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5 Tips from Dropbox’s First Employee

Angelica Valentine
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Published on December 6, 2013

On Wednesday, December 4th, InternMatch hosted a Google Hangout with Aston Motes, the first engineer at Dropbox. Whether you’re a Computer Science major or not, his tips from what classes to take to what ice cream to eat can teach you a thing or two. During his time as a student at MIT, Aston interned at Xerox, Microsoft, and Google. He transitioned to smaller technology startups, like OkCupid and Dropbox after he graduated. Now he has his own business, Assorted Bits. Here are the top five things I learned from the Hanging out with Aston:

1. Start Early and Start Building Things

Aston started coding websites in high school and learned all about computers as a kid. The earlier you start, the more work you’ll have to show, and the easier the hiring process will be. However, if you want to learn how to code during or after college, MOOCs are a great way to start because they’ll give you the information you need to start building things. Not every engineer went to MIT, like Aston, and not everyone has to. Having good grades, good recommendations from professors and supervisors, and impressive projects to show are fantastic ways to show how qualified you are, regardless of what school you go to. Become a good problem solver, gain experience, nurture your network, and specialize in something in order to be an appealing candidate.

2. Network, Network, Network

Regardless of what we call it, we all network. The people sitting next to you in class and at your internship could be your future co-workers. They become your network and it is up to you how strong you want it to be. Bigger internship programs put you in contact with peers who have similar goals to you. Aston found Microsoft’s internship program to be invaluable because of its size, strength, and caliber of interns.The social interactions you have early on in your education and career can pay off down the road and this is certainly true for Aston. He previously worked on side projects with the CTO of Dropbox and was offered the job because the CTO knew first hand how skilled and effective Aston was. After he was hired, many other new employees also came from the founders’ social circles. Working on side projects and keeping in contact with old classmates and co-workers can be great ways to improve your job prospects.

3. Make Sure You Love the Culture and People

If you want to work at a startup, especially when its in an early stage, you’ll need to make sure that you love all aspects of the company. You should be passionate about the product and the people you’re working with. Young startups often require long hours to produce and maintain a product. You’ll need to do lots of research on the company and ask good questions in interviews to determine if it is a good fit. You want to be happy that you’re working with these folks for several hours a day. Choosing to work at a startup involves risk, but as long as the skills and relationships you gain through it outweigh the potential for failure, then it’s a worthwhile experience.

4. Focus on What You Will Learn

As an undergraduate looking into internships or a recent graduate looking for your first job, you should choose where to move and work based on learning potential. You can learn new skills in nearly any role, but there are other factors that impact this. You should be thinking about finding a mentor and working with people you admire. When applying for jobs, consider what you want to learn and who you want to learn it from, both in terms of supervisors and fellow interns. This will narrow your search and keep you focused on applying for positions that will have the most impact on your career path. Experience is generally the best way to figure what kind of work environment suits you. Take it from Aston, he interned at Xerox, Microsoft, and Google during college. He found great value in those experiences, but then realized that he wanted to work at a smaller company. These internships helped him build his skills, network, and future job prospects. If you want to get on your way to becoming a great engineer like Aston, check out our internship listings and get on your way to a fulfilling career!

5. Travel

Aston advised students to explore different cities that are interesting to them and are home to companies they want to work for. Interning is an opportunity to live somewhere new, while gaining job experience. Some internships even provide housing for interns, which makes moving to a new city easier. Aston first moved to Silicon Valley to intern at Google and came back to work for Dropbox. If you decide to make the move, make sure you spend a sunny afternoon in Dolores Park and get a scoop of ice cream at Bi-Rite. You might even run into Aston!

Angelica Valentine

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