It’s a good time to be an engineer: Demand is high and salaries continue to increase year over year.
Against this backdrop, if you’re an engineer pondering your next move, there’s a lot to consider.
One of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether you want to be at a startup or a bigger company, as this will help focus your search. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. It depends on what you want your day-to-day to look like and the type of growth and experiences you’re hoping for.
To help you answer this question, we’ve put together four of the top reasons you might gravitate toward an engineering role at a startup.
1) Ability to make a direct impact – and see the results of that quickly
A startup gives you the opportunity to be one of a handful of engineers, rather than one of hundreds. That means you can make a big and direct impact on the product, do so quickly after joining, and see the results of that impact firsthand.
For example, at a startup, you’re expected to have an opinion and, in return, you can expect that people will listen to that point of view (regardless of whether it’s day one or day 100 on the job). The ability to speak up in this way creates numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Another good example of this difference is hackathons. At large companies, these engineering events typically reward their winners in the form of cash prizes. At a startup, the best ideas will typically go to the company’s leadership team for real consideration to be built into the product roadmap.
2) Accessibility to engineering and company leadership
Depending on the size of a startup, you’ll likely talk to the head of the engineering department and maybe even the CEO as part of the interview process. And you’ll definitely have direct access to them once you do join the company.
This proximity not only means those leaders will know who you are (yes, they’ll likely know you by name!), but it also allows you to develop a personal relationship with them. This relationship ultimately gives you access to more resources to grow and can even lead to more creative freedom.
In larger companies, most engineers typically only get to interview with team managers and maybe directors depending on the exact role. And there’s usually no interaction with top-level leadership, especially the CEO.
3) More diverse experiences
As an engineer, Working on a smaller team allows you to wear many hats, exposing yourself to a variety of different projects rather than being siloed into one area of focus. While that singular focus that you’ll typically have at a larger company will help you become a true subject matter expert, it often comes at the cost of gaining experiences with other toolsets and growing additional skills.
At the same time, startups will often provide you with access to a more flexible work environment and a more close-knit, intentional company culture, since those are far easier to introduce and maintain in a smaller environment.
4) Opportunity to move quickly with modern technologies
Startups typically use the most modern solutions in their tech stack, such as Kotlin and React, and approach development from an Agile perspective. In contrast, larger companies are often stuck with legacy systems and follow a Waterfall model.
In general, things tend to move significantly faster in a startup environment than they do in a larger company. Decisions get made faster, releases happen more often, and you’ll see the results of your work more quickly. For engineering teams, this fast-paced environment means rather than working on a single update for months, you’ll be shipping updates daily.
Startup or big company: Which is right for you?
If you’re the type of engineer who wants to come into work each day to a consistent routine with structured tasks, then working at a larger company is likely the best fit for you.
But if you want to go to an environment where every day is different, you can solve new problems and face the unknown, and share your opinion proactively, then the startup environment is the way to go.
Whichever route you choose, remember to map out exactly what you want from your next role (perhaps that’s a stellar culture, opportunities for growth, a flexible work environment, or all of the above) and then stay true to that during your search and selection process.