At the start of 2019 I was working in my first full time engineering position as an Associate Software Engineer at a large worldwide company called IHS Markit. The team there was great, I was learning a lot and everyone that I interacted with on a day to day basis was wonderful. Fast-forward a year and I had received an excellence award, RSUs, an annual bonus, a promotion and small pay increase which was going to take effect roughly ~1.5 months before I put in my two week notice. So why did I leave?
Before I get into that, let's talk about the new company a little bit. I had an extended period of time off in December due to some holiday plans. During that time off I decided to put in some applications at local companies in Colorado, one of the companies I applied to was Rebel AI, a startup in the area that built a product called Passport, which works to eliminate domain spoofing. We were also working on some other cool stuff, but more on that later. I went through the interview process and was offered a position which ultimately I accepted. The team is amazing, everyone is really chill and fun to work with and most importantly, everything that you work on day to day matters. You have a real impact on the business.
Things move slower at large companies. Much slower. There is much more process involved in working at a larger company.
One of the primary differences between working at a corporate company and a start up is the culture. In my experience, working at a larger corporate office comes with more segregated, clique like groups. This isn't always the case, in-fact I did not experience this personally at my last gig, however I know that it is fairly common place based on having other friends in the industry.
The office rules are also going to vary a lot. Some places may require you to dress up in the office, while other places, specifically startups, do not have much of a dress code. For example, my last job required us to wear "nice shoes", dress pants and no t-shirts except for on casual Fridays. My new job is a lot more relaxed and I can wear a t-shirt Monday-Friday without going through any scrutiny. That's nice.
Quality of life is going to vary a lot job to job regardless of a company being a start up or corporate office. Office perks such as snacks, catered lunches, vacation time, swag, etc. is going to highly depend on the company you're at. We get free snacks and drinks at the startup I'm at now, and frequently the team goes out to eat together which is free and awesome! At IHS Markit, snacks were never paid for by the company, but occasionally companies like Google or Microsoft would come give training sessions to the office and we would get free swag from them. There were multiple kitchens, but everything ultimately came from your own pocket.
Something that I've found for myself that is important, is that my opinion is not only heard by the right people at a startup, but it's valued and considered. Everything I work on now matters, it will have a direct impact on the company and that inspires me to do better. While of course my work mattered at a larger corporate company, it was marginally less important as a whole due to the amount of engineers working on our applications. This could be seen as a positive or negative depending on how you like to work professionally, for me this was a huge bonus.
Which is Better?
This one really comes down to your preferences. There are a lot of areas that I intentionally did not touch on, such as insurance plans, commuting to work, etc... These areas vary greatly depending on where specifically you work regardless of company size, but they are definitely points to consider. For me, I went from at least a 1 hour commute daily to a 15 minute commute. At Rebel Ai I was actually close enough to my office now that I can ride my bike into work and I really love that quality of life improvement. Inherently, I don't believe that a startup or corporate office is better than the other outright, but it more so highly depends on what you need from your office and what works best for you.
Where am I now?
Originally I wrote this article in 2020. Boy what a crazy year... About 7 months in at Rebel Ai I was laid off due to COVID-19. My co-workers from IHS Markit were all able to keep their positions as software engineers and that's something that you should keep in mind when considering a smaller company vs a larger corporate company. There is a little more job security when a company is larger and established (not always, but generally). As I write this in 2021 I am now with a great mid-size company named The CE Shop working remotely as a Full Stack Software Engineer. I'm finding this company has a great mixture between a small start up culture and a large corporation but maybe that's an article for the future.