The things I learned in my first three years of becoming a professional at a startup

16 Jan 2018

This story was originally posted on Medium here

Starting as an intern at Blendle, becoming a graduate, getting a job and going back to school again. That’s what my story is about. I’d like to tell you how I experienced this roundtrip in a series of lessons.

Where it began

If we go back almost 3 years, we find me, being a Communication and Multimedia Design student. At that point I needed to find a company that I would like to join as an intern. While doing this, various things popped up in my head. For example: study can teach you a lot, but it’s simply not work. Don’t let that thought withhold you from doing things. You will probably make some mistakes, but learn more as long as you’re not afraid of making them.

Finding the one

Make sure you ask yourself what you really would like to do apart from money or moving issues. For me it helped that Blendle was a startup, something I really liked. Also the strong idea behind the company and the vibe they were showing made me happy. So it felt like the right choice for me. Why settle for less? Even for an internship.

A picture of ‘my’ spot at the previous office, which made me very proud back then.

Take off!

In a short amount of time I experienced how learning just continued within office walls, with the upgraded tempo as a difference. Next to that, everything grew. On company level there is the amount of colleagues, investments, product and anything else you can think of. And personally, all kinds of knowledge improved. First, the thing I worried about the most as a developer; programming languages. After all it now seems to be just a minor skillset that can be developed easily while working. Vital are soft skills in questioning things, asking for help, speaking up, presenting your ideas, and being ambitious and a good team-member.

Stage 2

At this point my internship ended and got its continuation in graduating from Communication and Multimedia Design and a ‘real’ contract at Blendle followed. I kept working in team ‘Workflow’. In short: the articles Blendle sells are delivered by publishers in all sorts and shapes. They need to get converted to the same format, in order to show them nicely. Most new deliveries require a new piece of code, implementation in the infrastructure or bring up a case to create some software around it. Building those pieces let me learn a lot. It felt incredibly valuable, as I was making impact with every new newspaper or magazine that showed up on the website. Find yourself something you ‘own’ and can be proud of.

Get yourself some feedback

Next to that, feedback in any way, helped me a lot. Short talks over coffee with your team-lead, retrospectives after a sprint, annual feedback sessions, salary meetings or just the stuff that comes up on Friday afternoon while having a drink. At Blendle we do a lot with feedback. And I think it is super important, as it will tell you about things you can improve, or how you’re valuable in a way that you didn’t think of yourself. So my advice, get some feedback on what you do. And give some to others.

It helped me seeing that, for example, you can’t learn everything at once. Being an ambitious junior is nice, but it’s good to know that there are people with more skill on certain subjects that you could learn from, instead of trying to be like them. Something that took me a while to see.

Change things

Another thing I learned is the fact that it’s a good thing to change teams, and topics. It started with a new language, which renewed my joy in exploring things. It also gave some sort of conclusion on things I learned before, as it felt wrapped up and ready to compare to the new thing.

New teams might seem a bit scary, as it may not feel right to stop working on the thing you’re busy with. Yet it can be a good thing to do. Business-wise, but also when it comes to experience. As it’s one of the things that probably will happen more often. I think that for some of you the feeling of being afraid or sceptical about something new is familiar. Especially if it’s a first time for something.

Get the right people around you

What helps in such cases is to have a good company culture with supportive people around. Be sure you find yourself a place where you can be yourself, not only professionally. It helps in any point stated before. For me this is measured by the way people talk to each other, the not-so-corporate way of working, thinking alike, and the feeling of working like friends together. But, as with everything, culture could change over time. So when you’re looking out for a new company, try to see if the culture fits, and think about the direction the company is going, and if it would still fit after changes. As changes are inevitable, collegues move on, directions can shift, and everything could be different after your vacation (yes, that’s how it feels sometimes).


One of the harder things I found in this culture where everyone is focussing on shipping and doing the best they can, is to take breaks. As junior you probably want to prove yourself, which can result in working hard. But it could be stressful as well. Let me give an example. At Blendle it’s your own responsibility to work where and when you want (as long as the people around you agree). Sounds great right? It is. Downside: if you agree to work from home on one day, and tell your team that you will work on feature X, which normally could be finished in that day, then it might feel harder to quit when it’s not done at the end of the day than when you would have worked from the office. Nothing bad in working some late hours, but just keep in mind that everyone takes a break now and then.

Back to school

After experiencing all lessons stated above I still have the same feeling about learning as at the point where I just started: it always continues. And that’s exactly what got me thinking. What do I want to learn next? I found out that I feel like I’m missing a theoretic background in computer science. So I started at the University of Utrecht with a pre-master ‘Computing Science’ last September. Now lectures and seminars are part of my daily life again.

What’s next for you?