When I came to Penn State University, I was determined to be a Supply Chain major. My reasoning was twofold: post-graduation job placement was virtually guaranteed and Penn State’s program was nationally ranked as one of the top Supply Chain programs in the country. I was brought up taught that I had to find a job that made a good salary and would guarantee me a good steady career. Supply chain is an increasingly important and growing industry that operates almost invisibly to most people, but, by last estimates, there are going to be 1.4 million new supply chain workers by 2018, so it seemed like a safe bet. With that, I started to map out my future by attending supply chain events on campus, and I even joined the Penn State chapter of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), a student-run chapter of the global supply chain organization. Shortly thereafter, in the spring 2014, I took on the role of Director of Marketing for Penn State CSCMP and built their website and social media accounts, and designed a corporate sponsorship packet.
As the semester was drawing to a close, I managed to secure a rotational internship as an analyst with a third-party logistics company managing inbound and outbound supply chain logistics for Johnson & Johnson and BASF. During my internship with both companies, there were a few things that I noticed. First, the burnout rate was high. At both offices, employees were pushed to the breaking point and a work/life balance was nonexistent. Employees either quit from exhaustion or were worked so hard that performance suffered to a point where it became more advantageous to let them go and bring on and train a new employee. Sometimes, if somebody left or was fired, management would simply assign the previous employee’s responsibilities to an existing employee, doubling their workload. Second, no matter how hard an employee worked and no matter how many hours they worked outside of normal office hours, there was no appreciation for their contributions. Not once did I hear a manager make an attempt to keep morale up by complimenting an employee or gauge employee happiness. Third, the politics were cutthroat. Employees were constantly complaining about managers and managers were complaining about employees; there was no trust. It was always a competition to be noticed by upper management to obtain that promotion or raise. Even though I was only an intern, I am sure I felt the exact same way as most of the employees there. Everyone was a cog in a large machine, simply going through the motions. The environment was akin to a Hobbesian State of Nature; there was no such thing as teamwork and everyone was left to fend for themselves.
After my summer internship, I left conflicted. Did I really want to devote my whole career to that type of lifestyle and work culture? I turned to my father for advice. When I asked him if he enjoyed his job, he said, “No. It’s a job. You don’t have to enjoy it.” That stuck with me. I refused to believe I would have to dread the work that I would be doing. I knew there were other options out there. I began asking all of the people that I looked up to for career advice. I talked to career services on campus and attended Global Entrepreneurship Week where I met Zac Pappis, a Penn State alumnus who left his job in finance to work in startups and was the second employee of DuckDuckGo. I also turned to one of my mentors for advice, Arianna Simpson, a Penn State alumna who currently works in a bitcoin tech startup called BitGo. Halfway through the fall 2014 semester, after long thought and many sleepless nights, I made my decision. I was going to be a Marketing major with an IST minor. I wanted to go into tech, but from the business development and growth hacking side. I wanted to grow startups and make them successful. In reality, I did not know why I did not think of it before. I have always been interested in emerging and disruptive technologies and the way they shift industry norms. Further, I was always involved in the tech space in some shape or form. In early 2014, I started the Penn State University Bitcoin Club and helped start the College Cryptocurrency Network (CCN), where I am currently the Director of Mid-Atlantic Relations. I also sit on the advisory board for Bitcoin Shop, Inc. (ticker: BTCS), the only U.S. pure play public company focused on bitcoin.
Most recently, I joined a tech startup called Lynxsy, a startup out of Techstars NYC ’14, as the Penn State Campus Ambassador. Lynxsy is a platform that places recent grads and students in non-technical roles (business development, marketing, operations, community, accounting/finance) in startups. I knew there were other students, like myself, out there who wanted to go into the startup space and take that non-traditional route, so I was eager to get on board. Soon after being on boarded, I put together a Lynxsy at Penn State Facebook page and started promoting the platform through various social media channels and with friends. About a week later, I was able to leverage my contacts within the business school and got a new “startups” category on the college’s career services page with Lynxsy as the first listing.
My plan to work in tech startups was further solidified a few weeks after joining Lynxsy when I received an email from my community manager. In the email, he explained how I caught the attention of all of the co-founders and how they asked about the “amazing ambassadors” at Penn State. He went onto explain that I was the only one. I was blown away by the fact that they thought there was a group of ambassadors leading the Penn State initiative. I clearly remember sitting in front of my computer reading and rereading the email over and over again. It was the first time, in a professional setting, that my work was recognized and appreciated; my actions had a direct impact on Lynxsy. Even though I do not directly work with the Lynxsy team, it felt as if we were one team, all working together to make Lynxsy a success. It was a stark contrast compared to what I experienced in my past internships. From that moment on, I knew that tech startups were just what I was looking for.
Are tech startups for everyone? Absolutely not. Are they more rewarding than your typical 9 to 5 corporate job? I believe so, but I suppose that depends on what you consider rewarding. Sure, the starting salary might be lower than if I were to go the standard Supply Chain or Finance route, but you are compensated by the experience. The opportunity to build and create something great and impactful while working with a great team of likeminded individuals is worth far more than anything I have seen or heard of. It takes a certain type of person to make the leap into the startup space. It is a lot riskier, but, while you are young, you can take those chances.
When you are in college, do not pick a major because you find it “interesting,” or you think that it guarantees you job after you graduate with a high starting salary. For the longest time, I thought Supply Chain was for me because I kept telling myself that I found it “interesting”. Looking back, while it was only a semester ago, “interesting” was a code word for “it’s just a job”. Everyone is passionate about something and as the late Steve Jobs once said,
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”