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I’ve hired 100+ people in my career. There’s one proven way to accelerate your potential.

Jake McGraw

When people ask me about my career, I often find it kind of difficult to explain what I do, as my resume is filled with a list of startups you may or may not have heard of. If I had to sum it up, I build technology teams for startups. Currently, I’m the Head of Engineering at Harness Wealth.

After studying computer science in college, I had exposure to larger organizations, interning for the U.S. government and observing my mother’s career at IBM. But I didn’t just want to be a software developer. I also wanted to make contributions to product, business, strategy, marketing, and more. And those opportunities just don’t really exist in large and publicly traded companies. So I set my sights on startups and I’ve never looked back.

For the first portion of my career, I was often a team of one or the first engineering hire at a venture-backed startup. Then I ended up working for a media company called Refinery29, where they gave me an opportunity to move into leadership and management. I learned quickly that I really enjoy creating high energy, incredibly collaborative work environments.

One of the key competitive advantages of a startup is the fact that you get a much, much, much greater deal of cross-expertise collaboration. You’re gonna have to get your hands dirty, and there’s really no filter between individuals and the business strategy that we need to pursue to be successful. That means: you bring your whole self to work, contribute ideas across functions, and build your own path.

As a leader, I am most excited about startups acting as a catalyst for people’s careers. There are no rules here. There’s no right way to build your career in this world. Startups represent an opportunity-filled environment for everyone, including people who may not have had family history of higher education or who pursued an alternative form of education. Not only can everyone get a chance to thrive, but they can also accelerate their career in a way that they may not be able to do otherwise. You don’t need to have a set of pre-existing vocabulary and nomenclature to be successful. You’re raising your hard to join a bunch of people who are trying something new for the very first time–and that feeling is inexplicably exciting.

Should everyone work at a startup? It’s easy to say yes for all the aforementioned reasons, but it also depends on what you’re looking for in your career. There may be more lucrative opportunities at public companies, or a more supportive environment at established corporations. Those are entirely valid reasons to choose to work outside the startup ecosystem. But if you’re itching for cross-functional impact, at a lightning pace, there’s nowhere better to be than an early stage company.

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