What it Means to be an English Major in a Tech Startup
This post was originally published by Celyn Matienzo, a member of The Portal’s business operations and content marketing teams.
“So what can you do with an English degree?”
In my experience? Anything you set your mind to.
Your future career path isn’t dictated by your degree as much as it’s dictated by your experience, and even those are only really limited by how you spin your skills and how willing you are to step outside your comfort zone.
My work experience has been sporadic and spontaneous at best. Back in high school, when I was set on pursuing the pre-med track in college, I volunteered at a big hospital and in various medical clinics.
(I even sat in on a surgery in one of the clinics’ operating rooms when I was 13, but that’s not really something you can put on a resume.)
The administrative office job that I took in college was nothing new to me. Simple tasks around the office, special event support with international guests — nothing difficult, nothing rewarding. So when I saw that applications were open for a local startup, I figured, why not?
I was drawn to The Portal not for the position — a member of the “administrative and business operations team” didn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary — but for the challenge.
I was born and raised in the admin world of large, bureaucratic organizations. I couldn’t imagine what it meant to be part of a startup with only three or so employees. Were people hyper-efficient multitasking gods and goddesses? Were they operating on a smaller scale than I was used to? Would I even be remotely useful in such a place?
I walked into my interview with their project manager and managing director woefully unprepared. But after a two-in-one interview and one test of my event-planning skills later, I was in.
The first six months as a part-time administrative apprentice posed a steep learning curve for me. I was an English major in a tech-focused company, and I came at a time when the admin team was undergoing some big changes. I worked through at least three iterations of the admin team over six months, including a version of the team that was just me.
I was forced into challenging situations every week. Managing day-to-day office duties, creating a new social media strategy, dealing with new team members and having to rework everything when they left — I learned more about management and entrepreneurship in the first six months that I was an working at The Portal than I had in any other office I’d worked at.
The offer to join The Portal team as a full-time member presented an interesting opportunity. The job came not only with administrative duties, but with the opportunity to create and lead the digital and content marketing teams.
I didn’t have to face the “2+ years of content writing and marketing experience required” wall anymore, but I’d have to juggle the familiar world of admin work with the new and terrifying realm of content creation and distribution.
As a student just finishing up college, learning how to write and distribute content for businesses or a company were going to be things I’d have to learn how to do anyway. So why not do it for the startup I’d already invested my time in?
I also saw it as a chance to work with the skills that were relevant to my degree. English majors don’t usually face the question of what practical applications their degree has — it’s abound in soft skills, and writing for companies has become more important now than ever.
But just because most soft skills are applicable to almost every job, doesn’t mean that humanities majors are guaranteed any job that they apply for, no matter how well they write their resume and cover letter. Getting a foot in the door for any industry can feel difficult if most “entry-level jobs” are asking for some experience.
Writing for The Portal has given me a leg up with chance to apply my writing skills to a real-world business. It isn’t about using literary theory as a lens to read certain texts anymore, or telling a completely fictional story — I get to apply my narrative skills to different things.
Now, it’s about developing a voice for a company, or a person, and explaining new services or products for a wider customer audience.
Although I’ve spent these first few months having nightmares about Trello boards, emails, and weekly reports, being a member of The Portal’s core team has become one of the most interesting and valuable experiences in my career. I don’t just adapt to changes in the company’s direction and strategy anymore; I get to see the process behind making these decisions.
Being one of the only non-technical people in the office is admittedly a little daunting — I’m usually left with just high-level understanding of most of the projects my coworkers are working on — but I’ve learned more about entrepreneurship and the nitty-gritty details of running a business than I would have in a larger, more segmented company.
Even though I’m feeling more settled now, I’ve realized that working at a startup means I’ll never quite feel “comfortable.” We’re always trying new things and getting ourselves into new challenges, and I can’t wait to see where we end up in the coming months.