As a developer, your LinkedIn inbox may be bombarded on a daily basis with requests to join a company, do some freelance work, or help develop an MVP for an emerging startup. But being in the startup world does not necessarily mean you need to be a founder or a CTO, although they are certainly options. To help guide you through the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we have prepared a quick guide to give you an idea of the potential paths your developer career can take you.
1.) Individual Contributor
If you love to code and prefer to continue to hone your skills without dealing with the management side of things, this is a potential path for you. You attend the stand-up meetings, get your code submits in on schedule, participate in code reviews, and help clear the product backlog. Depending on your preferred work style, you may be able to negotiate a remote work arrangement and potentially remain a free agent, consulting with various companies that could use your expertise. The freedom and flexibility with this path are attractive for a while, but over time, you may seek more responsibility or consider translating your years of experience into a different role.
If you want to be involved in the big picture of innovation at a high level from a technology perspective, the CTO is a potential path. People seldom start off as a CTO in a startup, but it is not uncommon for developers who are part of the core team at the beginning of a startup to eventually take on the role. Depending on your experience leading people, working in a team, and understanding the needs of the business and the technology that fuels it, you can build your body of experience toward this path. Things to consider are the level of responsibility you will have for the product, high visibility, and accountability, and the strategic thinking involved to move your innovation forward. If your startup's focus is dependent on the technology, everyone in the organization will be trusting you with their livelihood.
If you like the freedom of being an individual contributor at a startup, but also like to push innovation within the development circles you take part in, working towards becoming an author or influencer is a potential path. Whether you are organizing Meetups, speaking at conferences, or leading communities online, you can build toward a mastery of knowledge validated by years of practical experience. Over time, by way of creating a catalog of content through a personal blog or your preferred social media channel, you can develop your own brand. This path complements the lifestyle of someone who enjoys connecting, communicating, and exploring innovations in development with others. Experts are not born overnight, and this path is one that will require consistency and patience.
4.) Social Entrepreneur
Over time, you may find that you want to contribute your development skills to a cause that goes beyond profit for the sake of profit. If you feel the call to help others, consider the path of the social entrepreneur. Potential applications of your knowledge could be developing technology geared toward communities that traditionally have not had access or a curriculum to help kids learn how to code at an early age. If you have the desire to help but don't have the non-profit experience, there are programs, fellowships, and boot camps that will help provide the infrastructure and training you need.
Whether alone or with a team, you may eventually want to build a startup of your own and pursue the path of a founder. You may bring your past experiences working with other companies, or developing projects as a freelancer to your proposed innovation. Depending on whether you pursue this path while maintaining a job or decide to pursue it full-time, the time it will take in becoming a bona fide founder will vary. Working for a startup and running a startup as an owner are wholly different experiences with stress and challenges commensurate to each. The money for the business will need to be raised, and jobs that are created or lost will also become your responsibility. It can be scary to take on the role of a founder, but it can also be a rewarding and exciting experience that puts your potential to the test.