The Two Extremes of a Startup and a Corporation

Posting a picture of a snowstorm in summer is analogous to the difference

I’ve finished my first week at my new job at Citadel. It is quite the contrast going from an Ann Arbor startup to one of the world’s largest hedge-funds, if not the largest (I forget what they told all the interns at orientation.) I feel like the only thing that is similar is that my job entails me typing on a keyboard, all the rest seems different. Before describing the differences, I would like to note that these are my impressions after a single week as an intern, and does not reflect future affinity towards either one.

Dress

I went from wearing whatever to business casual. At Citadel, I wore a tie my first day, but have since dropped it as no one else in my immediate vicinity wears one. My manager even joked that he would cut off my tie if I wore one again. There does seem to be some notion of casual Friday. Dressing as I see fit makes it easier for me to get ready in the morning, but more formal wear makes the workplace more professional – plus I look good in slacks and a button down.

Orientation

I don’t remember there being an orientation in Ann Arbor. Maybe that was because I was the only intern at the time. In Chicago, I’m pretty sure I’ve racked up close to 16 hours of orientation and on the 17th of June, the interns have more training as another batch are starting that week. How could there be 16 hours of orientation? Get 26 interns in a room and get speakers about the history of the company, compliance with regulations, company facilities/amenities, security, safe work environment, etc. I yawned more than a few times. Just in case I forgot any of it, I was given a three ringed binder filled with the same information. I can’t imagine it being like this at all larger companies, but then again with working at a startup as my only work experience, I’m sure my view on the workplace is skewed.

Don’t get me wrong, in an environment like Citadel’s, an environment with other interns from all different backgrounds, I would much prefer an orientation. I got a chance to spend quality time with other interns and got to learn more about the company I’ll be spending the next ten weeks with. On the feedback survey given at the end of orientation, I admitted I would have liked a shorter orientation, but when asked what could be cut, I couldn’t name anything.

Security

I believe Citadel has tighter security than other companies its size due to the nature of their business. Still, it is quite intimidating as they have their own security force. There are two sections of elevators and one’s keycard, issued on the first day of work, grants access to one section. Once in the elevator, swipe the keycard to access a subset of the available floors. When arriving on the appropriate floor, swipe once more to exit the elevator corridor. This is just their physical security. Apparently, Citadel can detect what is downloaded, installed, and inserted in the computer and at orientation we were told that any unauthorized activity was most likely punished by employment termination. I can certainly understand tight security, though. The amount of money Citadel deals with on a trading day is enormous. Lax security could cost the company billions. A disgruntled employee could plant a destructive trading algorithm, and Citadel is a big enough financial powerhouse that the market could go awry. I can’t start to fathom the consequences.

Pay/Hours

I used to get paid hourly and I was excited to have a salary. Then it struck me. I was used to getting paid for 40 hours a week. This past week, I easily put in 50 hours, and on the team that I am on, I worked the least. I guess there is no one stopping me from working extra hard and getting off earlier, but I don’t want to be “that intern” that doesn’t put in the time. Working 50 hours isn’t a bad thing, just something I am not used to.

Amenities

This is where Citadel really shines. I’m staying in a luxury apartment in downtown Chicago on their nickel. This apartment complex has a maid service, pool, fitness center, and a dry cleaning service. Not to mention that it is a few minute walk to work, so I don’t have commute expenses. When I walked into my room for the first time, a messenger bag with a 100 dollar gift certificate was on the table for me. Currently the one thing that I dislike is that the complex advertises that they have “expanded cable with HBO”, but when I check, I see that I have to pay a subscription fee! My life is rough.

At Citadel, there’s another fitness center and free meals. One gripe about the free meals is that breakfast is for people arriving before 7:30 am, and dinner is for people staying later than 8 pm. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to work 12 hours to earn three meals. Some people see differently. To me, I don’t mind cooking and since there are many great restaurants near me, I have eaten out frequently this past week. Also at Citadel I have my own desk with a name-tag. Next to my desk is a co-worker that I can call for help at a moment’s notice, and if he doesn’t’ know it, I have access to a vast array of knowledge. I digitally checked a book out at Citadel’s library and within the hour, someone hand delivered it to me. I’m not sure how often the company gets a famous speaker, but next week Jim Collins is going to be at a private company function and all Citadel employees can have copies of both his books hand delivered to them. Everything at Citadel seems to be no expenses spared. My first day there I stocked up on free pens, pencils, erasers, paper, headphones, sticky notes, and more. I know it may not seem like a lot, but there was excitement flowing through my veins.

Teamwork

Teamwork is one of Citadel’s core principles. As such, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m part of a larger team. This team and I work on a large multi-tiered program. I must admit that it is taking me longer than I would like to admit to get acclimated. My excuses are an unfamiliar source control, the complexity of poorly written code in a language I don’t understand, and no documentation. In the end these are just excuses and I have very knowledgeable teammates who I can ask for help. This differs from my first job where I was often the only person on a project and if I didn’t know the answer to something, I would have to spend the time to look it up. Choose what you want, both sides have their pros and cons.

Bureaucracy

I don’t believe there is a positive side to bureaucracy so I’m just going to tell it how it is. Citadel has known that I was going to be an intern for quite some time. They’ve even known my placement inside the company for a few weeks. Why then, did it take them 50 hours after I started working to get my account all set up? I didn’t have permission to view the source code, install needed programs, or access information. This, at times, made for a boring hour or two while my manager and I tried to get into contact with the right people. I realize that I need to be setup once, but this process should be smoother. I expect the following weeks to be a lot less bureaucratic and more filled with coding.

Freedom

For comparisons, in Ann Arbor I could develop with whatever tools and framework, as long as the job got done. At Citadel, I can’t even update my text editor, vim, to the latest version.

Though there may be more differences than similarities. Both of my jobs have shared the most important trait that I look for in a company: that my opinion, time, and code are valued. It’s only been a week, but already I feel like I am making a difference. I’m excited for this chapter in my life.

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