Vocate Blog

The Proud Dad

The Proud Dad

This article is part of a mini-series that we like to call “Vocate-able Moments” – all written by our CEO Alex Tonelli. He felt compelled to start this series because each article addresses problems that he sees students encounter over and over.  By sharing his thoughts, he wants to give people a sense for the problems with the existing college-to-career paradigm as well as explain Vocate’s view on solving them.

I met one of your proud parents at a cocktail party last night. I love having these conversations because often parents feel just as lost as you do and are eager to hear that there’s some support out there.

His son has done very well as a computer science major at an elite school and is in the process of chasing job opportunities (starting in October).  I inquired, more as a matter of polite conversation than anything else, about what his son wanted to do. “He wants to be a developer for a financial technology company.”

My ears perked up as this is an area of interest/expertise. For context, the last business I founded, Funding Circle, is one of a group of “Fin Tech” companies that have made that into a ‘hot’ market.

Then, the father explained that his son was interviewing with a couple of large traditional asset management companies, naming Putnum and Fidelity specifically.  A bit incredulous, I let on my confusion as that’s a pretty mediocre path for his son if he wanted to be a technologist.

Now, don’t get me wrong, those can be perfectly good places to work if your goal is to be a stock picker. But, for an elite software developer? That would be a giant leap backwards. For developers, all that matters is your ability to build technology. You learn that by working with cutting edge technologies on complex problems alongside other elite developers.

You can find that at technology companies, not asset managers. You can do it at giant technology companies like Google and Facebook, which would probably feel safe enough to the dad. With that said, in addition to Funding Circle, SoFi, Stripe, Oscar, Credit Karma, Lending Club, On Deck, Mozido, Kabbage, Zenefits, Avant, Prosper, Financial Force, Gusto, Coupa, and Zurora are all Fin Tech companies with a valuation of greater than $1B. While the dad may hear, “startup,” those aren’t small companies anymore. Of course, we wouldn’t discourage the kid from going to a smaller startup, if he were joining a truly top development team. As I said earlier, the only thing that matters for him is his development chops, and the best place might be an 8-person dev team.

After a bit of discussion with the father, two detrimental mental models stood out.  First, the dad’s, who had been encouraging his son to take a route that made sense in a different generation (think “IBM blue suit”), but can actually be deleterious in today’s environment. Second, the son’s, who had been led to believe by his campus career center that companies coming to campus interviewing 9 months in advance were “good” jobs and that he “should” desire a job offer so far in advance.

It broke my heart to hear this because that kid is very employable, and most Fin Tech companies would fall over themselves to interview him.  But, they wouldn’t do it 9 months in advance and they’re not sending people to your campus to do it. It’s highly possible that because his guidance system broke down, he’ll end up on a path that won’t help him to either chase his interests or realize his ambitions. Some people figure it out and re-adjust a few years down the line, usually in a painful process, but a lot of people don’t.

At Vocate, we would encourage him to wait to interview until at least January, more likely the spring. Then, he’d have his pick of a lot of dynamic workplaces where he could learn from other elite technologists and from companies who were redesigning the financial world.

I walked away from the conversation a bit forlorn to think of the wasted opportunity of an extremely talented kid and with the strange feeling of thinking, “I really hope he doesn’t get those jobs, for everyone’s sake.”

Alex Tonelli

Alex Tonelli is the Founder and CEO of Vocate. After stumbling through many of the challenges expressed here, he’s founded three successful companies and is an active investor.