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Meet the man who left NASA to join a European startup

Via TNW News : When it comes to startups and personal and professional development, the sky really is the limit. Few know this better than former pilot and professional skydiving instructor Skyler Shaw, who sidelined an internship at NASA and his dream of becoming an astronaut to chase his curiosity for tech instead.

With various jobs and stop-offs along the way – and a little romance – Shaw found his way into the European startup scene, at a small company where he currently takes charge of developer relations.

Could you please tell us a little bit about your background in aviation and aerospace?

When it comes to startups and personal and professional development, the sky really is the limit. Few know this better than former pilot and professional skydiving instructor Skyler Shaw, who sidelined an internship at NASA and his dream of becoming an astronaut to chase his curiosity for tech instead.

With various jobs and stop-offs along the way – and a little romance – Shaw found his way into the European startup scene, at a small company where he currently takes charge of developer relations.

Could you please tell us a little bit about your background in aviation and aerospace?

So, if it hadn’t been for your girlfriend, do you think you would have come back to Europe and to the tech scene here?

It’s hard to say, but I think that even if I hadn’t met my girlfriend and moved back to France, I probably would have still been excited by the tech industry.

Certainly, I would have still done the full-time internship at NASA, but all my friends were working in the tech scene on really interesting projects that they were really passionate about. They were putting in a crazy amount of hours but they’d still have a smile on their face and always be excited about ‘the next thing’ and that’s a lifestyle that I really identify with. So I feel like I would have found my way here eventually somehow.

Would you say that you’re happy with your decision to give up your stratospheric space dreams and shoot for the stars in a startup?

Definitely. I really love what Batch is doing right now. OK, maybe it doesn’t tickle some of my historical passions like aviation (I’m also a skydiving coach and a pilot), but it’s great because I’m constantly developing core skills that I didn’t have before. For example, I’d never worked in ad tech.

I’m personally not a huge fan of the advertising industry, yet I’m learning a lot about data analytics and how to launch a product, market it and onboard users, and even how to raise funding. I feel like I’m getting a mentorship, which is worth more to me than my salary right now because it’s giving me the launchpad for the future in case I want to create my own startup (which I know will happen at some point). Or even if I just want to go into the consulting industry I’ll be better prepared.

Working as a consultant in the aviation industry, I was never really that confident in things like marketing myself, and I’m certainly learning to do all of that stuff better working here.

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Do you have any advice for anybody looking to either get started or get further in the tech startup space?

The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s a kind of double-edged sword. There’s a major benefit to the flat hierarchy; if there’s something that’s not being taken care of and you identify it and you feel that you can do it then – at least here – there’s a lot of leeway go for it. You don’t necessarily need to ask your boss for permission as long as you’re getting all your other regular tasks done. You just put together the team you need to collaborate on it and get shit done; I love that!

Coming from a government background – especially working in airports – that was one of the things that I hated most: it doesn’t have the same level of flexibility.

I [got into tech] in a fairly non-traditional way. I started when I was really young (around 8 or 9 years old), sitting in front of my Packard Bell computer all the time and breaking stuff. In my late teens and early 20s I found it again.

I had lot of interviews with the likes of Airbnb and the common theme was: “You seem like a really interesting person with a lot of experience; you’ve done a lot of cool things but you don’t have any one hard skill that really drives to the core of this job application…”. You’ve just gotta stick it out until you get those skills, which is a process you can accelerate in a startup. The way to stick it out is to find something you’re passionate about. I know that if I didn’t have the passion for it, I just wouldn’t [have pursued a tech career].

So I’d say find something your passionate about and start developing hard skills. And doesn’t matter whether you go for something like data analytics or if your prefer coding. Right now I’m teaching myself iOS coding in my spare time for a skydiving app I’m working on that can be used with the Apple Watch.

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