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Don't Worry, Not All Jobs in Startups Are for Programmers 1/2

05/19/2014 04:38 pm ET | Updated Jul 19, 2014

1.6 million students are graduating from college in 2014 alone, and I am one of them! I have been advised that programming skills are a must in this tough economy, especially for someone like me who is interested in tech startups. Sure, it is empowering to know how to build, from scratch, a webapp that helps people but it is very necessary for businesses to have good people to market, sell and hire smartly as well. Coding is fun, but I know that my highest aptitude and interest lie in growth strategy and sales. Several other friends are in the same boat, and we feel obligated to spend thousands of dollars into programming bootcamps to master Ruby on Rails.

I further investigated the issue by interviewing few startups on the East Coast. Let me share advice from two of these enterprises.

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Matt, and his friends from Blueprint Health

NYC-based Matthew Amsden is CEO of ProofPilot. His startup company helps to design, launch and manage clinical research trials, and you can read more about the company on MedCityNews.

Q: What roles in startups are open to recent college graduates that do not require them to know programming?

MA: Don't worry, not all jobs in start-ups are for programmers. The real secret in the start-up world - particularly early stage - is that we don't always know exactly what we need. So, a recent smart graduate who comes in having done their research, and thinks they can make a real contribution to the company in marketing, customer support, product, or customer strategy might just find themselves a very important job at a fast growing company.

It's not necessarily important for every person to know how to code What's important is that you understand the space you are in from the perspective of a customer. So get to know your space from a marketing, sales, bizdev, coding, strategy perspective.

Q: How do you go about your recruitment process?

MA: We identify broad categories of roles that we're looking for by looking at our six to 12 month company strategy. Then we start networking - at industry events, through friends and family ... whatever avenues will help us meet people that might be able to introduce us to people who can fill those roles. We rarely find candidates where there wasn't a personal connection.

Then we go into interview mode. We often meet with people four or five times - looking at not only how they will perform for the company - but how they will interact with the rest of the staff.

If there seems to be a good fit - we'll do our appropriate reference checking and then make the offer.

Q: What do you look for in candidates? What makes certain applicants stand out: in terms of resume/Linkedin profile as well the phone/in-person interview?

MA: We're looking for smart, capable individuals who have a personality and a vitality to them. At ProofPilot, we feel strongly that it doesn't matter what role you're in you have to be dedicated enough to our mission to be willing to get out there and sell (even programmers sell sometimes). so we look for strong interpersonal skills, a personal vitality, marketing savvy, and dedication.

Q: What advice would you give to students to be better prepared for Sales or Biz dev or other jobs?

MA: Simple, make as many connections as you can - and keep those connections warm. You never know how they might be useful in the future.

Q: How did you get your foot in the door yourself, and why do you like being in the startup scene? Comment on the range of salaries recent graduates can expect.

MA: ProofPilot makes it easy to design, launch and manage complex research studies and clinical trials. We got into this space because we feel the breakthroughs that come from research - that increase human understanding and improve our lives are unnecessarily expensive and difficult.

I started in a big consulting firm - and saw the problem over and over again. I stepped out on my own, and used many of my connections as our first customers.

Starting your own business is schizophrenic - one day things are great, the next you're wondering why you got yourself into this.

Risk equals reward right? So, you're initial salary is going to be far lower - maybe even near zero if you start your own company. However, if what you do has a real market, and it takes off - sky is the limit.

You're going to learn by experimenting and doing - not by some company training manual.