The Value in Disrupting Yourself: Apprentice at a Startup!

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‘Disrupt’ is a word that gets thrown around often in entrepreneurial and tech startup communities. But in order to disrupt an industry or market, you have to first disrupt yourself. By Jasmine Gao (Data Strategist, Bitly & Fellow, Enstitute)

“You always have to do something that puts you in a zone you don't know. Someone once told me that growth and comfort do not coexist, and I think it's a really good thing to remember.” - Ginni Rometty, the Chairman and CEO of IBM

I realized first-hand the importance of this separation of growth and comfort after joining Bitly as an Enstitute fellow apprenticing under Chief Scientist Hilary Mason.

When I started working, the intelligent mathematicians, statisticians, and physicists on my data science team intimidated me. There I was, a 19 year old with no Ph.D, let alone a college degree, who had never written a line of code in this kind of professional environment. Even though I was confident in Hilary’s ability to guide me through my development, I was unsure of my own ability to meet her expectations as well as the rest of Bitly’s. Fast forward six months having now successfully completed a number of projects both technical and strategic with which I had no prior experience, I no longer harbor the same self-doubt as I initially did.

This change in confidence was a direct result of disrupting myself and these were the steps that helped me to do just that:

1. Become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

When trying to learn something new without any experience (for me it was programming in Python), accept that you will get nervous, lost, and frustrated because that's normal.

2. Challenge yourself with goals that may seem intimidating.

Whether building your first website or meeting 50 new people in the startup scene, set a bold goal and get to it. This is your chance to be overly ambitious with few consequences. So what if your website isn’t entirely optimized for mobile or you only managed to connect with 30 new people this month, you have still made tremendous progress simply because you aimed higher than usual.

3. Add external pressures.

Give yourself a specific deadline and have someone (a friend, coworker, family member or even your cat) to report to by that date. There is no better source of motivation than the guilt of not delivering, especially when there is someone waiting on you.

One of my first technical projects at Bitly involved writing Python code to showcase what kind of data our APIs (application programming interfaces) had to offer, which had to be ready in a few days so that it could be given to potential clients. I had never done anything with APIs before, but there was a deadline with people waiting on it - the perfect amount of pressure to accelerate my learning and ultimately push me to complete the task.

I believe the above is vital for breaking into and establishing yourself in the entrepreneurship and/or technology scenes - or any brand new environment for that matter.

This realization came not only from working at Bitly but also as a result of my Enstitute apprenticeship, a two-year learn-by-doing experience for which applications for the second class of fellows are open until April 30. Some of the amazing women entrepreneurs who are taking apprentices include Jenny Fleiss (Rent the Runway), Deborah Jackson (Plum Alley), Kristen Titus (Girls Who Code) and Susan McPherson (Fenton).

I encourage you to share this opportunity with any ambitious young adults, especially women, who are interested in startup, technology, digital media and non-profit work.

Women 2.0 readers: How do you lean into a new challenge? Let us know in the comments below!

b41eca4e65334617654739beef046ca6_biggerAbout the guest blogger: Jasmine Gao is a Data Strategist at Bitly. She is also a Fellow at Enstitute fellow, taking an alternative path to higher education. She was 15 years old when she got her first taste of startup culture at myCollegeSTAT, a website specializing in qualitative college admissions data. Pursuing her passion in entrepreneurship and technology, she spent four months at Google NYC participating in the Technovation Challenge. She and a team of three others built Trending, an Android application. Follow her on Twitter at @jgao.