Choosing the right startup

During the summer 2012, I experienced the startup life at Wooga in Berlin. Here are some thoughts for those who consider applying.
tl;dr – apply
What I thought I’d do?
For the summer my primary mission was to learn as much and as many new skills as possible. Coming from startup background I didn’t want to go to a big boring company, but being a sort of startup handyman, learning some more specialized skills was a compelling idea. Even though I did have prior coding experience, I knew next to nothing what business intelligence -folks actually do, which made starting there super exciting and a bit terrifying at the same time. Another aspect that took me away from my comfort zone was moving abroad, which many people rightfully recommend as something everyone should experience once.
What I did?
During the summertime I learned tons of big and small technical stuff, ranging from underlying database implementations and working with big data to some nifty unix and excel skills. Being still fairly small company, Wooga provided really good balance of having to just figure out things on your own and feeling real ownership of your work, while at the same time there still was usually someone to learn from. Also, as Wooga is incredibly transparent and flat company, I was exposed to the entire process of building a growing gaming company and what kind of decisions are being made.
Berlin has a vibrant startup scene and lot’s of things happening. The amazingly low cost of living surely helps, and they have a few rovio’s of their own to boost the community. For me it was also helpful to learn how to move to a new city. It wouldn’t be too surprising if my next startup would have to move for one reason or the other. Perhaps by living in Berlin as someone who’s skills in german are limited to very basic interaction in restaurants, I also gained some insight into how it’s like to being a non finnish speaker in Finland.
What you should do?
In case you’re looking for an easy 9-5 job, Startup Life might not be for you, but otherwise I don’t see who shouldn’t apply. I guess there’s kind of two dimensions to consider: what would be ideal location and what would the ideal startup be like. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the location, as long as it’s not super familiar to you, and gets you out from the comfort zone. I doubt the amount I learned would have been much different had I gone to San Francisco or Moscow instead of Berlin, so therefore I’d put more emphasis on the startup itself.
During the internship you probably end up working a lot, so choosing the right kind of company is crucial. Not every startup is similiar and they vary a lot in terms of culture, size, industry etc, which all affect on how and what kind of stuff you learn. Going to the smallest and scrappiest startup of all as the first intern will surely teach you a lot about how things can get started and maybe if there’s time, will get you more easily immersed to the local startup scene. On the other hand in a bit more established startup, it’s probably easier to learn how things should be done. Also, they might have some processes to actually facilitate the learning, such as starter sessions as Wooga. A lot depends on the culture, too and it’s something Wooga had done wonderfully well with.
For some kind of goals the scrappy and chaotic environment is definitely better, while for some others the 10-50 people startup is on the sweet spot. The hardest part is to figure out what you want to get out from the internship and the rest is just a matter of hard work and execution.

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