Choosing our Career Paths

Originally published by Calum McClelland ’16 on the Leverege Blog


Throughout the first two decades of our lives, there’s almost always an obvious next step. After elementary school, it’s middle school. After middle school, it’s high school. After high school, it’s college. But after college…what then?

It can be daunting to think about your career stretching before you, with so many options and so many possible paths you could take. It can also feel like the decision you make now will impact the rest of your life, forever sealing your fate. So how do you choose? How can you decide what’s best for you?

The best path is different for each person and, I’d argue, there usually isn’t one best path anyways. So I’m sorry to say that I can’t give you the answer, you’ll still need to find that yourself. But what I can do is provide you some perspective, hopefully helping to inform and guide your decision.

James, Hannah, Yitaek and I are all 2016 Venture for America Fellows who now work at Leverege. Each of us has different career aspirations and different reasons for joining both VFA and Leverege, so we’ll each share a little of our story. We hope you find it useful!

James Schaefer — Product Engineer

Before I joined Venture for America I worked at a series of large companies where my role was repetitive and task oriented. Ultimately, when I left these jobs I left feeling as though I hadn’t really accomplished or affected any change.

In addition, looking back, I spent a fair amount of time at these jobs busy yet bored. The work I did wasn’t different or challenging enough day-to-day to really differentiate what I was working on. When I began my job-hunt senior year of college I did a lot of reflection, and realized that I wanted the experience of building and creating something from the ground up. Venture for America, as a service that connects recent college graduates and start-ups, was an ideal organization for me to join to do just that.

During the match process, I was introduced to a multitude of places where I could have gained the experience that I wanted, Leverege among them. What set Leverege apart from many of the other companies I talked to was the proven track record of the CEO Eric Conn, the small size of the team, and the caring attitude of everyone I met.

This gave me maximum confidence in the company, the impact of the work I could do there, and the culture fit I felt I needed to be successful long term. In my 8 months at Leverege I’ve enjoyed building/owning major components of our code base while learning about the creation of production level code for the Internet of Things.

Hannah White — Creative Director

When I first started looking at post grad opportunities, I looked towards big tech companies and design firms. But I realized after a couple of interviews that I wouldn’t get the creative freedom I wanted by joining these companies. My fear was that I would become a cog in a machine and wouldn’t be able to test my limits and really own the creative direction of my work. Instead, I would be creating someone else’s vision without any ownership on my part.

I turned to VFA because I thought that, if I joined a smaller startup, I would get the chance to solve big design challenges because of the small team size. I had to explain my choice a lot throughout the match process, and the explanation I came up with was that at a big company, I’d be given one of the many fully grown plants and told how to shape it. At a small company, I’d be given some seeds and the rest would be up to me.

At Leverege, a small software startup, I’m the only designer on the team and get to really shape the direction of our branding and products. While this can be challenging at times, I believe I’ve created more, failed more, and ultimately learned more about design and systems in my 8 months at Leverege than I would have in years at a bigger company.

Yitaek Hwang — Product Engineer

Prior to joining VFA, I ran a small company with a group of students at Duke called ViFlex. We designed and manufactured low-cost glasses to serve the 700 million people suffering from vision loss that can be resolved with a pair of eyeglasses.

While the company enjoyed some success running field tests in various countries around the world and purchasing an injection mold for the final design, quite frankly I was not equipped with the necessary skills to run a company. So I joined VFA in hopes of learning from serial entrepreneurs growing a company and navigating through the crazy startup world.

In that sense, Leverege was a good fit as Eric Conn, our CEO, is a successful serial entrepreneur who has sold companies in various industries including defense and advertising. Ultimately I want to get back to medical devices and international development, but for the time being, I’m learning a lot about the software industry and the things that make it so successful. I hope to translate some of my learnings to deal with the unique challenges presented in the medical and development space.

Calum McClelland — Director of Business Development

Entering Brown, I was set on starting my own company one day. But how does one do that? I interned at several startups and took courses on entrepreneurship to find out. But instead of revealing the secrets of starting a company, these experiences only showed me how little I knew and how much I had yet to learn.

As I headed into my senior year, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I needed experience, but where? What if I chose the wrong thing and pigeonholed myself, unable to eventually start my own company?

As I searched for my next step, I found out about Venture For America and instantly knew that I’d found what I was looking for. VFA would provide the perfect opportunity to learn the knowledge and skills necessary to one day launch a successful company.

Through VFA, I now work at Leverege, which has proven to be the perfect fit for me. The small team allows me to learn multiple parts of the company including sales, marketing, and business development, and also forces me to rapidly develop new skills on the fly. And the deep experience of our co-founders has been an incredible resource, giving me the opportunity to learn from people who have done it all before, absorbing their wisdom and years of learned experience.

Every day I am so appreciative for both VFA and Leverege. Together, they’ve proven to be the perfect launching pad for whatever it is that I want to do next. And VFA particularly has pushed me to really consider what that next step might be. Maybe I’ll start a company, but maybe not. Beyond the opportunity to learn knowledge and skills at extremely rapid pace, one of the biggest things I’ve gotten from VFA is being around the other Fellows like James, Hannah, Yitaek, and too many other incredible people to name. They’ve inspired me to be better and do good in this world. They’ve influenced me to grow as a person, and to deeply consider what I want to do with my life. Whatever that might be, I’m so grateful for both VFA and Leverege in helping to get me there.

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