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Small start-up or large company: where is programming the most fun?

Plenty of choice for programmers looking for a job: if you can code, you are in such demand in the market that organisations large and small are tripping over each other to attract talent. That’s a good thing, although it could also give you choice anxiety. Which offer should you accept? The offer of a large and well-known company? Or should you put your skills at the service of an SME or start-up?

Those who can write code are in an interesting position. There are more vacancies than suitable profiles, so you can be choosy. That’s an advantage and a disadvantage. Instead of accepting the very first job that comes your way, you have to think about your desires and ambitions. One important question that will largely define the content of your job is: do you want to work for a large company, or do you prefer a small organisation? It is dangerous to generalise, but we will try to list some advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

1. Clearly defined or not

Large companies are usually unwieldy but well-tuned machines. The job opening is probably for an important cog in that machine. Your task package will usually be well defined, while you will be able to count on a lot of colleagues and support. That can be interesting, especially for those with little work experience. In a large organisation, you are hired for a certain expertise, and you will get to work with that expertise.

In small organisations, such a defined range of tasks may be non-existent. Especially growing companies such as start-ups find an independent profile very interesting. The guidance within a smaller company is often less extensive, not least because your colleagues are very busy with their own tasks. Training you is part of nobody’s job.

2. Jack of all trades

Chances are, in fact, that you will also have to help out left and right on matters that are not your expertise. A front-end specialist in a large company works together with an entire back-end team. The front-end expert in a small company might have to tinker with the back-end from time to time, help with project management and more. Besides, your boss may be too busy to think of the annual performance evaluation in which they will thank you for the extra work you’ve put in. At the end of the day, though, your extra efforts will be very visible, with no layers of management pushing your hard work into the shadows.

Less structure comes with more freedom. This can be daunting, but it does give you the chance to do your own thing more, to unleash your creativity, to learn new things and thus to grow. You do have to be able, though, to learn new skills on your own with the help of Professor Google. If you have a good idea, a small organisation will be more receptive to it than a large, unwieldy company with more rigid processes.

3. Personal mark or million dollar project?

The type of projects that large and small companies get involved in will obviously also be different. In a more modest organisation, you will be involved in smaller projects, where you are closer to the customer. You are given more responsibility and can more easily leave your mark on the end result.

On the other hand, large reputable companies attract projects that may appeal more to the imagination. The development of a series of new critical applications for a retail giant is not likely to end up on the plate of a start-up. An innovative website with a smart chatbot for a local passionate entrepreneur, on the other hand, is the type of personal project that will not reach the multinational.

4. Cash and atmosphere

Large companies have more resources. You will notice this in the financial compensation for your blood, sweat and tears. A mobility budget, a cafeteria plan, a company restaurant, perhaps even access to childcare or a gym… You are unlikely to get this when working for an SME. Moreover, large companies often have larger budgets to work with the newest gadgets.

SMEs and start-ups have a harder time competing with them. If you want to earn big money, you will most likely find it in a critical vacancy within a large company. On the other hand, small organisations offers a totally different atmosphere. Everyone knows everyone. You don’t just work in a team, the whole company is your team. That is a totally different experience from working for a multinational whose big boss may never have set foot in the office where you work.

5. Climb or grow

The career path is also completely different. In the big international firm, you can expect a clear trajectory, where your performance is measured objectively. In a small company, you grow at the pace of your job. The possibilities for promotion are less clear, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. As the company grows, the importance of your knowledge and experience increases. Before you know it, you will be managing new people and you will organically move into a higher position. This can also be more in line with your interests, discarding aspects that are not.

Choosing is always losing, so a middle ground might be the best way to go. Think of smaller, younger and more dynamic companies such as spin-offs that enjoy the support of a larger firm. These collaborations are becoming more common, as companies also realise there is an advantage to the agility of a smaller, more independent team.

6. Choose exciting

Ideally, you should work for both small and large companies during your career, just to experience the difference yourself. As a starter, the relative straitjacket of a larger company can feel safe, whereas a smaller SME or a start-up can bring a more relaxed atmosphere.

Apart from the size of the company, make sure that the job description is interesting. Dull coding work as an anonymous number at the bottom of the career ladder in a multinational makes few people happy. You might want to gain some experience at the more local firm first, and then decide where you want to go with your career.


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