Learning To Say "NO"


by Jonathan Castillo

Startup Institute is an 8-week intensive training program focused on developing core skills in web development, product and design, technical marketing, and business development so that we can be high-impact employees. In order to get the most out of the program, I’ve been continually reminding myself to be keenly aware of the limited time that we have. This has allowed me to maximize the amount of learning and growing that can happen during a very small period of time. One of the key lessons I’ve picked up during my time at Startup Institute is learning to say “NO” - I wish I had figured this out earlier! Regardless, I hope that my approach can help future students in organizing their time and navigating their way through the program, especially those in the web development track.

Although we’re exposed to cross-functional ideas and topics, ultimately we spend most of our time focusing on our individual tracks (web dev, technical marketing, biz dev, product and design). It’s important to determine your track related goals upfront. For me personally, my goals are to land a job as a developer with a company that I’m passionate about and to connect with my classmates. Setting my goals upfront has allowed me to focus and organize the actionable milestones that will help get me there.

Creating actionable milestones sometimes isn’t so easy. There’s so much that we’re exposed to during our time here, and I honestly wish I could participate in all of it. However, I’ve learned that decisiveness is the key to propelling yourself forward toward your goals. When deciding my goals upfront, I chose what those goals actually mean in terms of actionable steps:

GOAL #1: Land job with a company that I’m passionate about

Actionable steps: Build & Stay relevant.

GOAL #2: Connect with classmates

Actionable steps: Go out with them. Help them in anyway that I can.

GOAL #3: Keep my sanity

Actionable steps: Hang with “the normals.”

Once I laid out the overarching ideas of what I can do to gravitate toward my goals, it became much easier to turn them into actionable milestones.

Stay Relevant

- 2x blog posts

- Follow up with past interviewers. Update them on my progress and ask for help.

- Reach out to companies I’m interested in. Ask a team member out for a beer.

- Attend events.

Ultimately, I should do at least one thing every single day that involves building and/or staying relevant.

Now I know what will get me there. That’s great. However it’s not always so simple and easy. We’re constantly exposed to distractions, events, and opportunities that are vying for our attention. How do we decide what’s worth our time and how do we know when to say NO?

It became simple. Before doing anything, I started asking myself: “Does this bring me closer to my goals? Does this conflict with any of my milestones?” That financial tech networking event sounds great but are there any companies attending that really excite me? No? Okay, I’m going to go home and code on my side project. Tech in Motion is hosting an event with CTOs discussing what it’s like to be a developer at startups in different stages? Okay, let me drop what I’m doing and head over there. There’s a 6-week long marketing/SEO project demanding one full day of time per week. Sounds like an opportunity to learn something useful but I should probably say NO to that. OrderGroove is hosting a career fair with a one hour time slot where I can quickly find and talk to the companies that interest me? Sounds like a great use of my time. I’m there. After taking time to reflect on what excites me and being able to articulate my end goals, it became very easy to say NO to stuff. Only participate in tasks, events, or activities that bring you closer to your goals or overlap with milestones. Say NO to the rest.

When I’m deep in the code or focused on finding that dream job it can sometimes be hard to leave enough time to get to know my classmates. I’ve found a very simple solution to this. Every Friday night I stay late and go out for drinks with my classmates. It’s so much easier to have quality interactions with people when you’re out of the work environment.

Okay, so what about the third goal? What can I do to stay sane? On Sundays I hang with “the normals.” A shout-out to Alex Tryon, CEO @ Artsicle, for sharing this hilarious label with us! Sunday is the day to take a break away from anything work related and spend time with friends and family, most of whom are not in the technology space. It’s amazing what a day of lying in the sun with friends at Lido West Beach can do to recharge you for the next week ahead. On this particular day, I say NO to coding.