsor Dolby. Remember, you can get surround sound audio in the browser. And your users do want it. It's not just some superfluous thing. By the way, it also increases the clarity of your audio. It's not just, you know, making it surround sound, but also the clarity of the audio, the quality itself. And Dolby knows how to do this stuff. So go and check it out, spec.fm slash Dolby. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.