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Ask HN: Do you wear many hats when working for a startup?

I've always thought it was normal for small companies, that employees would go out of their normal work scope to help the product. But for me it's going crazy sometimes.

In the last 12 months I've been doing the following for one company:

- architecting software

- leading an offshore dev team

- writing PRD

- wire framing ecommerce website

- specifying dev portal

- participate in research meetings

- rubber duck debugging with AI developer

- organise MLOps

- made countless presentations proposing problem solutions

- writing software (less and less)

- interviewing candidates

- gantt charting a roadmap

I don't have a problem with that, but it seems like I'm going into the direction of a super generalist. I don't know what am I good at anymore.

Actually I think I know, I can do quick prototypes, know how to sell online, can write decent software. But how does these skills fit into current job market?

  • 6 points
  • 7 months ago

  • @metageneralist
  • Created a post

Ask HN: Do you wear many hats when working for a startup?

@readonthegoapp 7 months

Replying to @metageneralist 🎙

I love that type of job

I think it does not generally fit into any job market

you can try to start your own company

I'll prob end up at some moderately tolerable corporate product owner job


@ssss11 7 months

Yes there’s a lot of generalist work and you feel out of your comfort zone - that is a good thing (eustress) just make sure the company is happy with your output if you’re unsure.

I think it’s a hugely positive experience, you’ll never be able to do that in a large place and it helps you grow your career. I’ve gone back and forth between specialisations and generalist roles.


@strikelaserclaw 7 months

i mean it depends on what your goals are, if you love the product building experience end to end, startups are your jam, sometimes with a big payoff, if you want faang salaries, then its better to get good at one thing and practice leetcode.


@HardwareLust 7 months

Of course, that's just part of the charm of working for a startup. At times I've been the boss's Administrative Assistant, logistics, IT, facilities, R&D and now I've settled down as the Operations manager for the most part.

It's kind of cool wearing different hats sometimes. Keeps things fresh and lively.


@Jugurtha 7 months

Yes. All of the above (minus wire framing ecommerce website, but working with ecommerce clients to increase their revenues), add to that sales and figuring out heuristics for our "ideal customer", finding them, talking with them. Product design (what the product should do, what features to build, what not to build, and why do either), what the business strategy is, which channels to focus on, etc. Most of all, communicating the rationale so that everyone on the team can understand how these decisions are made so everyone can have a model and act that way as well, and generally, the company's operations.

This is necessary to change the main revenue stream from consulting to product.

The consulting side also has its hats; we work with clients in several sectors: energy, health, employment, railway transportation, telecommunications, banking, fashion, ecommerce, public relations and communication, etc. And I had to dive into multi-phase flow patterns and offshore production, IEC 62290‐1, Ericsson billing systems, reading an electronics component datasheet and soldering a dirty filter from some components for another project, working on smart cards, and a bunch of other fields in order to be able to work on these problems.

Their people are delighted when they can talk precisely about the domain because you understand what they're saying. There also is serendipity at play: I interned at Schlumberger in college in reservoir characterization and read many books, worked on a telecommunication personal project and read some books on networks, worked on a banking personal project, worked on multiphase flows in university, worked on heart anomaly detection in university as well, was exposed to ISO/IEC 7816 in my teenage years out of interest, and had an upbringing that made weapons not foreign to me.

I was lucky to jump in on a project and hit the ground running.

>But how does these skills fit into current job market?

Not sure. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed so I wouldn't have to worry about it. The pressure comes from a yes-no question: Have you built a successful product and an organization or not? Even though you gain a lot of experience and knowledge building products and organizations, you want to be able to answer yes.


@toast0 7 months

When I was at a startup, my job was take care of this one important service, but also be the person for all the server stuff that didn't have a person.

Which meant I administered DNS, and email, and Google gSuite (or whatever it was called at the time or now), built out internal tool web login/SSO and migrated it to different identity systems, managed our domains, managed our certificates, advised client teams on security issues, did OS upgrades on servers, managed access to the servers, managed paying several of the vendors and was their single point of contact, patch (server side) OpenSSL so that client system libraries don't crash when OpenSSL and Microsoft disagree on vague specifications, managed a new grad building a TLS 1.3 library for our Android client, pretended to be a data scientist to analyze my service's data because we didn't have any of those (and when we did, most of them were worse at pretending than I was) etc.

Someone from our client teams built server stuff occasionally when it was more convenient for one person to do the front and backend or server people didn't have time.

The only people not wearing many hats in startup land are either only good at one thing or are very busy on one thing.


@croo 7 months

To piggyback the parent comment I'm in the same boat and I too am looking for answers to loosely defined questions. Same shoe at small company - business analyst, project manager, tech lead, senior dev,rubber duck for anyone while managing multiple teams, interviewer with only informal position as formal positions are hard to find in a flat hierarchy... What are my options and what are these generalist skills are really good for? How do you market yourself? My leetcode writing skills are definetly rusty...


@smt88 7 months

That's a pretty normal list of responsibilities for a technical lead in a startup of < 10 people.

> I don't know what am I good at anymore.

Are you in a management role? You don't need to have excellent technical skills once you're a company leader. You just need to be able to:

- understand what needs to be done

- identify someone who is excellent at it (certainly better than you)

- provide the structure and resources that person needs to get the work done

If you're not in a management or leadership role, I hope you're well-compensated. Generalists are hard to find.

> But how does these skills fit into current job market?

Having 50-75% mastery of a wide range of skills is useful for a lot of startups. New products don't have to be super optimized or have perfect code. They just need to work well enough that the company can survive to hire someone to fix them.

There will always be jobs for you. Don't overthink it. The question is: are you happy or are you burning out?


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