Experiencing startup life with Monstercat

What I learned from working in a Vancouver record label that combines music and tech.

Published on

January 12, 2016

For the last four months, I had the wonderful opportunity of travelling to Canada's west coast to work for a record label startup.

Dubbed as Monstercat, the startup prides as being both a successful EDM record label and a technology startup with proprietary software in the web. During my internship with Monstercat, I was able to experience first-hand what it was like to work for a startup. My previous work experiences were shared with companies that were well-established, structured, and large in size. CIBC, which was my first co-op, had a vast network of employees and nearly a hundred co-ops in the downtown Toronto area. Klick Health, my second co-op, had approximately 300 people working for their company when I entered.

When I found myself walking into an office of less than 10 people on the first day of work, I already knew that I was in for a completely different experience.

Role flexibility

Working in a startup for the first time has greatly challenged my perception of company structure, or more particulary, the absence of one. I was officially casted the role of a full-stack engineer, but I found myself working across multiple departments well beyond writing client-server code for the web. During my internship with them, I found myself wearing multiple hats as a full-stack developer, a QA analyst, and a UI/UX designer. The flexibility of my role with the company given these various roles was great for me to gain experience from a broad set of disciplines. On one hand, I am supporting the full-stack development of their online streaming platform while I find myself designing wireframes for their website redesign the next week. This multidisciplinary role was also great for me to exercise both my skillsets in code and design as I was able to implement the code for the designs I have exclusively conceived.

Work demands

Along with the role flexibility startups offer, work can also become very demanding when the company's development team is limited in size. Working as the only co-op student in a 6-person development team, I sometimes found myself entrenched in work that I had never encountered in my previous work terms. I personally recall the first project of my internship being the most challenging when I was assigned to build and launch a contest website by myself in one week's time. Although it was difficult at times, the experience I gained out of delivering projects under tight deadlines was invaluable. Ramping up from zero full-stack experience to essential Node knowledge was facilitated through these work demands, and it has definitely taught me to become more resourceful and independent in my software development.

Project ownership

Since Monstercat was particularly limited in development resources, it was very common for me to take on full ownership of the code and designs I have worked on. This experience was very unfamiliar to me at the start since the previous companies I worked for had teams dedicated to project management. At the same time, it was exciting for me to exercise my own creative freedom to manage the entire process of my work from concept to implementation. For example, I was given the task of producing interactive webpages for each record released through the company, and being able to own the whole lifecycle of the project from start to end was very accomplishing.

Monstercat's kitchen

Monstercat runs on caffeine, proudly displaying bags of local coffee blends on the kitchen wall.
Startup perks

My placement was surely a technical challenge in itself, but working for a startup also has its great perks. They have the usual tech office benefits: endless company merch, work-from-home days, and the cliché kitchen stocked with food to your heart's content. Monstercat rightfully boasts about the snacks and food they provide their employees, and this was especially handy for me since I didn't have to pack my lunch everyday. When you consider that Monstercat is also a record label, the perks of working in a music industry was also really nice to have at my expense. This meant guestlist to Vancouver's best music events and opportunities to meet the musicians from their record label. I can attest for how crazy their company parties can get, and that itself challenges the stereotypical notions of what people think of about tech startups.

Apart from the immediate tangible benefits, being part of a small company also enabled me to gain invaluable connections from Monstercat. Coming from past internships that have well-established heirarchies and protocols, being in a startup was a very refreshing perspective where I was able to casually communicate and work directly amongst the company's founders. Everyone nearly shared the same level of authority in the development team, and code ownership was very common for me to exclusively possess.

Looking back on the four months of working with Monstercat makes me heavily appreciate the experience I gained from a startup. A budding company is not necessarily a bad company, and this particular attribute enabled me to ramp my technical skills in order to meet their various demands. I also really enjoyed the role flexibility I had with the company, giving me the opportunity to dabble in both code and design during my term.

Banner image courtesy of monstercat.com