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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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"Focus on the project more than the type of company" — Agree or disagree?

Hey folks, I wanted to ask what people think of this overall assertion from a recent thread about startup vs corporate jobs.

Working for startups or big corporations (plus there are more options!) is different, but not as much as people put it. Each are going to have pros and cons... and sometimes the pros and cons are the same!

From my experience (that is anecdotal, as each company is a new world):

Startups: you need to deliver and deliver fast. Many times long hours and at weird times (I once had to take a client's call on a Saturday at 8pm while having dinner with some friends, and ask for my friend's computer so I could vpn to work.) You gain a lot of experience and learn a lot, which is great... but... that learning and experience is often not the best: having to deliver fast means cutting corners, and choosing speed over quality, you will learn practical skills and get technical knowledge, but it may not be the best practices. You'll get to wear many hats (and I really mean it, to the point of even having to send snail mail as a developer, or organize marketing content for conferences... and I don't mean slides, but folding brochures and picking swag from the store.) And that's good. You'll grow in all directions a little bit. Projects tend to be more interesting (not always) and there's a lot of responsibility and pressure: if you don't deliver, the company may well disappear. Start ups are great for younger people without family ties, who value more the project than the (long-term) perks or salary. If the start up succeeds (90% of startups fail), you'll hit jackpot and most likely move to the next one.

Big corporations: one bad thing about big corps is that you stop being a person to become a number, a cog in an engine whose only job is to make money. That dilutes responsibility, but less responsibility doesn't mean less pressure: you'll be working in multimillion contracts, if you don't deliver on time, the corporation may lose huge amounts (in the 6-7 figures, and good luck explaining that failure to executives). So don't think that it will be "5pm. Clock out. I'm done for the day." Salaries tend to be higher, and long-term perks tend to be sweeter (higher 401k matches, stock options, better and cheaper health insurances.) Also, let me break the bubble of work stability: yes, a big corp will not just close shop and be done as a startup, but layoffs are incredibly common (with or without economic crisis) and incredibly unfair. You may be the most productive employee in the company, but if your department is gone, you are gone. Another bubble to burst: opportunities for growth. May be educational, yes (learning may be slower but it can be of higher quality: big corps usually have learning budgets, even for grad schools), also because there are more processed and people in place, you'll be able to grow vertically (specialize) even if slower; but career-wise, it is more common to jump diagonally to a different department (or company) than to go up vertically (promotions).

Medium Enterprises (SME): They are more established and the survival pressure is gone (but still there), and normally their goals are more modest and their clients more "understanding" (no multimillion dollar contracts and the sword of Damocles of layoffs not hanging over your head continuously.) Smaller groups, maybe not as interesting projects (this depends highly on the company, I worked as a developer in a company that did smaller projects for the government and they were surprisingly challenging and interesting... and if they weren't, it didn't matter because they'd soon be over and get a new one.) The long-term perks and the salary won't be as big as the big corp, the chances of potential reward will be lower than at a startup and, in my opinion, they are more stable and balanced (both in terms of job security and work-life balance) than startups/big corp. These are the ones where I enjoyed my time the best because they offered a nice balance between startup and big corp life.

My two cents: focus on the project more than the type of company. Of course, there will be personal factors that may make you choose between small or big, but in the end, you'll be happier with a project that you enjoy and makes you happy, independently of it being in a startup, a small/medium company, or a big corporation. And that will impact your overall productivity and burnout feeling.

What do you think?

Top comments (13)

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (double agent) • Edited

Should you choose the project or the company? And what about the tech and the people?

It's for everyone to decide.
There is no better or worse choice.

Here is the framework I recommend if you don't know which companies to choose

3 anti-criterias: Location, Company & Money

  • Location is the easiest to understand: if everything else is right... but the work is located in North Korea... then deal breaker, you can't do this job
  • Company is your personal blacklist of companies you won't work with, for example for ethical reasons. Personally I won't ever work at Facebook because I think it's a morally bankrupt company.
  • Money : I won't work at a company that pay their employees below the average of the market, because I care about my craft and they probably only compete on price.

So each of them is a deal breaker, but on the other hand they don't tell you how to choose between companies. That's where the positive criterias come.

3 criterias: Technology, Project & People

  • Technology: will you be doing at least part of your preferred tech.
  • Project: who really needs this project, and why?
  • People: do the people you meet look like cool people you would enjoy working with?

Now obviously if all three criterias are met, well just sign and be done with it.

The interesting question: what is the hierarchy for you personally between those criterias?
If you had to choose two out of three, what would they be?

And here the answer must be personal and can change during your career.
When I was young, technology was #1.
Later I realized that for me a meaningful project was more important than cool tech.
Nowdays my personal choice is that cool persons matter more than cool project which matters most than cool tech.

epigene profile image
Augusts Bautra • Edited

Thanks for the well though-out response!

Ideally one would have a pick of a Company and the Project interesting them, but I think if it really comes down to "Do I pick a Company that has top talent even though their Domain does not interest me all that much" VS "Do I pick a meh company with average talent that are doing a run at a thing I'm passionate about", there's risk of not-the-greatest people souring one's passion, and that can be heartbreaking.

alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro

I wholeheartedly agree with the gentleman that wrote that comment. And, if I must say, he looks like a nice and handsome dude, too 🤣😂🤣

Maybe I should turn that comment into a post...

ben profile image
Ben Halpern


adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

I feel stuck, I can’t afford to work in a startup anymore and I can’t work in any other setting but remotely due to intense family challenges , my wage must be a certain level to afford the mortgage. I’ve never been in this position before. And I can’t help but wonder maybe I should have taken more care selecting my career, I stopped being a developer because of AI preemptively and I think for now AI and devs will continue to work together, very foolishly I made a rash decision

bybydev profile image

While it is true that projects may come and go, and a company can endure for a more extended period, it is still essential to focus on the project's quality and relevance to your career goals.

Working on a high-quality project can provide valuable experience, knowledge, and skills that you can transfer to future projects or jobs. It can also showcase your abilities and help you build a strong portfolio that can be beneficial in your career.

heatherw profile image
Heather Williams

Depends what you value more in life. If the project and interesting tech is more important than that will likely be your deciding factor unless the people are incredibly toxic. If the people you work with are more important than that will likely be the deciding factor unless the project is boring or not matched to your skill set or something.
There is no right or wrong answer, just personal choices in the matter. And sometimes you get lucky and don't have to choose. I work for a great company with awesome colleagues on an interesting project that has a real impact on people's lives.

hi_iam_chris profile image
Kristijan Pajtasev

Everyone their own, but when choosing on those two, i'd say always project. Working for someone like FAANG must be nice, but i see so many people in similar companies just doing nothing, or nothing new as they quite often over-hire. But they wanted just be there for the name.

Then many are very judging towards financial companies, but often those companies still allow you to try new stuff, be involved in architecture and learn from mistakes. And pay good. Which is great for improvement. Kind of like being young football player in Man City and sit on the bench or be in West Ham and play every week. Sure city is great, but if you never play, you will end in Swiss league :)

Ofc, it is not the rule, and you can be in Google and work on something super cool and new, and be in bank and do nothing. But there my 2 cents :)

aungmyatmoe profile image
Aung Myat Moe

I decided company base on project, location, facility and salary

pazapp profile image

That was great.

conrad_n profile image
Conrad Neumann • Edited

I'd like to add a bit of unpopular advice. I would definitely look at the projects you are about to do, because that is what your everdays work will revolve around - BUT: most people I talked to in application interviews are searching for the most interesting, most fabulous projects. This is usually one of the reasons, so many people are heading to Start-Ups.
My advice: Start with something boring. Some company that is doing standards over and over. Same software with the same update every month, quarter or year for example. Just slight changes, slow with features and so on. Of course, this is nothing you will be doing for more than a few years, but you will learn A LOT about processes and how they can be set up to actually work. It will not "feel" like you are learning much, but you do unconsciously. You will also have time at hands to figure out which things could be done better or why some things are working well although you thought otherwise.
The problem with Start-Ups: Yes, you learn a lot of different stuff and the projects and the team will be super exciting. But you will also learn a lot of things in a very wrong way and there will be nobody to tell you.

Of course, standard jobs are not made for everyone and may actually not be lots of fun to do. On the other hand you will lay a solid foundation to your career in the long term.

pazapp profile image

A project will beat the other choice as per my opinion and i have reasons.