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Ben Halpern for CodeNewbie

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Would You Rather Work in a Small Startup or a Large Corporation?

If you had to choose, would you rather work in a small startup environment with a high degree of autonomy or work in a large corporation with more structured processes and hierarchies?

Small startups offer an opportunity to work in a close-knit team with a lot of freedom and the ability to wear multiple hats. On the other hand, large corporations offer more stability, established processes, and opportunities for growth.

What do you prefer and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Top comments (34)

alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro • Edited

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.

eerk profile image

It depends on your own ambitions and expectations...

  • Small Startup: work crazy hours, have huge impact on the company and its products. Gain lots of experience. Be careful for toxic work environment. Burn-out at the end. High bills for the mental health coach.
  • Big corp: go home at 5 every day. Nice conversations at the coffee machine about the mortgage and the leasecar. Might need to write a line of code somewhere between meetings.
alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro

I have experience in startups, small companies, medium companies, and large corporations... And this comment is... I mean... If you think that people at a big corp go home at 5 every day, don't work crazy hours, don't gain as much experience, or may not get burnt out... I have bad news for you.

eerk profile image

I'm glad I don't have to choose between the two...

raddevus profile image
raddevus • Edited

"Big corp: go home at 5 every day. Nice conversations at the coffee machine about the mortgage and the leasecar. Might need to write a line of code somewhere between meetings."

Yep, I've worked at Big Corp too (a few of them) and this is why I wasn't shocked at all when huge numbers of layoffs came from BigCorps recently.
Actually, I was more shocked that it hadn't happened sooner -- especially after 2008 for example.

I worked for a large Mortgage Bank where I only did 6 weeks of work in an entire year. And, that code was shelved also. But, they kept on paying me and that is the important part, of course. 😆

joelbonetr profile image
JoelBonetR 🥇

100% accurate 😂

missamarakay profile image
Amara Graham

This is SUCH a good question and I've been thinking about this recently.

After I received my Computer Science degree I caught a ton of grief for not going into a product team and instead going to IT, Intel's massive IT organization to be exact. Old, slow, structured, etc. I found it to be structured, but still able to find the things described above as part of the small startup opportunity.

The back half of my career (so far) I moved to smaller companies who have lusted over selling their products to those larger corporations.

Having a mix of both on my resume has been hugely valuable. Having experience working for both small and large gives me a fantastic perspective. Building products for enterprise developers is really building products for me from a few years ago.

erinao profile image
Erin A Olinick

I completely agree with you! As someone who has worked for a very large, unwieldy and bureaucratic administration and now a much more nimble company, I can attest to the value of having a diverse range of experiences on my resume. Being able to leverage my previous experience in a large organization and apply those insights to a smaller, more agile company is so rewarding. It's amazing how much transferable knowledge and skills we can gain from different work environments.

nicolasini profile image
Nico S___

I prefer small startups.
Here in New Zealand, startup life is not like in the US. We don't work crazy hours, environments are not toxic, and we all know the likelihood of making it big are small.
But it does give you a good sense of achievement. You get to learn and work across the business. You do move fast, and often break things.
Working on big corps, for me, gets boring fast. I want to see change happening in real time. Not in 18 months increments.

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

My prejudice is that big corporations are much more evil.

I'm not saying small startups can't be evil, but due to the scale of things and the nature of profit-motivation, above a certain size all corporations are unethical.

So while it's tempting to want the (perceived) security of working for Facebook or something, I'd rather be comfortable sleeping at night.

nialljoemaher profile image
Niall Maher

For me, it's always more fun in a small startup (especially as an IC). Now that I've been in the leadership teams for both types of businesses, I still think startups are more fun because of the pace. Still, the opportunity to make a massive impact is available in big companies.

I will still have to say startups for the lack of bureaucracy (who likes rules anyway).

frankfont profile image
Frank Font

I've worked in both. I've found that the stereotypes don't fit them all. And within large organizations, you can find pockets that behave like startups -- in good ways or also in bad ways.

My impression is sometimes people gravitate toward large organizations thinking they will be more secure. Perhaps the odds are better than in a startup, but security is illusive no matter where you find yourself.

renanborgez profile image
Renan Borges • Edited

my PO asked me this question 4 months ago before a layoff in our startup company. So I answered "Big corporation", after the layoff (I was not affected directly) I decided to move out and now I am working a really big corporation.

Thanks to the layoff I am now where I wanted to be

heatherw profile image
Heather Williams

I am biased towards a small startup having spent my entire career so far working at the same company. I love the freedom I have to learn new things, develop the processes we use and try all sorts of different projects. Personally I have grown so much and learnt a lot as a self taught developer in a small team. I have also had to step up a lot and take on more senior tasks more quickly than I would otherwise have had the opportunity for.

I would say though that there is a middle ground between small startup and large corporation: small to medium enterprise where you get a lot of the same stability as a large corporation with much of the flexibility of a small startup. This to me is the optimal space to be in, you still learn a lot but you also benefit from the stability of having solid processes in place.

theaccordance profile image
Joe Mainwaring • Edited

My preference as an individual contributor is to work for small high-velocity teams.

My needs as a 30-something cancer survivor living in the US is to work at a company with some measure of stability so I have reliable health care coverage.

renancferro profile image
Renan Ferro

I would work in a Startup for a while, to build something big and have a totally different and amazing experience.

Then I would go to a big corporation, because then I would have more time to focus on writing articles and participating more in the community.

4gus71n profile image
Agustín Tomas Larghi

Small startup, always. I have worked for consulting companies (small and big), large IT companies, and startups, and I'll always pick startups.

Why? Simple – less bureaucracy, and more chances to actually push features out to the users. You'd think big IT companies have everything figured out, but that is rarely the case, more often than not they are just a big hierarchy of people who don't really care and it isn't happy with their jobs. Startup companies might be messier, and might be a bit more on "fire", but at least you have more visibility of what's going on with the company, you have personally met (almost) everyone at the company, you know everyone's role, and there are no people "winging" it.

Sure, this is not a 100% rule. Sometimes you might find big IT companies that have actually figured out how to structure the company and keep things tidy, and sometimes you might find startup companies that are utterly messy.

My personal experience leads me to think that most big IT companies do not scale very well, that's why I prefer to stick with small startup companies.

eljayadobe profile image
Eljay-Adobe • Edited

Different kinds of companies have different pros/cons.

A large corporation will have process and culture in place that are not going to change. (Satya Nadella has been proactively trying to change the culture & processes of Microsoft, and has very limited success (mostly lip-service success, in my opinion). Changing culture & processes of a company is a heck of a slog!) If the culture/processes work for you, great! If the culture and/or processes rub you the wrong way, well... they're not going to change, so either adopt-or-adapt or be perpetually frustrated. The benefit of a large corporation is that it provides the illusion of job security, which can be very comforting. And usually the benefits are good.

A small startup is precarious because they are threading the fine line between burn rate and becoming sufficiently profitable to establish themselves as a small business (post-startup). The benefit is stock options which are either worthless (99% chance, because the startup folds), or retirement money (1%).

In between small startup and large corporation is: independent consultant (make yourself into a one-person LLC, and be your own boss), small business (post-startup), medium business, large business (on its way to becoming a large corporation). (If you work for a consulting company, and you are a salaried FTE... that's the same as being in a S/M/L business or Large Corporation, depending on the consulting firm.)

What I look for is: do I like the culture & processes, do I like the management, do I like my colleagues, do I like my product (or in particular, the product's codebase).

wizdomtek profile image
Christopher Glikpo ⭐

Whether to work in a small startup or a large corporation depends on your personality, skills, and career goals. If you thrive in a fast-paced, innovative environment and want to be part of building something from scratch, a small startup may be the right choice. If you prefer structure, stability, and access to resources and benefits, a large corporation may be the better option.

2kabhishek profile image
Abhishek Keshri

Having done both in my career, I would always prefer working for a startup.

The single most important reason for me is visibility, in your work, on your opinions.
Another great reason would be, as an early employee you'll be able to actually influence the culture of the organization.