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Startup Versus Big Company

Suppose you have to choose between your current big, somewhat-stable company where your job is 30% interesting / 70% "PowerPoint-Oriented Programming" versus a startup with interesting products, quite some clients, but, well, a startup.

Money would be slightly better on the startup. Stability, of course, is more of a concern than in the big company.

Throw in another factor: you returned to high school (which you dropped to do the "real thing"). The startup says it is very flexible in terms of time (a big plus from a student). The big company doesn't make you punch cards, but if you start making fewer hours due to exams, people give you occasional ugly looks.

The startup offers you a small participation (if they get very rich, you get a bit rich). The big company does not, and, in fact, they are trying to cut benefits.

Both have interesting technologies. The big one is more diversified (and you know very well most of what they use). The startup has a specific one on which you really would like to specialize more.

The startup only has smart people, and allows you to work at home whenever you wish. The big company is being "accenturized" (no offense here, but now they only hire managers from that consulting company - one of them is in charge of all new technology projects, and we had a hard time proving him that, when you disconnect and reconnect from dial-up, your IP changes). Nowadays you are only developing/architecting infrastructure software, because that is the only part of the company where you still can talk to people who understand their jobs.

The hypothetical you :-) is 29, married (his wife also works in the software field), no kids now or in the foreseeable future, 13+ years experience in professional software development, but still crazy enough to do things such as develop for Atari 2600 in part-time.

Which one would you choose? Which other factors (other than those specified) should be considered?

Should I stay or should I go
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Do you think at some point you'd want to move into systems analyst or management-type work?

Full name
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Hmm... maybe I over-emphasized the "programmer" part of my job, sorry ! In fact my job today is "Systems Analyst/Programmer". I am used to participate (sometimes alone, sometimes in a group) from all phases of development, from requirements gathering to deployment. But architecture/programming is what I like most.

Management itself does not attract me too much, althought I have been a lead developer in several teams (and most people were quite happy, both developers and clients).

In fact, a bit before the corporate changes, I was leading the "Architecture" team, which was composed by developers which would give the general directions for software projects. I resigned from it after I noticed no project could be approved without some outsourcing to - guess what - the same consulting company the managers came from. That's when I switched to operations.

Hope I answered your question.

Should I stay or should I go
Thursday, January 15, 2004

As a 29-year-old married man in high school, you should focus your efforts on keeping your wife from finding out what it is you and Heather did behind the Gym during American History.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Uh, another things to consider: as you can see from english, I am not in the US. I am in Brazil. Here, the market job is not as good as in 2000, but is heating up especially for J2EE-related projects (mostly *not* outsourced from US - curious, isn't it ?).

And I have a bit of experience in this field. I have even considering SCEA certification - already have SCJP, not to mention MCSD.

(of course, I know certifications are not like gold medals, just mentioned it)

Should I stay or should I go
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Dang ! My horrible english keeps ****** me up !!

I meant COLLEGE when I said high school !!! I am in the middle of a bachelor's degree course.

(curiosity: in portuguese, "colegial" means "high school", hence the mix-up). Sorry, guys !!!!!

Should I stay or should I go
Thursday, January 15, 2004

If my wife earns enough to keep us both should things go t*ts up at the startup I'd jump. That's just me though :-)

Thursday, January 15, 2004

"when you disconnect and reconnect from dial-up, your IP changes"

Not true 100% of the time.  There are times when I have reconnected to my ISP and still have the same IP address.  There are times when I reconnect to my ISP and have a different IP address.

You're 29 years old with 16 years of professional experience?  29 - 16 = 13.  So you were 13 when you started out professionally?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I would take the startup job. 

Name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, January 15, 2004

He said he has 13 years of experience, and that he dropped out of high school to start working. That sounds about right.

Personally, I would take the job at the startup. You'll never be bored (unless they suck), and you'll have a huge impact on the product and the company. You'll be working with smart people, on the schedule that suits you best.

Those are the things that generally lead to job satisfaction, in my experience. The fact that you'd be getting a bit more money is just gravy.

Brad Wilson (
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I am 29 years old, married, with a child. I left a large company (very large, > 50,000 employees) when I was 26 and just married, to work at a startup. In my case, it was the right thing to do.

For you, at least in the short run, you'll be getting payed more, and have a chance to finish college. Go for it.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

The startup is a risk. You're taking the risk of great rewards (monetary and satisfaction-wise) vs. a failure.

Don't get more than you can lose.

If you went with the startup and it folded, could you recover?

If so, then *I* would take the chance in a heartbeat.
That's what I did (and I took a 100% pay cut :-). It's paid off for me in my pay, job security, and satisfaction.

-----------more analysis-------------

Even big companies go out of business. So that big company doesn't automatically mean security. Remember Enron?

LOOK at it this way: It's like dating. You're going to have a lot of bad dates before you meet your wife.  So, if the startup fails in two years, you try another. and another. If you spend 6 years making good money but having the companies fail, but end up at a company that succeeds, then you'll have 20 years of happiness.

Most startups entail a DROP in pay, so this seems encouraging.

The real Entrepreneur
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Be sure you really understand how the startup company operates. I used to work for a start. We have a cowboy type of development process - means writing code all the time, and there is very lousy design, requirement gathering, test and QA process. I call it "GUI and feature oriented programming". It really sucked.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Hey, this is the time in your life where financial advisors say you can take more risks with your investments because you have time to recover from mistakes. I suggest you follow that advice here as well. Jump ship. The corporations will always be there.
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I would go with the startup.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

"Stability, of course, is more of a concern than in the big company."

I wish somebody told the executive management at the big company I was just let go from. Though the business is still running, I am not running with it thanks to mass layoffs.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Big company stability if for people with kids and mortgages who have to trade a boring job for making sure they can pay the bills.

Go for the startup.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

I love small companies personally.  I think I would go nuts if I couldn't have a direct influence on the products/company.  I did some time at Adobe when I was in college.  I couldn't believe the bureaucracy, and I have an idea why the company (in my opinion) has stagnated since PhotoShop 4 came out.  I couldn't image working for a company with more than 50 people. 

In my opinion, decide if you trust the management at the startup (look at their history).  Find out how much money they have (don't be afraid to ask).  Estimate how big you believe their market is, and what the compeitition looks like.  Like any job, do your DD. 

I've worked for a small, stable company, and considered going to work at a ground floor startup (post 9/11).  After realizing they only had enough money to last 6 months, I decided it wasn't worth it. 

christopher baus (
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Jack wrote: "I used to work for a start. We have a cowboy type of development process - means writing code all the time, and there is very lousy design, requirement gathering, test and QA process. I call it "GUI and feature oriented programming". It really sucked.


I've worked in two startups (my own and someone else's). The above was NOT the case in either one.

In my company, we did a lot of research and testing for feature requirements.  I worked very very closely with a member of that targe use population. That person happened to be my wife.

HOWEVER, ANY company that works like you described would SUCK to work for. Avoid them like the plague.

The real Entrepreneur
Thursday, January 15, 2004

I worked at a startup that had a terrible development process (ok, no development process). Constant efforts at improvement over about five years brought us to, what I think was a pretty decent level. Daily builds, bug tracking, written requirements, design reviews etc. After ten years it's still not perfect, but I wouldn't rule out a place that was chaotic as long as the management knows there's a problem and is an active participant in change.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Interestingly, I've been facing the same question. The difference probably is this that I've already worked in a start-up at the beginning of my career and now I work for one of the largest company in my country (Wipro Tech, India).
My opinion is that you need to have experience in both the cultures: Start-ups as well as large established ones. Start-ups give you a lot of exposure and as someone pointed out they have a procedural style of working. You get a chance to get involoved in almost all of things. I remember, at one time I even had to stick stamps on letters myself. The point is, you are a part of everything: from top-level manager to the office boy.
On the other hand, in large companies, your domain is pretty much defined and your duties are also more or less routinely set. So your scope is also restricted. Something like Object Oriented style.

Now comes the interesting question: Which one to choose! I believe that you need to have experience of both in order to reach the top-ranks. If you work only in the start-ups you'll never realize the complexities of the mammoth organizations and your point of view will also be very narrow. In case of biggies, you'll learn things but will not get much chance to poke your nose around. Probably there will be already a large number of people ahead of you.

So take it like this: learn from biggies, apply in start-ups.
Just to give you one more pointer, if you think you've saved some good amount in your bank, take the jump. If not, then FIRST build up your bank-balance, then think of something else.
Remember at the end of the day only two things matter: how much money you have, and who you have to enjoy that money with.

Ritesh Mangal
Friday, January 16, 2004


Thank you so much for the feedback.

The bottom line from most answers seems to be: usually, startups are riskier than the "big ones", but the latter is not risk-free at all. And the conditions of this particular startup (equal/slightly higher pay, good working environment) are above-average.

The real Entrepeneur insightfully pointed: one shouldn't get more than one can loose. In my case, I beleive I can recover from failure (most people I ask about it get surprised with my desire to live "big company", but about 3 in every 5 also ask if I don't want to work with them instead of the startup...).

And the "recoverability" also shows up in's comment about this being the time to take risks. Maybe I took too much risks when I was younger (not regretting any of them), and got a bit wary today... :-)

Anyway, the feedback from the forum enables me to make a wiser decision. Thank you one more time, everybody !

Should I stay or should I go
Friday, January 16, 2004

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