Should I join a large company or a smaller startup as a graduate/apprentice developer?

07-01-2019


Introduction

If you're faced with the prospect of making a career move during your first (few) years as a developer, you may be considering whether you should choose a big or small company, and how that decision may impact your growth.

Evaluation

Job Security

Your first job is usually the hardest to land, and going through this will make you generally pretty concious about how secure a prospective position is, and whether the company will be around in 5 years.

Whilst this is a good thing to keep in mind - as long as the business is a couple of years old - you will more than likely be okay. I will go into detail about how you can evaluate whether a company is a safe bet or not in another post.

Larger companies are of course the winners here, and this can be important if for some circumstances job security is high on your priority list.

Role Flexibility

Larger companies tend to have more concrete processes. This is brilliant in the fact that you aren't expected to operate too far from your job specification, and you know exactly what is expected of you.

Smaller companies tend to not have these processes nailed down. This combined with having less people in their workflow means you have more of an opportunity to be exposed to multiple job roles.

Growth Opportunities

Growth opportunities are important if you're looking to get valuable experience under your belt. You may find that due to the exposure you may get to other parts of the business, and the rate and which new positions may become available in a smaller company - this could match your goals more closely.

However, in larger companies you will have a wider range of sources and mentors to work from which could give you the valuable advice needed to get a leg up to the next rung in the ladder - it just might be harder to muscle your way in there with all of the (more experienced) competition. It's also worth noting that larger companies tend to have a training structure - which could see you become more highly qualified or be sent on more valuable courses.

Professional Development

Smaller companies are often more relaxed - they are the ones with beanbags dotted around or the lax equipment restrictions. This creates a fun environment to work in, but being in these environments does sometimes allow you to fall into being less professional, either subconciously or not.

In my personal experience - the benefit that I had from joining a larger company first as a (relatively unprofessional) young person (Just after my 16th birthday) was that I got a well needed "kick up the bottom" being surrounded by much older professionals - which helped me develop a professional switch. Being able to really knuckle down when it counts has been a leading contributor to my success at my current company (A startup).

Technical Development

Larger companies have the benefit of having more people. More people means usually a wider experience range, more specialities and because of this - a larger pool of knowledge. This is important because you'll have people teaching you best practices and picking up on your mistakes for you, rather than you learning the hard way through trial and error.

This is where having more processes aides larger firms - they usually have a internal development process, which usually sees younger/less experienced developers assigned a mentor, that can really focus on your progression.

The only positive you have here as a startup is you tend to get exposed to a wider array of technologies and language - which helps you translate skills that you pick up across them.

Conclusion

In order to make the correct decision you must take the individual company into account, and not just decide based upon its size. Some of the above information is nullified if the startup in question isn't on a healthy growth curve, for example.

In my experience, I found a lot of triumph in learning the ropes at a larger, more structured company - and then transferring those skills and knowledge to aide the growth of a startup elsewhere


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