Ruben Harris, Artur Meyster & Timur Meyster

Co-founders of Breaking Into Startups Podcast

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 21, 2016

Discussion

Ruben Harris@rubenharris
We just released the Breaking Into Startups Podcast a couple of weeks ago, where we feature people with non-traditional backgrounds that demystify the process of breaking into tech (engineering, design, product management, sales, data science, etc.) 30+ episodes have already been recorded and we have include the founders of major forms alternative education like Hack Reactor, App Academy, Telegraph Academy, Tradecraft, and others to help people acquire new skills when others have been automated by tech. The concept of non-traditional backgrounds is not limited to race or ethnicity, but encompasses people from all walks of life and includes veterans, single parents, people that never graduated from high school or college, immigrants, career switchers, and people that were formerly incarcerated. Artur and Timur Meyster learned how to be Software Engineers by attending Hack Reactor and App Academy. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask away! Really excited to hear any feedback and would love to answer your questions!! Ruben Harris
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hey, Ruben, Artur, and Timur! Love that you're doing a podcast to help people break into tech. Lately I've been reflecting on my own path to SV and startups. There were a few critical moments and people that got me to where I am today. Can you share some of yours?
Timur Meyster@timurmeyster · Breaking Into Startups
@rrhoover Great question and we love what you're doing with PH. For us it all started when we lived in Atlanta and we became interested in tech but none of us were technical. This eventually led us to a realization that we would have to quit our jobs and move out to the West Coast. We didn't know anybody when we first came out here, so the biggest thing for us was building relationships. One thing we started doing was to organize hiking trips with people that we met at happy hours/tech events, which helped us build out our network quickly. So I would say creating close bonds with people that were not transactional made all the difference.
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@rrhoover I would say reading about @cdixon's Climbing the Wrong Hill and reading about @naithanjones and Divine's story really motivated me. Climbing the Wrong Hill is about an investment banker that realizes that the work he is doing is not the work that he actually wants to do (climbing the wrong hill). But he's comfortable because the view is nice (i.e. the money is good) and its risky to start all over. We were in similar positions but realized that we wanted to focus on solving problems further down Maslow's hierarchy of needs and needed to climb back down the hill in order to do that. So we're doing that now and we call this new hill, Everest (Your Purpose - the highest hill you can ever climb). Also, reading about @rosenstein's pieces related to finding your purpose were great because they focused on the intersection of helping humanity thrive and helping yourself thrive at scale. Very similar to something I wrote about in college https://www.facebook.com/notes/r... Finally, when @balajis reached out on Twitter and asked me: What's your background? We need to get you into tech. He recommended that I read a few things (CS183 notes, Software is eating the world, software is reorganizing the world, mary meeker internet trends, etc.) and after that I knew I needed to make the jump. He also mentioned that one of the things he is really interested in is doing outreach to people of color and the poor worldwide to get them into technology. My cousin, Conrad Kisunzu was roommates with @thedroneboy who was helping him out at the time and after we met on one of my first visits out here, I knew we had to make the move.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hey guys! Ruben, what is the best ways to break into the startups ecosystem without being technical? What are some people you think are doing that well?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@theo_dimarhos The tech industry is heavily focused on builders / founders. Being an engineer is very important, but if you are non-technical and are looking to break in, focus on roles related to distribution like Sales, BD, Customer Support, etc. Thousands of products are being created every day, but if customers don't know about them, that doesn't matter. Also, any roles related to getting customer feedback are helpful for engineering teams because they can create tight feedback loops so the builders are creating products that people actually want vs. assuming they are building the right things. With that being said, we encourage everyone to gain or teach themselves technical skills to be able to work more effectively with their teams.
Rahul Iyer@rahuldotiyer
Hey guys - love what you're doing/already have done with the community. I'd love to ask a simple question, because I believe it reveals a person's true motives, how they operate, and even the process/path they take - obviously yours being through tech. What gets you out of bed every morning?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@rahuldotiyer Our goal is to help a billion people. One of my mentors told me, if you help people get jobs and they are able to put food on the table, everything else comes.
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What has most surprised you whist making the podcast?
Artur Meyster@arturmeyster
@ayrton Our motivation for starting the podcast was to highlight and acknowledge the people behind the tech products we use everyday. We had a hunch that there were great stories out there of people who broke into tech from very interesting backgrounds, but we were surprised to find the amount of amazing stories of people who are building these tech startups, without 4 year CS degrees or formal education at all. Which is great for us because we have a lot of stories to tell! :)
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@ayrton The most surprising thing to me was that imposter syndrome has effected everyone on our podcast so far. That goes for professional people and people that are marginalized. Sharing examples of others that have gone through similar experiences is important. We believe that trusting your struggle is super important because your unique experience will be what sets you apart in the interview. If you’re doing your best to break in and things don’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be or it wasn’t the right time. What’s most important, is for you to trust your struggle, keep going and when you look back, everything will make sense. Sometimes rejection is your destiny helper.
John Kaldor@jkaldor3 · Manager, BDO
Hey guys! Thanks for doing this. Can you talk about some of the tools you used to get your foot in the door? Obviously there's the knowledge piece of it, but did you also leverage Twitter, cold emails, meet ups, etc.? If so, were there approaches that you found to be more beneficial than others? Also, would love to hear your thoughts on side hustle/projects in addition to the day job -- Are you all doubling up now or have you switched your focus to be completely on breaking into start ups? Finally, are you planning to broaden "Breaking into Startups" outside of just the podcast? I know you had a kickoff event in the last few weeks. Curious if you are planning to host additional events, workshops, etc.?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@jkaldor3 Timur does a great job of calling out the setting and time when we do our interviews. We all have day jobs and we record late nights, early mornings, on the weekends, and feel like the work we are doing will benefit the startups we work for. Hidden geniuses are everywhere and many employers often miss out because their traditional filters don't know how to identify talent from non-traditional backgrounds because they aren't from those communities or they don't spend time with those communities. There will be additional events, workshops, etc. in 2017. Stay tuned!
Artur Meyster@arturmeyster
@jkaldor3 Great questions. I'll tackle the first part of your question. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, its amazing how easy it is to "slip in someone's DM" or figure out someone's email in order to reach out. We found this approach to be very effective at getting coffee meetings and interviews, with a really high ROI. However, you have to make sure every interaction is adding value to the conversation. What I mean by that is, if you're reaching out on Twitter, make sure you do your research and learn about what this person is passionate about and engage them on these topics. Then when you both start following each other, you can use direct message to introduce yourself and offer your help. Same applies to cold emails. Don't just focus on the job listing on their website, make sure you lead with your passion for their company or the role. And on the second or third interaction, you can mention that you're actually in the job search and would love to speak to somebody on their team.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Community Lead, Product Hunt
From your experience and from talking to others for the podcast, do you believe the startup industry is doing enough to attract a diverse workforce? If not, what more can be done?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@bentossell A lot of people are writing great think pieces about Diversity and it's awesome that people are starting to be more aware of the issues. However, what's surprising to me is that these conversations started gaining traction in 2014 and very little has changed. Bianca St Louis says it well: Stop funneling money into inclusion people that make you feel good but produce more thinkpieces than actual results. people doing the work > thinkpieces. There are several solutions that we will be executing on, but for now our goal is to create content that is broadly appealing to marginalized communities, but actionable for adults and career switchers that are able to do the work now. We are in active conversations with several grassroots organizations and community leaders like Idalin Bobe. Results from those conversations will be shared in the future and reading books like Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rules for Radicals, Non-Violent Communication, etc. are good places to start for people that want to help us.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hey folks, what made you first get into startups? How can others learn from your startup journey?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@ems_hodge Great question! Technology is no longer an industry anymore and In the future every industry is going to be driven by tech. To that end, millions of jobs are created and destroyed every year and we need to focus on skills that will help you prepare for jobs of the future. Automation is a real thing and we want to help people understand the roles that exists, the skills that are required, where to get those skills, how to navigate the landscape, etc. At the end of the day, it's all about the skills. So even if you don't want to break into a startups, you do need get the skills to thrive in a tech driven environment so that we can turn the upcoming changes to our society into an opportunity vs. a crisis. We wrote several blogs on medium about our journey and people can learn about our story by googling Breaking Into Startups.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
Ruben! Congrats on the launch of the podcast. What are your plans for the Breaking Into Startups series going forward? 🤔
Artur Meyster@arturmeyster
@nivo0o0 Hey Niv. Our goal all along was to build a community of people who are providing mentorship, tips and advice for folks outside of the tech bubble. The podcast is focused on highlighting individuals who broke various stereotypes and landed great jobs in tech as product, engineering, design, marketing, and sales. We believe by creating a platform, pipeline and community we can inspire millions of people to acquire new skills and join us in the technological revolution.
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@nivo0o0 We are committed to creating a podcast to provide a platform for people with non-traditional backgrounds to share their stories so that we can break existing stereotypes through education, mentorship, and resources. Our goal is to build a viable pipeline for people with non-traditional backgrounds by consolidating existing information on www.breakingintostartups.com, crowdsourcing the best advice, and embracing partners that care deeply about solving this problem. We pledge to work tirelessly to continue building a community that will demonstrate that it is possible to break into tech from any background.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What made you decide to launch the podcast?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@jakecrump Job creation and hiring is a huge focus for people in the tech industry and outside of the tech industry. However, our current education system cannot keep up with advances in technology and will not be able to adequately prepare us for the jobs of the future. To that end, we are building an audience that is primarily outside of tech by meeting them where they are in their respective communities so that they can hear examples of people with non-traditional backgrounds like them that are figuring out ways to break in. Even when people know the roles they want, the skills they need, and where to get those skills, many of them suffer from imposter syndrome and feel like they don't belong. On the other hand, we would argue that the talent pool of people with non-traditional backgrounds is significantly larger than what is generally believed. Often these hidden geniuses are not aware of the roles that exist and many employers don’t know how to identify them even if they wanted to hire them. We want to live in a world where employers understand that great minds don’t think alike, and what you see or experience on the road less traveled brings a different perspective to people on the traditional path. We wrote more detail about this in the Breaking Into Startups Manifesto here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/b...
Timur Meyster@timurmeyster · Breaking Into Startups
@jakecrump Hey Jake, honestly we did not plan on launching a podcast. We wrote several blog posts on how we made the transition into tech that got a bunch of attention. As a result, we had a lot of people reach out to us to find out how we did it, because they wanted to do it too. After several months, we realized that if we wanted to answer everyone's emails we would have to build a resource that scaled so we started doing interviews with people who came from non-traditional backgrounds and found jobs in tech. Instead of just telling them about one path on how to break in, we wanted to feature guests who overcame a lot of obstacles and still ended up in tech. To date, we've interviewed guests who are army veterans, teen moms and college dropouts who became engineers, designers and product managers at startups. We believe that the best way to get people from outside of tech to the inside is by featuring stories that people can relate to.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community, Product Hunt ⚡️
How can people with non-traditional backgrounds learn from your experiences? Did you personally face some of the issues in your career that you talk about in the show?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@jacqvon We have written several pieces on Medium about how we broke in. A lot people focus on networking but relationships should not be transactional. There is no such thing as a self made person and we approach things on a friendship / community level. Our friend Maxwell Hawes says diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is asking them to dance...and we like to party lol. But you can take that a step further: Who's organizing the party? What's the theme? What causes are the proceeds supporting? Right?...We have faced several issues related to stereotypes, discrimination, etc. that we will be talking about on future shows in January. We also want people to understand things that we are hearing from others like systemic oppression, the school the prison pipeline, mass incarceration, the struggles of being a single parent in tech, veterans being told that their skills aren't relevant in the workforce, etc and want to expose people to community organizations that can help startups move their diversity numbers up, but are limited with their access to the appropriate networks.
Timur Meyster@timurmeyster · Breaking Into Startups
@jacqvon Hey Jacqueline, glad you've tuned-in to our podcast. For us, it all came down to Hustle and Grind. I think the biggest thing people need to realize is that each one us was REJECTED hundreds of times before we broke in. It's part of the process. When I was breaking in... I applied to over 300 companies online, sent out dozens of cold emails (to engineers, hiring managers, and founders) that never got answered and went to a handful of job interviews where they straight up just told me I was not good enough. That didn't stop me because honestly they were probably right. But it didn't mean, I couldn't continue to learn and become better until I had something that they wanted. I think, the best advice is to see this process as a very humbling learning experience. It will definiltly push you out of your comfort zone but as long as you don't stop and you continue to hustle and grind you will break in.
jondeng@jondeng · Software Engineer
Congrats on all the positive feedback on the podcast! There are a few episodes that sit near to my heart, especially the interview with Kevin Lee which I listened to recently. How do you guys find time to do it all? I know working in tech isn't really a 9-5 thing, so how do you manage to fit doing a side project as well?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@jondeng If Elon Musk can run Tesla, SpaceX, create a new company boring tunnels, and have 5 kids at the same time, then we should be able to handle running a top podcast and a job at a startup at the same time lol. All jokes aside, we are a team and there are 3 of us in addition to others that are highlighted on our team page. A wise man or woman once said, many hands make the work light! And the people working on this project are passionate and committed to this. So being very deliberate about time management helps. I wrote an article about Time Management a long time ago here: https://rubenharris.wordpress.co...
Timur Meyster@timurmeyster · Breaking Into Startups
@jondeng Glad you liked these episodes. Honestly, after seeing what my life was like while I was doing a coding bootcamps (90-100 a week of non-stop grind), I saw what I'm actually capable of if I put my mind to something. Arthur and Ruben also used to work in Investment Banking so they're used to pulling 100+ hour weeks. We believe that most people have the time, it just comes down to prioritizing it. (I'm a big fan of Tim Ferris and he has a lot of tactics on how to prioritize your day) So for us it just came down to spending a lot of time outside of work on nights and weekends recording the episodes and putting it all together. Just to give you an example, I believe we recorded Kevin's episode at 7am out of Hack Reactors alumni lounge ;-)
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · PMM @ Twitter, Previously @ Product Hunt
What can we expect from the podcast as a whole?
Artur Meyster@arturmeyster
@andrewett Great question. In terms of the Breaking Into Startups platform, our north start is - how many people who listen to our podcast get inspired and actually take action towards a career path in tech. To that end, we are going to continue to feature stories that highlight individuals who have overcome a lot of adversity to get a job in tech. So far we have recorded and will release in 2017 stories of single mothers, professional athletes, veterans, and others who have worked hard to claim their stake in tech. We believe thats extremely important for people outside of tech to see role models who they can aspire to be, because once you see someone like you accomplish something, then all of sudden you gain the confidence that you can do it to. Just by looking around the media today, it is disproportionately focused on highlighting CEO's and Founders. However, most people who are working 2-3 jobs and can't identify with the success stories of guys in their 20s who go on to build the next biggest social network. We believe by sharing stories of folks who became great engineers, product managers, designers, sales, customer success, and other roles without a formal 4 year degree, will be super inspiring.
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@andrewett The media tends to focus on the same people all the time, especially on diversity and inclusion lists. We know tons of people that are behind the scenes that are doing work that needs to be shared and we want to focus on the people actually building the companies. People talk about team dynamics a lot, but not enough about the team members and our podcast will give them a platform to do that.
John Egan@john_m_egan · A giver and a doer from Chicago ⚡️
Congrats on the launch of the podcast! It's already rapidly growing to be a great one. What has been your launch plan to have a successful start to the show? Any tips for others on starting a podcast?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@john_m_egan We are grateful to everyone that has helped us get to this point, but the community support started wayyy before we moved to San Francisco. We've been blogging and helping people get jobs back when we figured out how to break into investment banking by leveraging resources like breaking into wall street and wall street oasis. You can read more about it here: https://rubenharris.wordpress.co... but we think it is very important to share access with people as you climb up in your career. It's very easy to only hang out with people "on your level" but you should never forget about where you came from. To that end, when we moved to San Francisco we wrote a thank you letter on Medium and received thousands of emails from people wanting to figure out how to break into startups. Timur, Artur, and I always wanted to give others a voice and our good friends Jason Mayden and Josh Kahn really emphasized that now is the time to do it. Maxwell Hawes provided amazing photography, Jason connected us to Shedrick Turner who is in Atlanta as a new grad for the design and the influencers on our personal board of directors really helped bring this thing into fruition. Branding yourself is is very important not for vanity, but a lot of people's digital footprints are tied to the startup or company they work for. Our podcast is a platform for people to change that by making the world aware of who they are so that if they ever want to do something else they are seen like a "free agent" that companies compete for similar to NBA, NFL, etc.
Artur Meyster@arturmeyster
@john_m_egan Great question. We are huge believers in the power of podcasting as a medium, and are always happy to help folks, so feel free to direct message us after. In terms of having a successful launch, the biggest piece of advice is to involve as many people and organizations as possible from the very beginning. Its very easy to fall in the trap of starting a podcast in isolation by just jumping on Skype with folks and going down a list of questions. In a month you'll have recorded a dozen of episodes however, outside of you and your guests no one will know who you are or what your podcast is about. What we did from the very beginning is start recording in public or semi-public places (coffee shops, co-working spaces, schools, etc.) by basically breaking in with our equipment and starting to record. Podcasting naturally attracts attention and people will want to know what you are creating. This an amazing opportunity to explain your mission and ask for guest recommendations. You will be surprised how many people are happy to provide their feedback and refer amazing guests, you otherwise wouldn't be able to get. What also helped was, by recording out of various bootcamps, we got introduced to their founders, students and staff. So when the time came to promote our launch, we already had fans who we're rooting for us. Good luck and feel free to reach out artur @ breakingintostartups.com
David Cabanban@david_cabanban
Hi Rubin, Can you provide any insights on building tech teams. I am an idea person that has be focused on fringe technologies that move towards the mainstream. I would like to connect with people who are also interested in similar tech but I have not found a platform that can facilitate this. Are you aware of any available platforms?
Ruben Harris@rubenharris
@david_cabanban I think How to Start a Startup by Y Combinator has great videos about Team and Execution: http://startupclass.samaltman.com/ but it's very hard to manufacture a team. You need to be genuine. You need to understand them. You need to be a leader and create an environment that positions them to be leaders as well. I will think more about this and get back to you.