Before you join your first startup, think carefully about what you want to get out of the experience.
If you're looking for a lottery ticket, you'll likely be disappointed. If you're looking for an education, you'll get that and more. It's up to you to take advantage of it.
At most startups, you'll have opportunities to push your skills as far as you can. With ambitious plans and small teams, you'll have the opportunity to jump into new problems and often the freedom to decide the approach.
The best startups are transparent with the team. Watch carefully and you'll learn lessons about what to do and what not to do. You'll be part of conversations about the future of the company and have a voice in decisions outside of your expertise. You might meet potential investors and help with hiring.
Don't miss these chances by narrowly focusing on your core skill set. If you want to do one thing and do it well, and have little interest in the other pieces of the puzzle, you're probably better off at a larger company.
Startups are also fluid. The product might change platform or focus. Quick growth could introduce scaling problems that can't wait for a systems engineer to be hired. Support requests might pile up, along with ideas for blog posts and newsletters. If you step into these gaps, you can quickly expand your skills and experience. You'll increase your value and possibly discover a new path for your career.
Your time at a startup can be a fun ride. In almost every case, the relationships you build and the knowledge you gain will be much more valuable than any options you receive.