Tags: business, academic, philosophical
I got asked my thoughts about joining a startup as a technical co-founder straight from an undergrad in Computer Science. Even though I appreciate the lack of contributions behind saying "do not do it", in this case I feel it is more of "do not do it... yet". The key reason is that the interpersonal aspects of technical work has not truly been exercised in college, plus missing out on the simplified straight-out-of-college hiring process. This is a very opinionated post. If successful, any random reader should disagree with plenty of its content.
First, software development is an inherently communal task, a fact that is usually missed with the technical focus of academic instruction. Even though many courses can offer team assignments and projects, that is a far cry from programming in a team, particularly with seasoned developers. There is plenty to be learned from these people you will be missing out jumping to create your own company right away. Lessons that you can then apply when working with a team of your own employees.
In the same vein, a co-founder role will involve management duties in some moment. Trying to manage people without having been exposed to any management whatsoever seems quite difficult. You might be able to do it, but management is something where following some example of a previous manager in your life can be very positive.
Regarding technical skills themselves, starting a project from scratch, chosing the full stack yourself and having absolute control of the technical decisions would be the most appealing reason to be the tech cofounder in a startup. No question there. But at the technical level you will become a jack-of-all-trades type of person that has not necessarily very deep knowledge in none of the technologies involved. Now, most startups fail, what is your plan B? Would the experience you gain doing this will help you advance your professional career? From what I have seen, it pays off specializing deeply in technology (when that technology is of interest to the market, that is). But hey, I went on to do a PhD so that's what I know.
Now, doing somehting or not doing it revolves around the opportunity cost. Time is unidimensional. If you spend your time with the startup, you would not spend your time doing other things. So what is it you would miss going for the startup? The excellent hiring process straight-out-of-college. When you are being hired in a company, there is a process (that many people are trying to improve, I contributed to a now defunct startup in that space a few years ago) but still boils down to keyword matching. They are looking for a person with knowledge of technology "Jabberwocky" and if your previous work experience does not include "Jabberwocky", you are out of luck. It is simpler to hire somebody that knows that technology that let you train in the job. But the process of coming straight out of college is different and it is based on target schools and GPAs. Therefore, after one or two years in your startup, you will need to jobhunt based on the technology stack you used in the startup. If you tried to inflate it (including "Jabberwocky" when you didn't really need it), you were doing your startup a disservice and that could be partially a reason for its failure. But if you use straightforward, less fancy technology, you might have a hard time marketing your skills.
Now, the main reason not to go is... because you are asking. There are things in life where hesitation is a big negative sign (going to graduate school to pursue a PhD and getting married come to mind). From what I have seen, entrepreneurship is a personality trait. A true entreprenuer would have started a couple of ventures through their undergraduate years, because if any of them truly pan out, there was no reason to have a degree. If you are not an entrepreneur at heart, but the technical self determination that comes with being a technical co-founder attracts you, gain more technical skills to maximize the chance of success and earn some money to wait the right business co-founder. With a stable job you can judge the feasibility of startup ideas "on a full stomatch" (whether that is good or bad, it is debatable, but for technical co-founders, I do believe it is a good mindset). If you read all this and wholeheartedly disagree with it, good luck in your new venture! Courage goes a long way.