Should I Work For a Small or Large Company?

In this episode, I talk about working for small versus large companies.

Full transcript:

John:               Hey, John Sonmez from I got a question about company size. I thought this would be an interesting thing to address. I’ve addressed this a little bit in my Soft Skills book. If you’re looking for more in depth answer than I’m going to provide in this video definitely check this out. I’ll put a link below but I’ve got a chapter in there about different companies and different sizes. This question comes from Tom and Tom says, “Hello, my name is Tom and I’m watching most of your great YouTube videos. I am in the fourth of 5 years in university from majoring in electrical engineering. I’m making a niche towards embedded systems in IOT. I wonder what you think is best: Start working for a big or a small company in the beginning of the career. Additionally, what would be the next job position to aim for to boost my career/salary? Continue to develop software/hardware assuming that’s my entry job? Try to be a technical sales engineer or something else? If this would fit for a video the topics could be small versus large companies, strategic ways in careers by aiming for the next job position. Best regards from Sweden, Tom.”

So Tom, this is an interesting question. There’s definitely tradeoffs between a small and a large company. You’ve given me some additional information by asking about at the beginning of a career which sort of changes my answer. If you’re just starting out, would it better to work for a small company or a large company? I would say in general that you’re going to find that it’s going to be better to work for a small company and the reason why I would say that is because you’re going to have to wear more hats. You’re going to have to do more stuff and you’re going to be more involved. If you work for a large company probably as a software developer you’re going to work on this one small piece of the project and this one small area of code fixing bugs in this area and not—you’re not going to see the whole architecture, you’re not going to see the whole process, you’re only going to learn this one very specialized part of your job which isn’t going to be very widely applicable to the rest of your career.

Now, there’s a caveat here which is if you get an opportunity to work for like a Microsoft or a Google or an Apple and you’re planning spending the next 20 or 30 years there then it would be obviously best to start out there because you can grow a long career from there and go up the scales there. It’s better to do that as soon as possible. If you’re not, and it sounds like maybe you’re not, then I would say a small company because you’re just going to get a lot more experience.

A small company you’re going to be more responsible for the outcome and you’re going to see the business process especially with the questions you’re asking me doesn’t sound like you’re totally married to the idea of doing software development because you said, should I be a technical sales engineer or something else? What’s going to be the best thing for your career or salary? Working in a small company you’re going to get more sense of the business so you’re going to learn a little bit more about how things operate and how things work and the whole process of developing software. That’s going to be valuable to you.

As far as your second question here in terms of where to go with your career like strategic ways in your career for aiming for the next job position, it really depends on what your ultimate goal is. I mean from a financial perspective go and get a job in the financial industry. Go work in New York City or London developing financial software. That’s going to be the most money by far. You’re going to make more money doing that than anything else but that’s not everyone’s goal. If you’re not interested in the financial industry and you’re just looking at where you’re going to make the most money, unless you’re in a company like an Apple or a Microsoft being a senior developer is not going to be that. It’s probably going to be going into management or being—if you get your MBA and join the executive team try to move yourself into an executive position that’s probably going to be the best.

But again, that might not be the most fulfilling role for you so you have to balance that out. I would say though that in general it’s harder to progress up the ranks as a senior software developer and make a large amount of money past some point. There’s a higher or there’s a lower glass ceiling there than there is for some of the other roles that might not be as appealing but could be more profitable like an executive position. It’s rare to see software developers making as much as a CEO unless they actually are the CEO because they own the company.

That’s what I would say as far as, again, to talk a little bit more about the small versus big company. The other thing to consider if you’re not just looking at money is the tradeoffs. A big company it’s going to be easier to hide under the radar and you’re going to—but your work is going to be less impactful so you’re not going to actually see the work, like I said you’re probably going to be working on a small piece of a thing. That might be fun if you enjoy that. You’re probably going to get to work on big projects that are going to be a lot bigger than something that will happen at a small company. I mean if you could be part of Google working on a self-driving car you’re probably not going to have a big role in that but you can work on something that’s pretty cool so that’s something to consider as well. Then with a small company, like I said, you’re not going to be able to fly under the radar. If you make mistakes it’s going to be known but your accomplishments are also going to be known. They’re going to lead more to the success or failure of the team and the company. That can be a good benefit and it’s probably going to be a little less stable.

To give you kind of the middle road the most stable company that you could work for is a medium sized company actually because they’re less likely to have massive layoffs and they’re less likely to go under like a startup would but they’re probably going to be the most boring in general to work for because you’re not going to–____[inaudible 00:06:44] working on cutting edge things and you’re not going to be able to fly under the radar either. There’s definitely a lot of considerations to take or a lot of things to take into consideration when you’re thinking about what company to work for. It really depends on what you’re trying to maximize.

If you’re trying to maximize profit, like I said, go work on Wall Street, become a quant or something like that or actually be a software developer that eventually goes into trading and you’re going to make a ridiculous amount of money. If you care about the job satisfaction then you’re going to want to consider more carefully the differences between the small and large company and whether or not you want to stay in the technical field.

Anyway, hopefully that helps you. I can’t give you exact advice in this particular situation because, like I said, it’s very dependent on what your ultimate goal is and that’s what’s going to determine your course here. But just starting out, you definitely want to start out on the right foot and think about this and determine where you want to go and that’s going to determine where you should start. Hopefully you found this advice useful, Tom. I wish you the best. If you have a question for me, just email me at [email protected] and if you like these videos, subscribe.

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