I spent a good ten years of my life working in tech companies and have had the privilege of observing and learning from some of the best brands in the industry. I count myself lucky to have experienced amazing workplace cultures in all my roles - but I also give myself some credit, I did my homework and seeked out only teams and companies that matched what I wanted for myself.
Many people ask me, what is it like to work in a tech company? What makes tech companies different to conventional ones? I will say it here first - tech companies are not for everyone. Perhaps you’re fresh out of school deciding on your first job, or you’re looking for a mid-career switch. No matter your reason, I hope the insights shared below will help you answer the ultimate question: “Is a tech company for me?”
1. Am I comfortable with change?
Like, overnight change. Daily change. Frequent management change. Restructuring on a quarterly basis. Moving-desks-ten-times-a-year type of change. Technology companies move fast, they move with market trends and whole teams can be formed and disbanded in days. You may have worked on a project for months, only to be told to switch to the opposite direction. How adaptable are you to pick up new skills, learn new ways of working, dive straight into work with colleagues you've never met at a moment’s notice?
It's not for everyone, so “Am I comfortable with change” is the very first important question to ask yourself. Can your heart and mind take this extreme "instability" that is a common denominator at all tech companies? Are you adaptable, do you thrive with change or do you get stressed out by it? No matter the industry or size of the company, all tech companies need to operate fast - it's necessary to their very survival. Even if you're in non-tech roles, you need to move equally fast to support the business.
2. Am I comfortable with little or no direction/structure?
With such extreme change built into your everyday work, teams often don’t have a specific direction or structure on a daily basis. You will get direction from leadership in terms of business priorities and where they want to take their business - but don't expect instructions to be laid out step-by-step for you. You're most likely going to get a rough target, which may change, and be left to your own creativity to achieve it (often with little or no resources).
If you're a goal-oriented person, you will thrive in such an environment. Process-oriented people can also find it rewarding, but they may need a little bit more time to observe and come up with a process that is flexible and can adapt to change. Rigidity has no place in technology companies. Be mentally prepared for that.
If you're applying for a manager position, your core responsibility is to support your team and help them navigate through this change as best you can, even with limited information yourself. I've learned that the best strategy for me is to give as much context as I can to my team, communicate often and be open for conversations, brainstorm with them, empower them and help unblock obstacles if needed, and be their most stable rock amidst the chaos.
Don't expect step-by-step instructions, you'll have the freedom to innovate at Klook.
3. Am I comfortable working for a younger manager/with a younger team?
The average employee age in most tech companies is 24-28, even lower in some companies, are you ok with that?
Common reviews for tech companies I see on Glassdoor and other company review websites are complaints about middle managers: they're too young, they're inexperienced, they don't know what they're doing. And it is largely true, as many of them were great individual contributors who were promoted to run their own teams, with little to no people management experience. With training and on-the-job experience, many will quickly adapt to become great managers, but it will take time.
In their defense, it's also much harder to be a manager in companies where things change faster than things get communicated. Hold managers accountable to team goals, but also, cut them some slack, they're just humans.
4. Am I truly respectful of other people, regardless of their background, and willing to learn from and work with them on a daily basis?
For a product to be truly global and meet the needs of global customers, it is a necessity for tech companies to hire for diverse perspectives. You'll be working with all kinds of people, from all sorts of backgrounds - it is common for companies to boast about hiring 100+ nationalities, to shout about their equal pay structure for all genders, celebrate their LGBTI+ resource groups and their progress in improving accessibility.
Are you truly respectful of everyone's culture, willing to admit your own unconscious biases, willing to accept other voices, willing to speak up when you see discrimination, and build meaningful relationships with colleagues all around the world? Answer this one honestly before you proceed with an application.
A global workforce is necessary to build a global product.
5. Am I willing to carve out my own career path?
Promotion ladders and structured career development paths that are common in conventional corporations are non-existent at technology companies. Employees are not promoted according to seniority, but according to ability. You could be promoted within six months if you show achievements visibly, or work for years in the same role without any movement.
The difference between people who succeed and those who don't is this: they are willing to carve out their own career paths and put themselves out there (regardless of the result). They volunteer to help in projects, even if they’re beyond their job description. They are willing to learn and shadow, to gain more breadth of experience across different teams and departments, are open to the lateral movement (not just vertical), and very critically - they are willing to seek out these opportunities independently. If you're expecting hand-holding and regular promotions over the years, you won’t find that at a tech company.
6. Am I comfortable to push back when necessary?
Projects are many and constantly incoming. Are you good at prioritizing your tasks independently? Are you comfortable to push back and say no, and to ask for help when the workload becomes too much to handle? Employees who thrive in tech companies are those who ruthlessly prioritize, they are definitely not what we call "yes-men" and "yes-women". You may please a few egos at the workplace by saying yes to everything, but that won’t be a sustainable strategy long-term.
It's not easy to prioritize when everything is presented to you as a priority. A lot of communication is required to let your stakeholders and managers know what is on your plate at the moment, and what you will have to put on the backlog if you prioritize something over it. Getting consensus over what is a priority today, or this week, or this quarter, is important to make sure everyone is aligned.
7. Am I willing to give and receive feedback openly?
I sound like a broken record - but by now you get it that change is the only constant. The only way to survive in such a fast-paced environment is to have open and clear communication. If you're not happy about something, are you willing to talk it out objectively, tell the other party how you're truly feeling, hear their point of view, and clear the air as fast as possible? There is simply no time for office politics in tech companies - collaboration is key, alignment is critical, and open communication is the winning formula.
Many tech companies are building what they call a "feedback culture". Yes, there's a whole lot of constructive criticism we can give to each other in order to improve, but also a whole lot of good positive feedback and celebrating small wins when we achieve a milestone.
"The only way to survive in such a fast-paced environment is to have open and clear communication."
Flat hierarchies make this easier to put into practice. Through messaging channels like Slack or Workplace, employees can often directly message their CEO or founders to give feedback - good or bad. There are open platforms to submit ideas, to quickly flag bugs when spotted. Town halls, fireside chats and Ask-Me-Anything sessions are common strategies to create as many two-way communication channels for employees to give and receive feedback on both product and company culture.
8. Am I willing to work hard… like really hard?
Don't be disillusioned by ping pong tables, nap pods and free flow meals all day. I like to remind people: if you need to take a nap at work or eat supper in the workplace, when do you actually go home?
A beautiful Instagram-worthy office environment with lots of perks is one of the upsides of tech companies - but don't be fooled - these perks are really meant to help increase your productivity. Need coffee? We have it. Need time alone away from your team? We've got the perfect breakout booth in the corner for you. Need some headspace? The meditation room is down the hall. Need to brainstorm? That gorgeous meeting room with the city view will surely inspire some great ideas.
Klook's technology hub in Shenzhen.
And I like to think we've earned these perks - it's definitely stressful working at a tech company with demands coming from so many stakeholders, having to hold so much information in your head, and having to flex communication styles with every conversation. Teams are often lean, and there is no space for floaters. Everyone needs to pull their weight within a team or get left behind. It's easy to spot an under-achiever and equally easy to spot people who talk big with no action. So ask yourself, are you here to work or to float? Be prepared to be called out in no time if it's the latter.
9. What else am I looking to gain besides money?
At all the companies I have worked for, I was inspired by their missions to bring the world closer together, to elevate the quality of lives of communities through technology. The company doesn’t need to set out to save the world -- you might find it meaningful and rewarding working for a gaming company that brings joy to people in tough times (read: who's on Animal Crossing?).. Whatever it may be, the belief in the company's mission makes me feel that the work I'm doing is impactful and that motivates me.
Sometimes it's about working for that one great manager or joining an ex-colleague who you always had a lot of fun working with at a new company. Sometimes it's about finding acceptance in a company where you can truly be yourself 100% and feel comfortable in your own skin. Sometimes it's about having the freedom and flexibility to pitch ideas and actually see them come to life.
Tech companies are searching for people who believe in their mission, who subscribe to their values, who want to make a difference in the world. You're always going to find a company that can pay you more. So ask yourself, is money enough for you, or do you want more?
10. Why should this company hire me?
And last but not least, I think this is the question that most job seekers fail to ask themselves: why should this company hire me?
This is the question that the entire hiring team will be asking themselves at every stage of the interview process: why should we hire you over the other person we interviewed? Don’t let them do the guesswork. Spell out exactly why you’re right for the role from the start, both in your resume and later on in your interviews. For every job opening in a tech company, recruiters receive hundreds to thousands of resumes for just one position. The hiring team is looking for all the qualities I've listed above to inform them that you're the right culture fit, you have the right attitude, you share their values, and you will thrive in the company.
Skillsets are important, but I've seen many examples where the candidate with the better attitude and propensity to handle change and ambiguity triumphed over another with many more years of experience. It’s common in tech companies to include values and culture as assessment criteria in performance reviews - you're not only assessed based on your results, but also how you got those results. Company culture is deeply ingrained into everything you will do at work, so it's important you find out right from the start if you are a good match with the company you're applying for.
If you said yes to all questions and raised your fists in the air in jubilation, then I wish you good luck in your next application to your dream tech company. You're going to have a blast!
Ready to tackle the challenge at a tech company?
Posted by Marilyn Yee, Senior Manager Employer Branding
Based in Singapore, Marilyn Yee oversees Klook’s global employer branding and people communications. She’s worked in tech companies her whole career, and is passionate about workplace culture. Outside of work, she’s an absolute coffee snob, amateur-youtuber, illustrator and #crazyplantlady.