I’ve been at Grand Circus for just over a year now. Since I started last February, GC has run 16 bootcamps, hired 7 new full-time team members and hosted a slew of amazing events I felt so lucky to get to attend. We have developed an incredibly talented Learning Team (shout out to every single one of those rockstars), refined curriculum, unveiled an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Google For Entrepreneurs, and kicked off a Department of Labor sponsored apprenticeship program. A year at a startup can be a lifetime to many, so I thought I’d share a few of my lessons learned from the last several months.
5 Lessons Learned in my First Year at Grand Circus:
Be a little weird.
When I taught before coming to Grand Circus, I had a pretty distinct classroom personality. I wondered often if that version of me would be too much for a more “professional” startup environment where the classrooms were filled with adults. So at first, I tried to keep most of my intense self at bay. The first day I really flourished at Grand Circus, though, was the graduation day of my first bootcamp. I was so excited for that group of hardworking and dedicated students, and I got really into playing them graduation-themed music, and played them Steve Ballmer to send them off into the “real” world. People were excited, surprised, and because I took that chance to be confident in who I am,
I finally felt at home at work. And, because I was just a little weird, it made it okay for my coworkers and students to be a little weird too. I’d feel pretty safe to say that students, staff and random visitors alike could all identify me now for the things I like most about myself–––relentless enthusiasm and genuine passion for people’s success. Find a place to work where you feel comfortable being just a little bit weird.
2. Anyone can be a developer
I am constantly amazed by the individuals coming into our bootcamps–––with diverse backgrounds, education, experiences and all in different stages of life–––all honing in and excelling in the same field. I’ve learned a lot about how to become a great developer. People who are resourceful, relentless, and enthusiastic can and will succeed, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to our bootcamps. The Learning Team is constantly coaching students–––it’s not the person who seems to get it the fastest that will be the best developer, it’s the one who’s the most persistent who will succeed long term. Research, google it, then keep trying!
3. Detroit is amazing.
Working at Grand Circus roughly corresponds with my moving to Detroit, and it has been such a pleasure to get to learn about Detroit from this vantage point. If you can move to a new city and then take a job at a company that’s voraciously committed to that city and its residents – do it. I’ve had opportunities to see neighborhoods, activities, restaurants, parks and events that I 100% otherwise would not have known about. I meet people every single day who give me new perspectives and fantastic recommendations. Now, I get to be one of those people who doles out recommendations and suggestions to out of town visitors. Immerse yourself in Detroit – it’s so, so worth it. (Also, hit me up if you want to just ride the People Mover all day.)
4. Little actions can make a huge difference.
Never underestimate the power of playing a student’s favorite song, starting a slow-clap for someone who just crushed a particularly daunting bug or a 30-second check-in with a coworker about their kid’s dance recital. Startups are intense, fast and rapidly changing environments, but they’re ultimately filled with humans for whom this is just one small segment of their complete lives. Never get so caught up in the demands of #startuplife that you aren’t celebrating people in both little and big ways.
5. Feedback is a gift (but really.)
Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is how to receive and grow from feedback. At first, it was hard to hear. However, every major improvement that I’ve made in the last year (either as a person, a manager, in our curriculum, materials or instructional style) has been as a result of hearing those hard things. Once I retrained my brain to think about finding solutions rather than responding as if I were being personally attacked, I was able to make changes. Seeing significant improvements as a result of adapting to feedback was really what sold me.
Honestly, working at Grand Circus for the past year has been such a pleasure for me both as I got to know Detroit and really grow professionally. Without getting too sentimental and mushy (since everyone knows I have too many feelings), I’ll leave you with this: work somewhere where you value the company’s mission and they value your growth. Also, don’t underestimate the power of singing to your coworkers to endear yourself to them.