Software developers can play pivotal roles in bringing ideas to life. But in many cases, developers’ potential and talents aren’t fully realized due to the choices made during their respective career paths. Developers navigate towards startups or big tech companies depending on their goals and aspirations. If you’re in a situation thinking about what type of role and company best fits your goals, this article may help you identify some key differences between coding at startups and corporate companies.
Taking Ownership vs Adhering to Standards
In startup environments, roles lack clear definitions and structure. It’s common to take on many tasks and juggle multiple responsibilities. There is a high chance of having to complete tasks at a faster pace, which may lead to frequent changes. This can quickly turn a structured codebase into a mess, which will need refactoring afterwards. Working with less or limited infrastructure can also lead to deployment issues, which requires identifying the underlying causes to ensure smooth operation. It can be a hectic environment, but developer opinions carry clout and influence the product direction.
Developers often have agency in deciding what project or parts of the project they’d like to work on. They’re involved in the project’s development, right from ideation to production to completion. This means they can choose what technologies to use and shape the development of the engineering team. The lack of well-defined structures and processes may be challenging, but navigating through it can be a valuable career experience. What developers bring to the table is extremely important, as the startup is counting on their expertise to drive success. Ultimately, developers can see the impact their work creates.
Developers in larger organizations are given detailed requirements to work with and often have to meet specific coding, testing, and stylistic standards. If their code needs to be refactored, they have enough resources to dedicate to this effort. They’re also often expected to write unit tests, integration tests, and user interface tests to go along with their code to complete their given work. Once they complete their work or ticket, it will be reviewed by the quality assurance team to ensure it meets the requirements provided to the developer. If the requirements aren’t satisfied, it will be sent back to the developer for rework.
Many larger organizations will stick with existing solutions they see as being dependable. New processes and systems won’t be sought if nothing is wrong with the existing ones. However, this can result in developers working with complex legacy systems. Due to this environment, developers often make improvements to existing products. Though this is meaningful work, they may not get an opportunity to build something new and see it come to life due to slower release cycles and layers of approval needed to effect changes. Yes, they can make an impact, but they’ll be boxed in by restrictions, limiting their ability to experiment and take the lead in developing and driving initiatives. That’s why developers often feel their potential is tied down because their freedom to be inventive is rarely encouraged due to corporate procedures and policies.
Do you like being at the forefront of creating from beginning to end, or do you like making an impact within your specific domain and defined role?
More vs Fewer Opportunities to Use New Tech
The best part is developers don’t have to stick to one area of specialization. There are likely plenty of opportunities for them to contribute to both front- and back-end development, even if they have less experience with that technology. Their learning may be self-guided, but they’ll have many opportunities to contribute positively.
In larger organizations, learning is structured, so developers are often tasked with writing and committing code instead of actually deploying it. It’s also not necessary for developers to be full-stack, as they may focus on specializing in front-end, DevOps, or database. Since these companies have efficient processes in place, it’s common for developers to feel like they don’t have much to do other than commit code. Everything seems fine until an issue arises with legacy code, requiring some updating. If it hasn’t been touched for a while, this process becomes more taxing to developers, especially if the provided documentation doesn’t have adequate information. Technology-wise, developers are more likely to work with Java, SQL Server, Oracle DB, or C#. The table below, for example, displays what skills some larger companies look for in software developers and it’s pretty different from the tech stack at startups.
Do you enjoy having more or fewer opportunities to work with new technologies?
Unlimited Self-Discovery vs Limited Self-Discovery
If you’re a developer who loves wearing many hats, you’re more likely to enjoy working at a startup. Larger organizations may be your best bet if you love structure and prefer sticking to your area of expertise. You may ask, what does this have to do with self-discovery? A LOT – this would be the short answer. The key point is that developers are exposed to various responsibilities in startups, and in larger companies, they have predefined roles to perform.
You eventually discover your likes and dislikes when you take on multiple roles in a startup. You may love doing something you’re not doing enough of, or you may hate doing something that you’re doing too much of. You may even be great at something you don’t like doing and average at something you enjoy doing. Coming to this realization is not always easy, especially if your potential is gated.
Developers in larger companies rarely have multiple roles to play but grow to be experts within their domain. That doesn’t mean they can’t discover their preferences. Rather their work environment often doesn’t allow them to experiment with different roles and tasks. Consequently, they may not know if the path they wish to grow in is the right one for them or if something better exists for them. At a point, if they do seek a change, their only option may be switching jobs.
All that to say, there is no right or wrong career path. It’s about what makes the most sense for your career goals and aspirations.
Do you like exploring different avenues of responsibility, or do you like cultivating your craft in a specific area of expertise?
Career-oriented decisions are not at all easy to make for any professional. Determining what type of work environment best suits your interests can be challenging. We hope the points discussed in this article give you an idea about which kind of company will best help you succeed. If you get stuck, consider writing down your answers to the following questions to assess where your interests truly lie.
- What are your career goals?
- Envision yourself as a developer in a larger organization. What pros and cons do you anticipate?
- Envision yourself as a developer in a startup. What pros and cons do you anticipate?
- Based on your answers to the last two questions, what type of work environment do you think will bring out the best in you?
- How would you describe your ideal software developer role?
- What would your primary responsibilities be?
- How much control would you like to have?
- What type of career growth would you expect?
- What type of impact would you like to create through your work?