Drake Ballew, Tradecraft graduate and Growth Manager at Unbabel
Hi Drake! Can you tell us why you decided to attend Tradecraft?
I decided to join Tradecraft because startups are hard.
Immediately prior to joining Tradecraft, I was helping Aptible with Business Development as they ramped up their product. Before I got the call from Aptible, I had just returned stateside after four years as the international marketing lead for an English language training center in Nanjing, China and was planning to attend the Booth School of Business. I deferred for a year to pursue the opportunity with a high-powered, well-incubated startup, but when I got here quickly realized I didn't know what I was doing.
Having learned Chinese independently over the course of my time in China, I had an appreciation and knack for the sort of organic learning that occurs when you repeat the same games (in the game theoretic sense) every day. Early stage startups are not like that. You still need intelligence, intensity, and motivation to succeed, but it's a new game every day and some of the games have prerequisite knowledge. You can't just jump in and expect to swim. That's why I chose to join Tradecraft.
To be clear, Tradecraft is not a coding school/bootcamp, though it does have an Engineering track. It's more like a personal accelerator to help you jumpstart your desired career in technology, whether that's in Sales/BD, Growth Marketing, UX Design, or Engineering.
What was the admissions process like?
I am not the person to ask about this part of the experience. I usually do extensive research on programs like Tradecraft -- the price tag necessitates it. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to make such an informed decision when I chose to join. I heard about Tradecraft on Saturday. I visited, spoke with students and administrators, applied and was accepted by Sunday evening and started the Growth track the following Tuesday. This is absolutely not the norm for someone who attends Tradecraft, both from the applicant side and Tradecraft's side of the admissions process.
What's the best advice you can give to a potential student?
Looking back, and now when I coach applicants through the admissions process, I encourage applicants to choose 2-3 areas of expertise within their track and learn as much as possible before arriving on site.
For instance, if you want to do Growth and love data, you can build a site, install analytics tools on it, and learn everything about those tools; you can teach yourself Beautiful Soup; you can build a script to pull data in from an API; the list goes on. Do all of this before you come to Tradecraft so that you're already ahead of the curve. That way when you invite a mentor in who is an expert in one of more of your focus areas, you're able to have a meaningful, on-level conversation.
In terms of survival, I'd say you should be able to make it through Tradecraft okay. You'll be surrounded by great people that you genuinely enjoy spending time with twelve hours a day, every day. It's intense but manageable. If at any point in the program you feel like you're sinking rather than learning to swim in the process of drowning, I would definitely reach out to peers and administrators for support (it will be there de facto) but would also reflect on ways to solve the problem yourself. Much of the Tradecraft experience is what you make of it so if you find yourself unhappy or feeling overwhelmed, be proactive in seeking a resolution.
What kind of job support did Tradecraft provide?
Tradecraft does a great job of preparing you for the job search post-graduation. While they don't host fairs or directly source candidates for employers (the absence of both are good things, in my opinion) they do surface the best opportunities available and help you with referrals as often as possible. Beyond that, they help you prepare for interviews, craft your resume, develop your personal/career narrative, and give you feedback on any cold outreach you might be doing. The result is that graduates land at incredible jobs that line up with their broader career ambitions.
What are you doing now?
Coming out of Tradecraft, I wanted a job with an early-stage startup that would give me a challenging technical and emotional experience. I wanted it to connect with my experience in China and set me up for founding my own company.
In the six days after finishing Tradecraft, I interviewed at 10 companies and eventually landed at Unbabel, a translation startup, as the first non-technical hire. I'm the only employee in San Francisco and work directly with their CMO. I started at Unbabel exactly one week after leaving the program.