Saturday, 29 August 2015

What it is like to Work in London! The Start-up Edition.

Before and whilst at University, I was set on the idea of working in London. When I was younger, I traveled to London for careers events, internship interviews, and even visited friends who were working in London. Seeing them in their working environment and being in their company as they shared their stories increased my desire for working in this magical city. I was thrilled by the energy, the rush, the chaotic order, and smitten by the idea of being part of the London work scene.

Now that I am a graduate (sort of - attaining my bachelors earlier than expected to start a PhD early), I am living this dream and working in London is everything I envisaged and more. In this blogpost, I am going to outline my expectations of working in London and how it compares to what my working life is now (as an engineer or otherwise)!

Working in London - worth the hype? Undoubtedly yes.
This summer, I am working for Kovert Designs; a new-age tech start-up primarily making wearable-tech products (for now) and brings together different types of hardware engineers, iOS developers, product designers, computer scientists, neuroscientists, mechanical engineers, data scientists, embedded programmers, supply chain operators, and marketers. Specifically, I am putting my research skills to use as a hardware research and development engineer. Besides this, I am involved in software testing the product with their iOS app, hardware testing their electronics, and being involved in product manufacture construction and testing. With so many different nationalities and characters, there is one thing uniting us together - a pride in our work and our commitment to make the tech start-up live to its full potential. Changing the world for the better.

Located within the Second Home London building, working for Kovert has come with unexpected benefits. The first, being that we are in a co-working space. There are 20+ start-ups all working in one building on different floor levels. Since the walls are transparent (and curved), neighbours can see each other and it is easy to strike conversations with many people in the building. You either see them walking about or working at their desks. Personally, the second unexpected benefit is that some of my friends in my Electronics and Computer Science department at University are working at Second Home with different start-ups. One friend, my oldest friend of the group, is working for a startup called Trussle; the other two are working for a startup called Signal. This fortunate occurrence meant I had familiar faces around the building. A catch-up with them meant either saying hello as I walked past their offices, or meeting them for lunch. What a bonus!

My expectations for working in London were two-fold: 1. There would be lots of networking opportunities as London is a place where people hustle. London is a friendly place, so in addition to knowing who you are, they will also seek out how you can help them and vice-versa. 2. I would get to experience the fun nightlife after work. This could be restaurants, theatre, museums. Meeting up with friends in London would be convenient.

Working in tech start-up, certainly one with media attention, brings unexpected visitors to the office. Like journalists and      photographers. Photoshoots. Numerous of them.                                   
In a nutshell, this is what working in London for me is actually like:
- If you live outside London (comme-moi), get accustomed to the long commute and learn to enjoy it. A 50 minute train ride into London becomes the norm, and can be used advantageously if you get to sit down. You can use the time to check up on emails, social media, but to also rest for the day ahead. Beautiful scenic views of Big Ben, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, and even Borough Market make you appreciative of where you are working and travelling to. The further 40 minutes on the underground can get sweaty, especially in the summer. Although the seats do not look comfortable, you will be aching for a space to sit down for a while.

- You can tell who is a Londoner by how fast they walk. People working in London walk briskly, uni-directional, and a with pace of purpose. Tourists start and stop in pace, walk in curves, and often stop in mid-walk causing a congestion of walkers to stop behind them and re-calculate the fastest route through the crowd to get to their destination.

- London is crowded.

- London is charming. There is a mixture of delightful people that culminate in London all blending different cultures. We have the suit and ties, blouse and heels, skirts and trainers, jeans and sandals, top hat and blazer. All different styles, philosophies, and way of life.

- London is a very colourful place, not only in how people dress but also in relationships. It is a common sight to see people from different ethnic backgrounds in an affectionate relationship, either just as a couple or as families. Additionally, it is also a common sight to see couples of the same-sex walking hand-in-hand comfortably on the street. Love is everywhere you look, in different shapes, sizes, heights, and colours.

- When working in London, if you think walking to your office is straight-forward - think again. There are many streets in London that can take you to the same place. Just by taking a different route you may cross different districts, which may have a different atmosphere and vibe of its own. It is astonishing how a detour off your route can lead you to a different social group of people, stark contrast in buildings, shops, and environment.

- You can always find someone of need in help in London and those willing to help you. This circle of life makes your day easier and may even make you feel more fulfilled. Help can be offered by giving someone who is homeless loose change or food to eat, or collecting a free Evening Standard Newspaper and magazine on the street, or joining a team effort to carry a baby buggy up/down the stairs, or taking care of someone who falls ill on the train. Help can be offered to you by someone telling you directions to a particular place, offering a newspaper to use as shelter as it rains in the bucketloads, or someone recommending you a place to shop or to eat.

- In London you can make friends unexpectedly quickly. Perhaps it was due to working in a like-minded place, but everyone in Kovert Designs and Second Home London are so welcoming and amiable. You may meet someone who has the same or similar philosophy to life as you, which could start a deep conversation and form new bonds. If working in London, it is so important for your well-being to be surrounded with kind, ambitious people. In a place where you can fall hard, having people who can bring you up in energy is so important.

- The amount of new faces you will see in one day will completely blow your mind. In one day, you can see hundreds upon hundreds of people - whether you were conscious of them or not - and it is likely that you will never see those faces again. How thought-provoking is that? It is like life spawning new people into your existence and taking them away. You experience their presence on a temporary basis. Therefore, in two months, I may have seen thousands of different and new faces, each formed through centuries of ancestry, travel, and environment. Amazing.

- On the tube, talking is rare. Instead, you bathe in silence, leaving you to take attention to the humming of the train, the bellow of "Mind the Gap", the fidgeting of the feet/hair/fingers, the similarities of habits between people, and the wonderful acknowledgement that every single thing in the tube carriage had been designed, tested, and manufactured. To the designs on the seats, the curvature and pigmentation of the handrails, the flooring, windows... Do not get me started on the mechanics that are tucked away from the human eye. Then, even the clothing, bags, books, maps, and electronics commuters have upon them. Craftsmanship is everywhere, overwhelming yet admirably true.

- Relaxing after work is perfectly easy in London as tube stations are all in walking distance. There are bars, restaurants, and places of architectural beauty - the question is whether you want to experience them. I am often very tired after finishing work in London. I face a 1 hour 30 minute commute and with a 10 minute walk back home. The commute increases the later I stay in London. Most days after work, I will race home in hope that I can get enough time to relax and get a good nights sleep. This means sacrificing some bonding time, networking or attending lectures or free G&T happy hours after work with other startups. I have to put myself first. However, there are times that I do go out. Working in a city where everyday there is a mountain of choice in activities to do really is a blessing. When I plan outings days or even a week in advance, I can also plan my travel back home, transition my work outfit into a social outfit, and head out on the town. Catching-up with University friends at BLOCK and Shoreditch Grind (more special as we follow each other on Instagram) have been highlights.

- You may get cat-called on the street. Walk on without changing your pace, let them marvel - not touch. You cannot control how people react to your existence but you certainly have power to how you respond to it and let it affect you.

- Good-looking people always come into view. It would be dishonest of me not to admit it. They make the commute more tolerable... hahahaha!

- As working in a start-up is not corporate, working hours and cohesive working styles do not exist, You soon get used to someone staying in the office until 23:00 and coming back to work at 09:00 or 11:00. Coffee replaces water as a source of hydration. Walls may be decorated with memes, with an obvious use of Photoshop using one of your colleagues faces. People may prefer to work with music in the background or in silence, you have to learn to compromise. Music wins most of the time, just hope that the group controlling the music welcomes songs requests - luckily, the person as Kovert controlling the music is welcome to suggestions.

- In a startup, not only do you have to excel in what you do, you have to gel in personality with your colleagues. Every person counts, and your work is appreciated. I think in the startup recruitment process, not only do they question if this person is right for the job and delivers excellent content, but also questions if they can work with this person, can imagine having lunch with this person, and visualise this person being part of the team. People at Kovert take joy in spending time together, and respect that you have friends outside the office too. Everyday, a group of us have lunch together outside of the office. I am amazed at Kovert's rhythm at which people are coming for interviews, and when the lucky people get to join full-time or part-time, how they just slot right into the group. It is almost like building a mosaic, how new people join the startup and personality matches; analogous to tile pieces adding to the existing mosaic pattern on the sides and continuing the expansion of the mosaic.

- Lastly, in London will you will see blasts from the past. Yes, you do recognise that person because they went to your secondary school or Sixth Form. Yes, they do look different, carry themselves more adult because that is what time does to people. Yes, that does make you self-reflective of how you feel as a person. It makes you question if you are happy, and if your younger self would be proud of the person you are today.

London nightlife is always beaming and has an iconic atmosphere. 
I am near to the end of my summer internship! A bank holiday weekend ahead of me, a research document to write, and some sunshine to soak in. I really believe that working in London has made me transform. I feel this internally and showing this externally. A photo-diary of my internship experience and a blogpost of items I wore in the office (because why not?) are to follow soon.

How is life? I hope you summer is treating you well and vice-versa, or course.

Take Courage,

Olivia

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