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I am a freelancer so I really don't know what you guys put behind the words when you say "working in a small company is X different compared to a medium sized one, and Y to a large company". Could you please tell me (roughly) what are the boundaries between these categories ?

I am asking specifically for how many programmers (IT-related workers*) in a company instead of how many workers because:

  1. To avoid the "this is not a programming related question" spam; and

  2. Because I (logically) care about the differences related to programming, a company with 100 workers, only 2 of which are related to IT inherits the just-a-few-programmers working environment, and is obviously smaller compared to a company of 10 workers who are all programmers. Smaller by the classification given on this site, for different situations binded to the size of the team(s).

*I suppose project managers, QA, team leaders, etc. also goes under the countable people.


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You should reword your question. Software engineering is not IT. IT is infrastructure. –  bit-twiddler Apr 11 '11 at 16:01
I used IT as a multitude for all people directly related to the creation of a software product, you could give me a better word to use. –  abcd Apr 11 '11 at 16:04
Software Engineering is a better term, as is Software Development. –  Beofett Apr 11 '11 at 16:20
As Beofett stated, "software engineering" and "software development" are the generally-accepted terms. The term "IT" includes network engineering, system administration, computer operations, database administration, help desk, and just about any other technical position that is responsible for the day to day operation of an organization's computing infrastructure. –  bit-twiddler Apr 11 '11 at 16:39

7 Answers 7

up vote 19 down vote accepted

If you have spoken to the CEO: small company.

If you have seen the CEO: medium company.

If you have neither spoken to nor seen the CEO: large company.

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That's a great rule of thumb to apply. Many times, the size that a company "feels like" is different than the actual size of the company. A medium company can feel like a small company if it has a relatively flat structure and everyone gets to see management on a regular basis. A small company can feel much larger than it actually is if its organized in a very hierarchical manner. –  quanticle Apr 11 '11 at 18:08
This really works. lol. –  bhagyas Jul 26 '11 at 11:33

When I say a small company, I'm talking about a company with less than 100 employees. It just so happens in my small company I'm part of an IT staff (programmers, network admins, managers, etc) of less than 5. But that's obviously going to be different depending on your industry. I imagine if your industry is not directly IT-related, though, 5% IT staff is fairly accurate.

For a medium company I personally imagine around 100 to 1000 employees, and large companies are bigger than 1000 employees.

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Business size is something decided by a census bureau and dictates what affordances and taxes a company may be subject to. For example, see this page from the US Census Bureau for some definitions. Different countries have different thresholds, and some have no distinction.

Non-technical staff count, as well as your sales receipts. In short, you can be classified a big business if you pull in more than a certain threshold of money even when you have one employee.

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Ok, thanks, but what about point #2 in my question ? I really care more about the classification strictly related to the programming work environment, rather from economic point of view ? (not sure if "economic" is the one here) –  abcd Apr 11 '11 at 16:09
Basically, the size of a company isn't related to how many programmers there are. Bottom line: it's a way to measure the amount of risk involved with working for that company. Now, a small technical startup may have more risks than a medium sized company, and they may not be able to pay as much, but there are definite rewards as well. –  Berin Loritsch Apr 11 '11 at 16:14
Ok, thanks, I guess my question is a little bit stupid then. Thanks for your time. –  abcd Apr 11 '11 at 16:15

Its all very relative.

There may be some organization that claims to define them but for the most part its much like the dictionary definitions of a stream, creek, and river.

A Stream is smaller than a brook
A creek is smaller that a river but larger than a stream.
A river is larger than a creek


Small is smaller than a medium
Medium is larger than a small and smaller than a large
Large is larger than a medium

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This classification is absolutely useless. I mean, it is not even clear what the difference between small and medium businesses should be. (Perhaps therefore they are often subsumed under SMB).

I can tell you that the firm I am working in is both tiny and large, depending on if you look at the absolute return or the return on investment and I'm sure there are other figures where we come out as middle.

But let's say you know for sure that some company is "middle"? What does that "knowledge" buy you? It's plain useless, that's it.

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I think some of the time "size" also refers to how much coverage they have in terms of customers(a city, state, or multi-continental), and the amount of money the company earns, not so much the number of actual programmers.

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I see, so I got it wrong (when I see a large vs small company discussion on this site, I see only total amount of people working). –  abcd Apr 11 '11 at 16:10

It depends on what you are trying to determine based on Dev Team/Company size. Two programmers in a startup with 2 other people is not the same work environment (resources, requirements, office politics, bureaucracy, etc.) as a two developer team in a company with 100+ employees. In the startup, they're probably working on the same application all the time and coordination becomes a bigger issue, whereas in a larger non-software company they may work on projects for different departments, so their code never crosses paths.

Project team size and number of teams will probably differentiate companies with questions regarding size.

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