Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Big Companies & Small Companies

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for taking the time to read my message.

This is targetted towards those who have worked at a variety of companies.


I am currently working for a very large multinational in London, England. 
I am often frustrated by our lack of standards and the lack of desire to avoid repeating mistakes.  People will research a really cool solution, and not take the time to document it so that it can be shared.  80% of the time it's because we're so underfunded that each person is doing the job of 5 people.  Both Development and Operations staff are completely underresourced.



I've fought long and hard to get us decent desktop machines and am trying to get an internal website where people can share ideas and code, as well as a single point for documented practices.  All too often people have things written down but there is no central point for versioning of their notes where corrections can be made for all to see.


The list goes on.


I'm trying to determine if I need to move companies or if I actually have a really good job here and don't know it.

Management is generally friendly, I get recongized for my work, I make my own hours and am paid reasonably well. 

It's open plan (bad thing) but I like many of my young cooworkers.  I fear the older ones have become too complacent and seem masochistic -- no energy to fight the ridiculousness but seem to repeat that 'they like the people here' and that makes a big difference to them.

I like the people too. I have never been backstabbed or rumoured about.  Rumours are kept to a minimum, people are friendly and there are few falsehoods.  It's an open and honest environment.


My tech lead has no technical skills whatsoever.


...and THAT is the contrast right there -- we seem to have the 'great people' part sorted, but not the hardware, money or number of people.  (minus a few bad apples of course)


We pay-out more money in man hours than we would to just upgrade some hardware.  I attend meetings with 8 people to fight for another 20gb of space on our development box.  The man hours alone would pay for 100GB.... Oh the irony...

A few more staff and we could be 300% more efficient...


But, the budget is set in stone and it's not set by the people who assign the work and want everything done yesterday.


Surely there must be smaller companies out there where most things make sense and people can just work without being frustrated by lack of resources.


I want to create cool stuff and be excited by what I work on, instead of trying to do the job of our unix admin, dba's, and developers, all the while trying to document a few things to standardise our processes.


We make the same mistakes over and over.


Am I just spoiled and dreaming of a utopia? (is everywhere Dilbert?)


If so, how do you avoid getting stressed when constantly in the face of ridiculous situations that needn't be that way?


If not, what criteria do I use to identify great places to work?


Can you really judge a company by an interview?  Will potential companies let you do lunch with your future coworkers?


I find it hard to identify criteria because you simply can't ask every question.  What may be good here, may not be good there.  It could take a whole day of someone's time to really suss (sp?) out a company, yet I doubt you'd be provided with that much of someone's time to speak with.



Thank You very much for your ideas, time and suggestions.


Kind Regards,
Mike

Mike
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

+++Management is generally friendly, I get recongized for my work, I make my own hours and am paid reasonably well. +++

This is harder to come by than you think.  Enjoy it.  Everywhere is Dilbert unless you work for yourself or with GREAT friends.

muppet from madebymonkeys.net
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Welcome to the working world!

It's all about how you can succeed, despite those obstacles.

Ron
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Stop complaining. Your father used to walk 12 miles in the snow, barefoot, to go to school.
And don't worry, the older you are, the better you were.

RP
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

"My tech lead has no technical skills whatsoever."

Been there. I kept interviewing until I could get the heck outta dodge. 

Now I have a nice manager and 2 competent project leaders that I respect.

100% happier....

Gen'xer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

> It's all about how you can succeed, despite those obstacles.


:)  Sounds inspiring! -- but there must be some method to that success.


Surely no one enjoys 8 person meetings to fight for 20gb of space?

Is there some way to 'turn that around'? (ie. find the good in a bad situation?)


My current "work around" has been to secretely run a local database and fileserver for my team instead of fighting the politics to get server side SCSI space.

I've learned a lot and that's exciting, but it's frustrating to try to release to assembly to find that they can't make space either...

such simple things...

Mike
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Well, I have been at both, and I can tell you that the problems don't really go away unless you are at an insanely profitable company with nice managers.  THEN, you have no problems at all, because managers have the budget to get you what you want.  Then, because the managers are nice, they understand that getting you what you want is better than having you complain to them all the time. 

However, the grim truth is that very, very few companies make that kind of profit (maybe Google's working environment is that good, i dunno.)  However, I was at a company like that once, and it was totally awesome.  In my experience, large or small companies will be annoying if they aren't making tons of profit.  Comparison:
Large, low profit: you and >5 people fight over 20 gb HDD space.
Small, low profit: you and <5 people  fight over 20 gb HDD space.
Large, high profit: you and >5 people go to Vegas, and pick up HDD's on the way.
Small, high profit: you and <5 people go to Vegas, and pick up HDD's on the way.

sir_flexalot
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Sometimes you can, or rather sometimes the guess you make works out to be true, but its a crapshoot whether you'll always be able to tell.

Certainly there are good things to discover at the interview and 'getting to know' stage. 

Who conducts the interview?
Is the manager hiring their own staff with the aid of HR, or is HR doing the hiring with the management stuck in a straightjacket of procedures and acceptable norms?

Is the line manager empowered?
Can he make the hiring decision?  If he can't do that on his own, chances are he can't get you a replacement floppy disk let alone make sure the furniture doesn't get in your way.

Are people generally empowered?
This is hard to find out if they claim it to be so, but if its an organisation that's run strictly from the top with no responsibility where the work is actually being done they'll make that pretty clear.

Do people make their own coffee, is it provided?  Is it disgusting?
I don't just mean the coffee, but are the tiny things a pain, if you can't stand their coffee for one interview (if they never offer you a drink that's telling of a certain meanness in itself), then its likely to become a major hassle.

Further to that, try and get to meet people outside of the interview in their workplace, good managers will introduce likely prospects around the department partly to gauge reactions.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

---you and 5 people go to Vegas, and pick up HDD's on the way.


That sounds awesome! :D


Perhaps I need to change this question to:

"How to find happiness amidst my current situation."


I guess it's important to focus on what's good and not what's bad....<?>

Mike
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Looks liek a chance to act the Hero and educate the masses  9^)

Have you looked into Open Source SW?
If budget is the issue than OSS is an option,  and
can be run on less than cutting edge HW so can extend  the
life of older systems that are facing obsolescence...

cheers, and good luck

Honu
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

OP,

Overall it sounds like you are working at a decent place if you are  satisfied with your pay and people you like treat you respectfully.

Realize that it is possible to find your own challenges and make your own unique contributions if you find yourself in such a situation.

Why not start up a reading group afterhours for developers who are interested to go through a book on CVS or Rapid Development or whatever areas you feel the group needs help in.

Become your own leader.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, July 13, 2004


There are a few small companies that have the environment you want. 

www.atomicboject.com

springs to mind.  Typically, when these consulting companies get to > 100 employees they become the big, lumbering bohemoth you are looking to leave.

The good news is that if you get in at the ground level and sell out at about 150 employees, you might not ever have to work again. :-)

Good luck,

www.xndev.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

HDDs?? I thought people went to Vegas to pick up STDs...

sgf
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

All companies suck...at least to some degree.

Utopia doesn't exist. Or if does I haven't found, and I have been looking!

Your situation sounds reasonably good...having pleasant people around you is definitely a nice thing.

Joel's workspace sounds pretty nice, but remember, he is the boss and owner. He naturally puts a good spin on everything. I suspect they have workplace problems occasionally too. Nobody writes about their own company in a negative voice. Well, actually I did when I ran a consultancy but that's because I tend to be despondent and self-deprecating.

"Here I am, with a brain the size of a planet, and they get me to code a static website"

Herr Herr
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Addressing the question implied by the subject line:

Having worked for several big-to-huge organizations, and one small one, it's my experience that the small company was a LOT more nimble (like, orders of magnitude quicker) when it comes to implementing changes (of any sort, whether related to the business/products or quality-of-office-life things).

Example: at my previous job (small company), I sat next to two sysadmins, and if I needed something Unix-related, it was typically done within hours (if not minutes).  By contract, at my present gig (massive multinational bank), I work all day in plain, unimproved vi on servers running the '88 version of ksh.  When a new server was being built I asked if we could (gasp) get the '93 ksh installed, but alas, no.  (At least I've gotten pretty good with vi... )

This isn't a bad company to work for; it just seems (from my experience) that there's an inverse relationship between (size of organization) and (ability to effect change of any sort).  At the small company I had a LOT more latitude to make real decisions that affected the company's operations - but there was also the resulting expectation that things would get done & work well, and nobody to blame but me if they didn't.  Now that I'm back in a big firm, I miss that atmosphere, and will look for something similar when my currect contract is up.

It sounds like the OP's current situation has some good things going for it - but if my experience is typical, then he shouldn't expect things to change.

- former car owner in Queens
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Herr squared nailed it. I'd just like to add, with apologies to Scoop Nisker, if you don't like the company you work for, go out and create one of your own.

MilesArcher
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

"Well, I have been at both, and I can tell you that the problems don't really go away unless you are at an insanely profitable company with nice managers."

Though all publicly heldy companies are responsible to the stockholders & all managers responsible for the profitability / lack of sucking profits.

1. Hold a 1 hour meeting with 20 employees where you watch TV & shoot the breeze. Then get them to donate their salary for that time to buy the stinkin hard drive. Order pizza for everybody with your share of the money.

2. Set up the website yourself, and find a sympathetic person in management to champion your cause. Take him or her out to lunch. Realize that the qualities in the manager that you want - willing to win over others because they care more about getting shit done than their own reputation - is exactly the quality you want to develop in yourself. Stop asking management to be brave for you.

Seriously. Set out & dedicate youreslf to creating the kind of work environment you want, regardless of what the management says. In return, actually improve productivity. If you're worried about losing your job by bucking authority, start the networking circle today by having regular lunches with people at other companies & subtly directing the conversation (because you're so excited about it, naturally, not because you're selling yourself) to all the progress you're making. Just don't complain about management during these lunches.

In short: Stop asking for permission & go out and kick some ass!

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I hear ya brother!

Seriously, despite your good intentions, don't try to fight it - you'll only get frustrated and end up flipping out. It's a classic situation to be in and seems to be a side-effect of working for large corporates.

As long as you don't get micromanaged and the hours are sane then consider yourself lucky.

TheGeezer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Nah, don't give up. That's just what they want you to do - become a cog in the machine. Realize nobody else is stepping up to the plate & rock the boat!

Seriously, what do you have to lose except your job?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I have to agree with Mark.

I can't sit back while things are ridiculous.

After reading all of the above mails, I have realized that I have lost site of my goals and need to establish some for myself.

One of the obstacles that will get in the way of those goals, will be my frustration over the unnecessary obstacles and illogical events going on around me.


I need to find a way to recognize they are there, and possibly work on solutions, while not letting it stress or anger me.

How do I do that??

Mark's 2nd last posting is quite inspiring.  Managment will rarely stick their neck out for someone down the ladder.  I think that sometimes you have to make things happen, and if they are a success, you will rarely be repremanded for spending time on it that you should have spent doing something else. (at least at this company)


It's a lot to think about for one day, I'm going to have to digest all of this and try to take a fresh look at my job and the possibilities within.

Either way I'm getting paid - do I want to get paid for the 9-5 or get paid to pull off something cool?  can i actually pull something off in the current corporate climate?  I think I need to be ready to fail and try again, accepting failure is hard.  My current internal website isn't taking off because of understaffing.  Maybe I just need to keeping adding my own content and hopefully people will make use of it....

Mike
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Glad you liked my post. ;-)

Kicking ass is the *only* way to get things done. I don't mean in the sense of battering someone until they give in, I mean in terms of not letting the obstacles get in your way.

Not only will this philosophy serve you better at your current job, it will serve you better in life.

There are 2 kinds of people in this world. Those who achieve the goals they set for themselves - however high or low they may be, and those who don't. Which kind do you want to be?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Personally, when I was working for companies like that I'd work until something stopped me; lack of disk space, lack of some utility that's stuck in "needs approval" etc,

Then I'd just mail the manager ostensibly in charge to explain what's stopped progress. Then I go off and do other things. Work on my book or something. The trick with this is to have ways to get to things. Private wiki's and ftp sites and so on so you can get at projects to work on and get them out of the building.

Rationale is the understanding that some companies want you to work and will enable that.. Some companies just want you in the building. If the large companies wanted you to work, they wouldn't go so massively out of their way to stop you...

Katie Lucas
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Thanks Katie - That's an interesting bit about Rationale.

I find that people, myself included, often talk about companies as if they have a single mind or voice. 


'The Company' wants you to do this, or if 'The Company' really wanted that they would provide this.


However it's been a sense of wonderment to me that companies get anything done at all.  They are so fragmented and it's a wonder the people at the top can provide any kind of solid direction or single voice.

Mike
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

New Thought:

People have expressed belief in good ideas and the possibilities of creating a great working environment.  That is encouraging.


I've been trying to think of anyone I'm working with who is EXCITED about what they are working on right now.


I imagine that must be one of the good things of working at a small company.  Your work contributes to the company taking off...

Mike
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"Am I just spoiled and dreaming of a utopia? (is everywhere Dilbert?)"

yes.

"If so, how do you avoid getting stressed when constantly in the face of ridiculous situations that needn't be that way?"

take yoga?  lower your expectations?  learn patience and implement changes once you're given more responsibility?

"If not, what criteria do I use to identify great places to work?"

coffee and toilet paper.

"Can you really judge a company by an interview?  Will potential companies let you do lunch with your future coworkers?"

yep.  probably not, but it sounds like a great idea.  wouldn't it be great if we got to pick our coworkers based on having lunch with them?

Ken
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I think the only problem here is that management is not seeing the problems in the proper perspective.
I used to work in a small company with similar problems. My manager ( a terrific one ! ) prepared a presentation which actually showed how much the company was loosing because of the bad hardware.
His first statement was
"We are loosing 5 million dollars a month"  and proceeded to substantiate the argument using some mind boggling calculation (some of them was plain BS). The management was totally impressed and sanctioned the amount in a matter of weeks.
Maybe you should present the management with data about the hours lost (time which could have been spent productively and all that sort)
I am presently working in a big company and the problems here are totally different. 
I would have loved to go back to my prev comp if not for the  extra cash that I make

BigCompany (Small company)
Monday, July 19, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home