By July 25, 2019

Working At Startups Vs. Big Companies As A Software Developer

Being a new programmer means getting your word out there, sending your CV to a lot of different companies and hoping you'd get called.

However, the good news comes in: You've received two proposals. One for a startup and one for a big company.

How do you choose between both? What are the pros and cons of each programming job?

Both working for a startup and for a big company have its pros and cons.

If you're a newbie developer you might want the excitement of working different hats and working with cutting edge technologies, while, on the other hand, you might want the benefits of a big company like Google, Facebook, Amazon or even Intel.

How do you choose which programming job you should take? Is there anything you have to take into consideration?

Watch this video and find out!

Transcript Of The Video:

John Sonmez: Today in this video we're going to be talking about working at startups versus working at a big company as a software developer. Which should you choose? Which makes more sense? Why would you choose one or the other? What are some of the differences? If you're just starting out in your career and you want to make sure that you get on the right foot, watch this video to the end because I'm going to be talking about that, give you the pros and cons. I've done both these things. I've coached a lot of developers that have worked for startups, that have worked for big companies and there's a huge difference and it does make a difference in your career, especially depending on what your career goals are. So stay tuned and we're going to get to that in a minute.

I'm John from simpleprogrammer.com and on this channel I teach you what you need to know in order to be a successful software developer. I teach you the career skills, the soft skills, everything that you need to know that they don't teach you in college, that they don't teach you anywhere else, that's going to help you to really advance your career.

Should you work at a startup or should you work at a big company as a software developer? All right. There's actually three categories of companies that I commonly talk about and there's an optional fourth. There's a few things to understand about choosing a company to work with as a software developer. The first one is the small company or the startup. They're really going to be very similar in the fact that you're going to have to wear a lot of hats. So if you like the idea of getting involved in marketing, if you like the idea of setting up your own IT infrastructure, of doing a lot of the other jobs that happen in a business, if you're entrepreneurial minded and maybe you want to start your own business, this is probably a great environment for you. Okay?

If you like the idea of having a large impact, this is also a great environment for you because the code that you write is literally you might be the only developer, or you might be one of two developers, or three developers on the team and that code is going into production, that code is going to be used. Right? You're going to get to use new technologies, you're going to get to create new things and that's pretty exciting.

With that said, some of the down points of that is that the spotlight will be on you. You're not going to be able to hide under your desk. You're not going to be able to naps at your desk or hide in your car or pretend to work hours that you're not working or surfing the internet. The pressure is going to be on you, especially at a startup, a small company, you're going to get noticed. You're not going to be able to blend into the crowd. Now I know that most of you don't want to do that, but some of you do. Some of you are like, “You know what? I just want to get my fucking paycheck. I don't really care what happens. I just want to get my paycheck.”

If that's the case, you're not going to want to work for a startup because a startup and a small company, you're going to be highly visible. Okay? If you make mistakes, those are going to become visible. People are going to know that. Right? If you do good though, you're going to get rewarded for it potentially. Also, there's a high risk factor. Right? Most startups are going to go under. A lot of startups might pay you in stock options and things like that.


You should always take money instead because it's more likely that the startup is going to go down than the startup is going to go up. Right? You should hedge your bet a little bit by having a little bit of stock options at least but you want to make sure that they're paying you real money. Okay? Because that's really, really important. You could also end up not getting paid at all. A lot of times when startups go under, the reason why they go under, the first thing that happens is that they miss payroll. That means they don't pay you. They don't have money to pay you. So you could end up working for two weeks, not get the paycheck and I've seen people that have worked at startups that have continued to work for month after month and they keep on getting promised that they're going to get paid but they never get paid and eventually they give up and the startup goes under and they end up working for a couple of months of time that they didn't get paid and that can really wreak havoc on your life.

Now the other thing, like I said, is that with a startup, a small company, you're going to be able to work on more cutting edge technology. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you are afraid to learn new things, if you're afraid to take a lot of risks and you're feeling overwhelmed, it's not a place for you because there's going to be a lot of changes happening, a lot of churn. You're going to have to learn. You're going to be responsible for a lot of things. Whereas in a bigger company you might be able to hide.


The second one is the mid-sized company. Now the mid-sized company is what most companies are and for most people that's probably going to be the best choice because it offers a mix of both. You're not going to be working on the most cutting edge technology, in fact, the mid-sized companies are going to be the most stable and the most conservative companies. You're going to be able to do your job. You're not going to have to probably wear a lot of hats. You're going to probably spend a lot more time coding than a startup or than a big company because the job there will be primarily to write this code. You won't be trying to run other parts of the business and do an IT and like in a big company, you won't be so meticulous that they have so many developers, that they do so many code reviews, that you can't actually write code so a medium-sized company is actually going to work for a lot of developers, especially if you just enjoy writing code and you don't care so much about making it big in the startup world or working on the biggest project possible. It's just a solid company.


With a medium-sized company, they're probably been around for a long time. They probably have some stability but there's probably a very distinctive company culture. Right? When it's small enough like that, when it's medium-sized, usually the leader of the company sets the culture. So there's probably going to be a very distinctive culture which you might fit in with. Maybe you go to a company where it's all mountain bikers and you like to mountain bike or they're all playing some MMO online and you like to play Everquest or WoW or whatever it is and you can have that kind of camaraderie where everything is not on fire all the time like in a startup and you might really enjoy that

Then we have a big company. Now big companies like Googles or Facebooks or Intels, any of these big companies, your contributions are not going to be significant unless you're at a very, very high level in that company. For the most part, you're not going to be able to write as much code as you would think. You're going to have a lot of meetings. There's going to be a lot of red tape, a lot of bureaucracy that you're going to have to deal with, a lot of politics. With that said, the good things about that is that you're going to be able to work on some pretty cool stuff. At big companies they do big projects.

I remember I've worked for HP and Xerox, I've worked on major, massive printers and crazy software projects that are just massive that can only happen at a big company. But probably you're going to be in a very specialized role. You're probably not going to get to a lot of stuff, a lot of different things like you would in a startup. Also, you're probably going to manage your own time and you're probably going to be responsible for yourself. You could get lost in the crowd.

When I worked at HP I know that there were people that would sleep in their cars and not actually even do any work because no one was really monitoring them. They could just wander around the building if they wanted all day and just kill time and some people did that. So if you really like flying under the radar and you don't care about actually getting work done, you just want to get the paycheck, as much as I advise against that, it's not a very good career move, a big company is the place to get lost potentially. Now I say potentially because there's companies like Amazon where they're fierce, where they're monitoring your time, where they're monitoring your performance and they're going to cut you quickly. But maybe somewhere in Microsoft or Google, that might not be case. It depends, different times, different companies change the way that they do things.

You're going to have a lot of stability in a big company but not as much stability as you would in a medium-sized company which is shocking to a lot of developers. The reason why is simple. It's because big companies often have cuts. They often do cuts, budget cuts or whatever and they will completely reorg a lot of times and completely cut a whole bunch of people so they're going to have layoffs more likely than a medium-sized company.

Startup is probably the riskiest. A small company, they can go out of business. A medium company is going to be the most stable because they've been around for a long time. There's a reason why they're a medium-sized company. But a large company, they're going to be volatile. They're going to have layoffs. Every single large company I've ever worked for the ax has come down and a lot of people have gotten laid off. You could have a very long tenure with a big company but it could also be cut short and someone, just because you've been there for 15 years, doesn't mean that you're not going to lose the job in the next layoff.

A lot of times they'll do things like pay for your education or they'll have training and education programs that you can enroll in. I know at HP I took a ton of courses, learning leadership, management skills and things like that, that they paid for that I got paid to do. That kind of stuff. You have opportunities sometimes for some of these bigger projects that you wouldn't have in a smaller or medium-sized company because they have large budgets.

A lot of people talk about should you work for a small, a medium or a large-sized company but there's also the difference between working for a company that is a software company and a company that has software and I think there's a big difference there.

If you're working for a company that is a software company, where software is the primary thing that they create, your value as a developer in that company is going to be much higher. You're going to be seen in much higher regard than if you're working for a company that, let's say, produces automobiles and software is just part of, that they use to produce their automobiles, that you're not actually working on the shipping software, for example, like a software company.

The difference between those two companies, you might find more drastic than the difference between working between a startup, small company or a medium-size, big company because it's how you're going to be treated. It's how the whole development team is going to be treated, and your ideas and whatnot. If you're working for a software company, your managers are going to understand software. Right? The company is going to be based on software. If you want to bring in some cutting edge technology, you're going to be able to do that probably a lot more likely. You're going to working on code more likely. You're going to be more highly respected. If you're working for a company that they don't primarily produce software but they use software, then you're maintaining some kind of software system that they have, you're going to be a little bit of a second citizen. They're not going to care about what you want to do and this cool idea that you have as much likely. Right? I'm being very stereotyping here but this is in general, holds true.

Most developers, I would say, you're going to be better off working for a software company, especially if you like using new technologies and whatnot but you could also get a job just working for a company where you're maintaining some software that they have that runs their system, where they're not selling that software directly to the end users. It all depends on what you like, what you consider to be most important in your work environment.

All right guys. That's all I got for you today. If you haven't already, click that subscribe button down below. Let me know if you have any questions. I will talk to you next time. Take care.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."