As an individual, I consider myself to be rather untraditional. I chose an arts degree over a business one, a tech job over a corporate route, and I'm most involved in a fraternity opposed to a career or academically-inclined club. These things my parents have all eventually come to terms with. The taboo in my household is stopping my education - until now.
One of my good friends sent me this tweet recently about an opening at a data enrichment startup called Clearbit in San Francisco. The ideal person had a background in sales/marketing, but also had a competency for data analysis and working knowledge of SQL.
Although I had already planned my coming year out fairly well, I'm always on the hunt for a new challenge. Having already done contract marketing work for a few startups, I thought this might be an opportunity to add to my experience. I sent off a quick email with my background, and followed up over Twitter to ensure he received it. He did - and wanted to chat the next day.
After speaking with different members of the team, I received an offer to join Clearbit in a growth/marketing capacity. The role would be full-time, and I'd have to relocate to San Francisco. This brought up the tricky situation of deferring my schooling, as Western University unfortunately doesn't have a satellite campus in California.
There were a million things flying through my head at the time, but I hope this post breaks down my thought process in an understandable way.
The Mecca of Tech
One of the biggest pulls to working at Clearbit was the fact that they were located in the heart of San Francisco, the place to be for anyone even remotely interested in tech. Having visited the Valley in February 2017, I knew this was the case, and wrote about all of my findings here. This included the caliber of people and volume/intensity of tech companies that you can't find anywhere else.
Although I did consider doing an internship in San Francisco next year, I knew it wouldn't be the same. It would take 1-2 months to get settled, and with a typical internship, that leaves practically no time to develop meaningful relationships and find your groove in the city.
Hence, the only viable alternative was pursuing full-time employment. I can't predict what the landscape for visas and appetite for Canadians will be in 2019, so the only definite opportunity I had was now.
Optimize for Learning
It's often said that internships are great because they help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Knowing that I want to be in tech, I started my journey towards a final decision last summer. I found a strong interest in growth/marketing, and got deeper into the field during my sophomore year by doing contract marketing work for startups. Mid-way through the year, I knew that tech marketing was the perfect fit.
With that in mind, my next goal was to optimize for learning. I've referenced the t-shape marketer by Buffer in past posts to show how every career path has a diverse skillset that one needs to learn in order to be successful in that practice. Having started the marketing & sales side, the other area to expose myself to was the data analysis end. This summer at Shopify, while interning in business operations, I was able to do exactly that. I worked with SQL every day, felt a lot more confident using Excel, and more importantly knew how to look at problems quantitatively and present ideas in a data-driven way.
In the last few weeks, I've been reflecting over how I should spend my remaining years at university to continuously build my skillset. The reality is, the amount you can learn/do as an intern or contractor is limited. Even at an amazing company like Shopify, where I can tackle whatever I'm interested in, I still only have 3-4 months to make a tangible impact. Running a marketing campaign or overseeing the build-out of an attribution system is simply not something you can do in that short time period.
Hence, the solution was to dive into full-time employment. I knew with this one-year timeline I'd be able to expose myself to a lot of problems that I hadn't seen before (given the smaller size of Clearbit), while also having a much greater amount of autonomy than I've had in the past. The most exciting part was that when I returned to school, I would know exactly what I needed to learn to become that much better of a marketer when I do graduate.
I read a post recently by Mark Andreessen, a prominent serial tech entrepreneur, that gave career advice to ambitious people. He states this about the idea of opportunity:
They tend to present themselves when you're not expecting it -- and often when you are engaged in other activities that would seem to preclude you from pursuing them. And they come and go quickly -- if you don't jump all over an opportunity, someone else generally will and it will vanish.
I could have convinced myself that a similar opportunity would come up after graduation, and that taking a year off would simply put me behind in comparison to my peers. I could have also said that I was already in a good spot for employment, and a safer bet is just to enjoy my remaining years at university and take it easy. Instead, I decided to follow Andreessen's advice, and dive headfirst into an opportunity that could change the trajectory of my entire career.
Conclusion + Acknowledgements
I want to give a special shoutout to everyone that helped me make this decision, as is easily the hardest one I've had to make in my life. My parents and brother, for supporting yet another one of my crazy ideas, knowing that I (attempt to) do everything in my best interest. My friend & colleague Steeve Vakeeswaran, for finding this opportunity and helping me think through the decision. My mentors, Niles Lawrence and Jaxson Khan, who have always thrived on untraditional pathways, and reassure me that I can too. And also the handful of people who all recently had very similar experiences (you know who you are!), and act as some of the few references on this rocky road.
I also want to give a shoutout to Huron University College, for being incredibly supportive in my decision, and helping me coordinate my deferral. Their liberal arts approach has also encouraged me to be critical of traditional pathways, while their tightly-knit community is a big reason why taking this opportunity was even a possibility.
Lastly, to Clearbit - I'm ecstatic to be given this opportunity, and I promise I'll make your risk worthwhile.