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Ask HN: Career help/advice
6 points by vasek 1814 days ago | hide | past | web | 6 comments | favorite
I realize that everyone makes their own decisions and it's difficult to compare, without knowing details, but I can't think of a better place to ask for advice.

I am 35 and have been doing IT/Ops(devops)/Security for close to 20 years. I've done management (small teams), but I am much better (and comfortable) with hands on and dealing directly with technology/design. I now have a choice of two companies:

A - a larger company, ~1000 people. Grew rapidly over the last year(maybe too much), since they got bought out. The culture is very much "startup-like". Biggest in their market with 10s of millions of users. Relatively well known, even to someone who is not using their product and googling will quickly let people find out. Offering the most money and want me in a technical/strategic role (non-manager, at least at first). There are some very interesting problems to solve (scale & complexity) and they have a lot of brilliant people, which is a huge attraction. The downside is really being a medium fish in a big pond and the impact that I'll be able to make there is probably more limited.

B - is a small (profitable) startup, probably <50 people. They are growing, but at best they are 3-4th in the market, behind a few 800lb gorillas. The role is still very much hands-on technical, but leading a team in addition to that. I can write in whatever fancy title I want. The problems they want to solve are interesting, but much more narrow in scope. The compensation model is heavy on bonuses/incentives/revenue goals and upside is potentially higher. Name recognition isn't quite as high, though people do know them.

So, it's a two-part question:

1. Career-wise, is it better to be in a smaller company with a big title or a larger company with a less impressive one? 2. Most of my time has been spent in smaller shops, where I am usually the most experienced/expert guy. How is it working for a large company with a lot of talented people?

Like you said, it is not easy to give a generic "one size fits all" kind of answer. But I will give you a few specific things to think about based on what you said.

1. I would say choose the company that fits what you want/need especially at this point in your career when you are 35+ with 20 years of experience. Put yourself first. Now you are saying that you are much bette at hands on. Then choose the company which provides you that option. I am guessing the company B in your scenario. Of course there is an element of risk involved in a startup but then again, no risk no reward. You don't want to be miserable in a job at 35 which you don't like.

2. The other side to it is that in a large company, you will definitely have the opportunity to meet a lot more people (talented and otherwise:) and perhaps build a great network. How much do you care about that at this point in your career ? You have worked for 20 years and I assume you have a good network already. Yes u can always do more but may be thats not as critical at this point.

Hope this helps and gives you some perspective.

Codegeek's answer is very good. I think the career goals is probably the first thing you want to look at. There's also some advise I've heard about working in IT where IT is a resource and not a cost center. It's very true.

I can say definitely that the large company will have more bureaucracy, which will on more than one occasion drive you crazy. Like you said though, they have the scale and complexity for interesting problems. They also have the budget to fund IT.

Regarding the part about being the most experienced. I don't think that matters, so long as you're still learning. If you're willing to learn from less experienced/less senior people, and they're willing to speak up about what they know, then it doesn't really matter.

I appreciate the comment and that helps somewhat. My network is ok, but definitely could be better. I haven't worked on it as much as I should have early on. Both are pretty hands on, though it seems like company B might be better for a management track later on (better title + direct reports).

My biggest problem with "hands-on" is the same as been discussed ad nauseaum here and elsewhere. It's really a subject for a different topic. I am very good at it, I like it, I am just not sure how long I can keep doing it. I already feel like I am not as fast as I was 10 years ago, but it's a small drop off that is more than compensated by experience. I am concerned about 10 years from now and still doing ops at a hands-on level. I am not sure I'll be able to keep up with 20-year-old at that point. Anyway, I digress. Thanks again.

Do what makes you happy. If you enjoy what you do and the company is good, you can excel and make an impact. Having good people to work with is so important so weigh that heavily.

A couple of my previous jobs/companies were very similar to those two scenarios. It was actually at the bigger company that I made more of an impact, had more flexibility, learned more, made professional connections, and made more in salary/bonus/stock.

It's much more a function of whether the organization is a winning, efficient, organized, functional team than the size. Large companies always have bureaucracy but small ones can too.

it depends :D

The classic response. :)

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