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When I graduated, I thought getting into a web development job meant I get to work in a group of at least a handful of developers, and seniors can teach this young Padawan their tricks of the trade. In my experience, when I get hired as a junior web developer I'm usually have really limited contact and collaboration with one or two other developers (because we seldom work on the same projects), or sometimes I'm the only one that knows how to code.

I've grown to hate these "lone wolf" positions and would rather work in a highly collaborative environment full of other programming geeks. Most of these places tend to outsource technical work, and I prefer face-to-face communication with peers in my dept.

I like the small-company culture but at the same time, there's such a thing as too small, to the point where there's little actual technical work done in-house so I can't get any expert advice.

Because my experience is anecdotal, I don't think I am getting the big picture as to the sizes and structures of web dev companies. So my related questions...

Is my lack of experience with large in-house teams due to the fact that I mostly get hired by consulting firms that do client work?

Do companies that create their own products have a vastly different structure?

What should I look for in a company if I want to get into a larger, in-house development team?

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An overall average number would probably be meaningless, unless you segment by types of companies (financial industry, manufacturing, design, etc...) and size. What kinds of companies have you been into so far? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sep 26 '11 at 18:55
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Question edited. I mainly get into web consulting firms who provide websites for outside clients. –  JustChris Sep 26 '11 at 18:57
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The difference you notice is between a company that views the software as a Cost Center vs. a Profit Center.

If the bread and butter of the company is the software or SaaS that they are selling then they are more likely to invest the large sums of money into the software that would be necessary to employ a large team.

On the other hand if you are contracted to do a project for internal clients then it is viewed as overhead and it is a lot harder to justify a large SD team.

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I have to partially disagree with the "project for internal clients then it is views as overhead". Depending on what you are programming, this overhead is often done because within a year or two, you will have saved the internal client more money than you cost them. I work in an in-house IT Department, and while we don't directly generate profit for the company, we aren't a cost center either. The work we do lowers the cost of other departments overhead by more than we cost. And we are a LARGE IT department given the size of the company. –  CaffGeek Sep 26 '11 at 19:18
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Similar experiences as for @Chad above. My current company used to outsource a lot of its SW development, with near catastrophic consequences... they learnt the hard way why it was a bad idea. Now they are consciously building in-house IT expertise and spending a lot on the long term vision of building a unified, synergistic set of enterprise apps. Many of these apps are literally business critical, i.e. without them the company as it is now would cease to function. They have learnt well to appreciate the importance of these apps, and consequently their developers. –  Péter Török Sep 26 '11 at 19:42
    
@PéterTörök Yes I notice too that companies flourish when they integrate IT into their long and short term business strategies and I see all too often companies that flounder when they view IT as an aggravating expense. –  maple_shaft Sep 26 '11 at 19:53
    
@Chad - More power to you if the leader of your department has convinced the company (Being a large group may be an indication.). It's the utilzation of IT in your case where the savings can be made profitable. Not all companies are capbable of reaping the rewards of larger development teams. –  JeffO Sep 26 '11 at 20:00
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@Chad Actually, maple is completely right. Regardless of whether IT saves money or not, if the company is NOT an IT company, it is a Cost Center, hence the budget for it is limited, in comparisson to a company who's profit comes from software development. I also used to work in company with a large IT department, yet we were a cost center and our budget was low, in contrast with say the commercial department whos budget was through the roof. This is cause the sales people are the ones actually selling the product, so they got all the perks. –  AJC Sep 26 '11 at 20:01
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I think it all boils down to the size of the projects/sites. Not all sites require a team of developers.

When building websites is not the company's line of business, they're more likely to hire someone outside to build it rather than have to hire 5 devs from day one. Some start with one dev and grow a larger team because they've become accustomed and can utilze an in house team.

A niche site can survive with one dev, but I'm guessing to get some scale and make money requires a bigger group. If software is your business, I can't imagine farming the whole thing out unless you're a dev and you feel you have the expertise to manage several independant contractors.

Look for jobs that require candidates to be able to work with a team. It's not a guarantee that you'll be on muli-developer websites, but it's a start.

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But in my case, web sites are our business, but we only have two other developers in-house. The other 90% are hired off-shore (not technically outsourced, though). Locally, a lot more resources are allocated for marketing and management. –  JustChris Sep 26 '11 at 20:37
    
@JustChris - are you all working on the same project? –  JeffO Sep 26 '11 at 21:15
    
Not usually. Multi-dev teams may form for one project but it's usually the offshore guys. My last project had one manager, me as a developer and someone else as designer. The company manages many client projects, designs them both here and "there" and 80% develops them there. –  JustChris Sep 26 '11 at 21:25
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Actually, I'd think some consulting firms would be what you want, e.g. Thoughtworks. The idea here being to find those companies that are bragged within development circles and held as a high-end place to work. Granted there are probably some consulting places that may be more like sweat shops so some care has to be done to find the right kind of place.

I'd imagine companies creating their own products can vary between various extremes. In some cases you may have little structure and be dealing with taming the wild west at one end while the other may be oodles of bureaucracy if the company is used to doing everything with a ton of paperwork.

My suggestion would be to find local user groups and see how people will talk about various companies. Does there seem to be a general high regard for some companies or people? While it may not be easy, this could be a way to get various opinions on companies by talking to those in the trenches.

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