Lindsey Fowler (BS ’05), president of the CSE Alumni Advisory Board, moderated an April 2 panel of six alumni experts and Jay Kunin, executive director of the Moxie Center for Student Entrepreneurship at UC San Diego. The alumni included Taner Halicioglu (BS ’96), Jennifer Arguello (BS ’00), Chris Schulte (MS ’05), Aaron Liao (BS ’05), Erik Buchanan (BS ‘07), and Justin Allen (BS ’10), several of whom also sit on the alumni board.
Justin Allen worked for Teradata after graduation, then joined a Bay Area startup called WebAction in 2014. He now works remotely from San Diego on purpose-built analytics applications in the growing real-time data streaming space. “I’m still a field engineer but I’m working on analytics applications and I get to live in San Diego while working for a startup,” said Allen. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Jennifer Arguello worked at four startups over the course of eight years. The last one (Tellme Networks) was acquired by Microsoft, where she worked for nearly five years before becoming a product manager at Mozilla. She says that she found a unique opportunity in a hybrid venture, combining some for-profit venture capital with non-profit activities to create positive social impact (along with economic value). Arguello calls her current employer, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, a “non-profit, social-good startup,” where she is a Senior Tech Advisor. Asked whether doing a non-profit startup is different from a for-profit venture, Arguello first points to what they have in common. “In both cases you’re begging for money,” she says, only half-jokingly. “In fact, social entrepreneurism can be even more flexible and easier to do if it’s for profit.” Arguello also sits on the advisory boards of organizations that promote programming education, including Yes We Code, and Globaloria.
When it comes to startups, advised the Moxie Center’s Kunin, both non-profits and for-profit companies need money in the bank. “Either way,” he said, “you need some kind of revenue model.”
Chris Schulte was working at SAIC when he began to think about starting a company. “I was able to work on a startup in my spare time, mainly in the evening, while I was also working full-time for SAIC,” said Schulte. He became CTO and cofounder of MyCase, Inc., which made management software for law practices. Schulte stayed on when the company was acquired in 2012 by AppFolio. Recently, he left the company to think about the future. “Now I’m on an unspecified vacation,” he told the CSE students.
Alumni Board president Fowler, who works for online retail giant Amazon, warned students to be careful about working on a startup from the comfort of a full-time company job: “You have to make sure that your employer doesn’t have any claim on your idea,” said Fowler, “especially if the future business is in some way related to your current job.”
After graduating with a major in computer engineering, Aaron Liao worked at Microsoft for six years. He is currently the “evangelism director” at BitTorrent, and once again, he’s “starting to look for new startup opportunities.” Liao and others were asked about the biggest difference between working for a startup and working at a large, established company. “In a startup you wear many hats,” said Liao. “At Microsoft my job was very defined.”
“A startup company also means that you really own the company’s success or failure – you’re more invested in what happens,” added Erik Buchanan, engineering lead and “startup entrepreneur” at Connectifier, who worked at multiple large enterprises before the startup, including Microsoft, Intuit, and Google. “What happens at a big company still matters, but you don’t feel it so personally.”