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Advice: Small to Big corp?

Howdy All,

I've spent the last 2 years working as a Web Developer for a microscopic (5 employees + owner) Web Site development company.  Although I love the people, I'm finding that I may have maxed out the tech and project challenges here. I'm  kinda the 'big fish in a small pond', and feel outside of the computing industry mainstream.

I guess I'm getting a little tired of making runs to the store, going to the dump, buying computers, and being the de facto, ad-hoc email/network/sysadmin. 

When I first started, I enjoyed all the variety and input I could offer, but I'm finding it harder and harder to progress as a developer and cut through all these unrelated tasks.  Additionally, I feel that my responsibilities (including sales meetings, client contact, and full production of the sites) would be more appropriate for a partner or someone with equity, as opposed to an employee.

I'm on the verge of an offer from a much larger, but still relatively small company (<1000 emp worldwide), outside of the Web dev 'industry' (enterprise backup). This job would be considerably more well-defined, and I would get to work with engineers and DBA's and other people who can teach me new stuff.  I'm still pretty young (27) and this seems like a pretty big step up from my former gigs.

At this point I've almost decided to make the move if it is offered, but I'm looking for experiences and advice from those who have experienced such a transition- what should  I expect or beware of?

Thanks in advance, this board is among the best-kept-secrets on the web! 

Matthew Lee
Thursday, August 7, 2003

I've worked in big and small environments, and overall, I prefer the small ones every time.  The key difference for me is the phrase "that's not my job."  I never hear it in small companies (or if I do, I don't hear it for long), which I love -- I'm much more a "do whatever it takes to make your clients' lives easier" type than a "live in a cube and throw any tasks outside a narrowly defined range over the wall" type.  Having a "well-defined" job, to me, means that I'll spend a lot of time waiting for other people to get around to doing something I could work out on my own a lot faster.  (=

Frankly, I'd be surprised if the time you spent coding increased significantly in the new environment.  You'll drop the sales and client contact, obviously, but that time will probably be replaced with numerous formal meetings typical of a larger team.

That having been said, it can be incredibly stimulating to work with other developers:  if they're slightly worse than you, you can teach them what you know, and you can learn something from everyone (except maybe the hopeless cases who eventually get fired).  Since I work solo or virtually solo these days, I have to replace that through networking, user groups, etc.  If the new place is worth going to, you'll get it as part of your job.

Oh, and ask them what their annual training budget per developer is, so you can go to boot camps and/or conferences.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Thursday, August 7, 2003

If you got owner equity, wouldn't you put up with the gopher tasks?

Accept the offer.

Show the offer to your current microcompany. They will either say see-ya-later, or maybe they will make you a partner.

Either way, it looks like it could work out for the better...


Thursday, August 7, 2003

Kind of unethical to accept and offer and then later
reject it.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

some really good points!

I think working with developers outside my area of expertise is probably the biggest factor in my consideration of this move.

As for the 'accept the offer and go to the current company': I have considered this, but would not accept the offer first, I would just talk to the current employer while considering the offer.

My concern with partnership is that I don't have a lot of faith or trust in the principal- there is a lot of chaos going on at all times, mostly a result of my boss' lack of management skills and leadership.

The company is so small- my boss views it as "family" and there is all sorts of emotional involvement inherent- and I worry about that.

Matthew Lee
Thursday, August 7, 2003

From what I gather, if you show a written offer to your boss, then you should have one foot out the door.  I.e. he wouldn't be too impressed, and even if you did stay then your relationship would be tainted.  It would also show bad faith to the person at the company that tried to hire you.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Why don't you tell your boss what you just told us here?  It was interesting at first, but now it's getting tedious always going to the store and doing other stuff, especially since you don't have any equity.

Foolish Jordan
Thursday, August 7, 2003

Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a bigger pond which to choose?

The size of an employer shouldn't be the only factor you should take into consideration.  Here are a few questions you should be asking:

* What will I be doing at this bigger company and how is it better than what I am doing now (i.e. more money, more responsibilites, better benefits, will make me more marketable, etc.)?

* How safe is my new job?  Can it be easily outsourced (locally or overseas)?

* Is there a career path that I can pursue there?

* Am I really going to be able to interact with the engineers and DBAs who can teach me new stuff?

* Who is my new manager and will I be able to tolerate working under him?

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, August 7, 2003

If you're concerned about stagnation, then be very, very, very careful about working at a large company. While there are exceptions, for the most part a programmer's job at a big company will be sharply defined, and the tech will change slowly, if at all. There's a strong possibility you will be a maintenance programmer from day one.

You may also find you've traded errands and small job for backstabbing, gossip, and politics.

Again, these are not "the rule" but they're prevalent enough in large companies to be worth the warning.


Thursday, August 7, 2003


I was in almost the same situation as yourself. I got my first programming job at 23 for a small, family style business. I stayed there for 5 years and grew very close to the owners of the business.

But after 5 years, I wasn't growing anymore and I wanted try my hand at larger projects with more than just one other developer.

I left 5 years ago and I've never regretted it. I've had opportunities that I never would have had if I had stayed in that sheltered, small company atmosphere.

If you're ambitious and willing to work hard, you'll find the opportunties out there to be more than just a cube dweller forever. There's a lot of negative "We're all doomed I say!" thinking that goes on here, and no doubt it's tough out there, but you sound a lot like me and I've never had trouble advancing up past the rank and file.

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, August 7, 2003

Thanks Mark, that's really exactly what I'm talking about.  Most of my projects are completely solo, and tend to be the same thing over and over (Public Web site CMS).

The new job is talking about CRM->Web and automating software releases from repository to web- stuff I'd never get to touch in here.  It seems I'd actually have *more* freedom at the new gig, since WEb sites are not their business- and the requirements are more varied.

I'm worried about an emotional breakdown if I leave- and panic due to the deep involvement I have in ongoing projects.  Did you experience any fallout?

Matthew Lee
Thursday, August 7, 2003

> Kind of unethical to accept and offer and then later reject it.

I never proposed that. If you get an offer in writing, tell them to wait a few days because you are considering other offers.

But even then, is it unethical to accept an offer and later reject it? I don't think so.

If a better opportunity comes along, is it unethical to leave the job after 180 days? 90 days? 30 days? 7 days? 1 day? 0 day? -5 days?

Where is the line between ethical and unethical?

A job is a contractual business relationship, if there are no provisions in the contract that explicitly state what must happen when you part, then you have no business reason to feel guilty of anything.

Please don’t even respond with “company loyalty”? If the company couldn’t pay you for whatever reason then you are gone. There is NO loyalty toward you.  Why should you give them with any?

Avoiding better opportunities is not the same as company loyalty. Isn’t identifying opportunity a valued job skill?

I could rant on and on, but I need to take a chill.


Thursday, August 7, 2003

"But even then, is it unethical to accept an offer and later reject it? I don't think so."

Maybe not, but it *is* unethical to accept an offer *with the intent* of later rejecting it.


Thursday, August 7, 2003

"I'm worried about an emotional breakdown if I leave- and panic due to the deep involvement I have in ongoing projects.  Did you experience any fallout? "

It was definitely tough to leave and I frequently tried to convince myself that I was better to stay, because I really didn't want to go through the heart-ache of leaving. (Again, the owners were like family to my wife and I.)

I spent a lot of time making sure everything was in order and I assured the owners that I was only a phone call away if they needed help. They didn't abuse that and I was able to walk their new guy through some of the trickier parts of the code.

As far as any fallout, I really didn't have any. The owners knew why I was leaving and being the type of people they were, they were happy for me although it was at their disadvantage for me to leave. Five years later, I still stay in touch with them and occassionally help them out for free with small stuff.

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, August 7, 2003

"Where is the line between ethical and unethical?"

When you make a promiss. You are acting legally,
but not ethically. In the posting it says
"Accept the offer," which i took to mean to accept
the offer. If you just take the offer and say
make me a deal to your existing employer, that is ethical.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

If you still want some opinions on working for small vs. big companies:  I've worked for small and large companies.  I prefer large ones.

I dislike the generally unorganized nature of startups companies.  The fact that "it's not my job" is never heard at a startup is often a problem, as everyone tries to do everything.

A larger company is more stable.  You're generally given a defined job, and if you do well in that job, there's a good opportunity for advancement.  I find that larger companies attract fewer whackos than startups do, too.  Oh, I've seen plenty of brown-nosers and incompetents at large companies, but I saw a lot more just plain weirdness at startups.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, August 7, 2003

I still want opinions! My second interview is in 3 hours!  And weirdness and disorganization are *the norm* at my small company.

Matthew Lee
Thursday, August 7, 2003

try something new

not required
Thursday, August 7, 2003

First of all, what a great problem to have (in this economy)!

It sounds to me like you want us to tell you what you are already thinking -- go with the new company! The larger place may very possibly not be what you were looking for, but it is obvious that you are bored with your current position.
As you can see by the mixed responses on this board, some people prefer a small environment, and others prefer a larger one. There's only one way to find out which is best for you!

Some of the most important things I have learned in life were things that I learned NOT to do, and things I learned I DIDN'T like! Our definition of experiences is not simply what they were, but also what they WEREN'T -- if you don't have the bad experiences to relate to, you may never fully appreciate the good ones. So, the new place may not turn out to be that great, or it may. But either way you will have made the right decision. I know its cliche, but you don't want to wonder for the rest of your life if you made the right decision or not -- go for it!
Good Luck.

P.S. What's the name of the company you are leaving, and who should I address my resume to?  ;-)

Jordan Lev
Thursday, August 7, 2003

Move on and don't look back.

Don't play the better-offer game, be decisive.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

I think most people leave a job because of personal reasons, not (just) compensation. I've read that many people who decide to stay in their current jobs because their boss gave them a last-minute raise, often leave within 6-12 months because the REAL reasons they wanted to leave were never addressed.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

I would take the new job. You will at least be doing something different and learning new things, but don't expect your co-workers to be interested or good at their jobs. The best thing about moving to a different job is the approaches and ideas people have; usually a company gets in a groove and then just goes, switching jobs changes that. As far as large companies and small companies, if you are just getting salary then see how the job can benefit you...loyalty is between people not employee and company.

Tom Vu
Thursday, August 7, 2003

I've worked in big companies and small companies.
I've worked in offices and in cubicles.
I've been well-paid and poorly paid.
I've had well-defined roles and do-whatever-it-takes roles.
I've worked with people I've liked and respected and people I didn't.
I've been highly-valued and pretty much ignored.
I've been on the bleeding edges of both ends of the new technology adoption spectrum.
I've been very productive and a total slacker.
I've loved coming to work in the morning and I've counted the minutes till I could say "Take this job and shove it."

I can't find any correlation between any of these things. If I had to generalize, the best situations have been where the group has a clearly defined goal for the next three to six months, everyone is pretty much living and dying by the success of that objective, and the process has some basic conformance to the Joel Test. Some of the work I am proudest of has been during the most stressful, contentious periods of my life. Some hasn't. Software development is alchemy as far as I can tell. Sometimes a group gells and does good work smoothly, most of the time they don't.

So... what should YOU do?  Sounds like you need a change. In most big companies you just work in a small group of 10 people or so; some groups will rock, some will suck. Decide based on how good your new boss and his/her group will be.

As for offer ethics, IMO it's fair game to aggressively pursue offers you have little intention of accepting, just as a bargaining chip. But getting an offer and accepting an offer are two different things. Once you accept, it's very unprofessional to reneg.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

I've only worked in a big company and you get out of it what you put in. With so many people, it becomes easier to look good compared to them if you continue with the same level of passion you have with your current job.

I wouldn't exactly call my DBA or SA for help in learning a new skill - they get cranky for many reasons - so be sure to thank them a lot and be their friend :)

Thursday, August 7, 2003

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