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I am currently working as a software engineer for a large company (around 1000 employees). I recently got a job offer for a smaller company but with more pay (enough that I am really considering the move). The smaller company has about 17 employees and only about 4 developers. It also has a different title, I would be an application developer.

Say in five years or so when I am looking to move to another job, will going from a larger company to a smaller company be viewed as negative on my resume? Will the change in title have any effect?

The big question here is: How does the size of a company and title of the position affect your career?

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Why would it be a negative? Getting and keeping jobs in smaller companies is generally harder. –  configurator Jul 18 '11 at 20:28
    
Of all the things to negotiate, title is possibly the easiest. –  Steve Evers Jan 9 '12 at 22:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Title

"Software engineer" and "application developer" are pretty much the same title. At this level, I would be very surprised if any future hiring organization even noticed the difference on your resume. The more important difference may be the role within the company - companies often have specific titles that reflect how people in the company do their work - which is more important when you are in the company than when you are leaving it.

Small vs. Large

It's been my experience that it's harder to get into a small company than a large one. I have never seen a case where a large company has turned someone down just because they worked in a small company. Often, in fact, a large company may be looking for people with small company experience to bring new ideas into the fold.

That said, here's some things I think of as pluses or minuses between the two:

  • Small companies tend to have stronger "personalities" - large companies have a more smoothed-out culture with less overall quirkiness - whether that's a plus or a minus depends on how much you like quirkiness.

  • Small companies tend to be less economically stable - a small company is likely to be running on investment money, or tied to a small number of customers. From year to year the company's future is less predictable. More businesses fail than succeed, so if you want stability, small is not a plus. That said, most small company engineers I know will easily transition from company to company based on personal connections.

  • Small companies offer a wider set of opportunities - you do more for yourself in a small company where there is less specialization of labor. You are also likely to see less paperwork in a small company.

There is no wrong or right here. I know plenty of people with long and stable careers in both small companies and large companies.

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>>I have never seen a case where a large company has turned someone down just because they worked in a small company. –  Morons Jul 18 '11 at 17:58
    
I see this all the time... but they will classify it as cultural thing. –  Morons Jul 18 '11 at 18:16
    
I've seen a large company turn down a small company person, but often the "cultural" issues I've seen have been things like "this person does not seem like they will respect or follow our process or procedure because they are used to having more freedom" - in those cases, I think the reaction has been justified, since the interview indicated a lack of interest or willingness to abide by painful big company procedure stuff... A similar candidate who showed different attitudes would not have had the same problems - IMO. –  bethlakshmi Jul 18 '11 at 18:36
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As someone who spent a large chunk of his career at larger companies, and many government contractors at that, I have to say that an important factor in considering any candidate is whether they can handle the processes involved with larger companies. People who have already been working at larger companies know what to expect. Small company employees raise a red flag as they frequently are more likely to become disenchanted or to ignore the process because in their mind they know better than the collective wisdom it took to build the company from a small one to a large one. –  Dunk Jul 18 '11 at 20:02

Spending time working at a small company, having already spent time working at a large company, will provide you with greater breadth of experience than having worked only at small companies, or only at large companies.

When I'm interviewing, I like to see someone who has the range of experiences on their resume. To me, it suggests that they are probably familiar with more formal processes of large organizations, but are probably also familiar with having to fly solo and get things done without being able to rely on a team to help them.

If this larger company is your first job, and you've spent a reasonable amount of time there (sounds like it from your question), then a smaller company could definitely be a good next step. And at least there are 4 developers - I would warn against working somewhere early in your career where you're going to be the sole dev. That can stifle your learning somewhat, not having other developers around you to share knowledge and ideas with. But 4 is OK.

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Here's what anyone is going to be concerned with concerning size:

  1. Can you program in a team? I don't care if you work for General Motors, if you only build apps by yourself and have trouble getting along with others, you'll struggle in this area and will not be happy.
  2. Can you work on large/complex apps? Experience in this area is one way to show you can do it along with demonstrating your knowledge.
  3. Will you get lost in a large company and have difficulty making friends? People in this predicament usually look for another job. At least there was some research in this area. Pardon my lack of a reference.
  4. Are you concerned with getting a promotion? Larger companies can have several layers of titles and different areas of advancement. Maybe you don't want to be a systems analyst and want to program the rest of your life. It may matter to a larger company that feels they need to promote from within. Your lack of a desire for advancement could be seen as lazy. I disagree with this, but I'm not working in HR for a large company.
  5. Will you get frustrated with the buerocracy, the formality and aversion to change? I've worked at a small company and the owner made a photocopy of a Visa and told me to buy what I needed online. At a larger company, it took three people to approve a replacement to a ruined dry erase board in a conference room. They don't use dry erase boards; they're insane.

It doesn't sound like your comparing two guys in a garage to Microsoft, so it's not that big of a difference.

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JeffO: +1, for your 5th point. –  Arun May 20 '13 at 9:45

There is not a whole lot of info to go off of, but I'd say in general, that a move to a smaller development shop is a good one, given the circumstances you describe. You will get a greater breadth of experience plus have potentially more oportunity to take on greater responsiblity if you want it.

These experiences alone, no doubt, will give you a lot of fodder at your next interview. Moving through various sized companies is not at all uncommon.

You will probably enjoy it more, and given that your resume will show that you have the abililty to work at various sized companies, I'd say it would be a plus.

Update: In regards to "The big question". 95% of your future employment comes from 1) How you handle yourself in an interview, and 2) Who you know, which is how you get your foot in the door most of the time.

If moving to your smaller company makes you think that the 2nd point may be lacking, then you can join other parts of the community such as user groups, conferences, etc. Which you should be doing anyway regardless of the size of your company.

But again, having worked at very small companies, medium companies, and large corporations, I don't believe that the size makes any kind of difference to a resume, and having a broad experience is very eye opening in general. Good luck if you choose to take the job!

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+1 for the ability to work at various sized companies. This supposes that the OP has spent enough time at the large company to be able to say he has significant experience in that environment. –  Matthew Flynn Jul 18 '11 at 17:29
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+1 for breadth of experience while working at small companies. This is why I prefer small companies or small teams, in fact! –  Ethel Evans Jul 18 '11 at 18:59
    
@Ethel - You can work for large companies and still work on small teams and gain a wide breadth of experience. There are many advantages that a large company can provide that small companies can't. In particular, superior benefits, more social opportunities, a more predictable work week, and a much wider array of projects. Smaller companies excel in giving the opportunity to do everything on the project and having a greater chance of earning very large bonuses, but those unguaranteed bonus dollars usually come at the expense of putting in much longer hours. –  Dunk Jul 18 '11 at 19:45
    
@Dunk, I agree. I think for all the reason you pointed out its important to have experience in both types of environments, and find out which you like better. –  aceinthehole Jul 18 '11 at 20:31

I don't think developer versus engineer makes a difference in terms of career or perception. Its simply what a particular shop uses. I think the big thing is being a senior (developer|engineer).

As far as company size, it depends. If the company you work at now is doing some real innovative things, and is a company people have heard of, that is a real good thing. If you work for a large company that does something like payroll processing or other back office automation, you probably are in a very specialized role, e.g. you just program ETL feeds, or you just do UI design. So in the case of a large company big is only good if your company has a rep for having talented people doing innovative things.

Now, in my experience small companies tend to think outside the box, come up with creative solutions, and the programmers tend to be more adaptable. You will probably work on different types of projects, and probably be forced to.

Also, if the new company is smaller than Dunbars number (150), then you will notice less tribalism. This is not a result of "better" or "less political" people. It is simply a function of you and all your coworkers being able to maintain a personal relationship with all the people you work with.

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You are quite mistaken. You need to differentiate between a large company that specializes in a very specific application or niche market from a large company that does a wide array of projects. I have worked mainly for large companies and I seldom see specialized roles. Those people don't last because they are harder to place. Also, while you may interpret small companies coming up with creative solutions as thinking outside the box, the odds are that they only do so because they don't already have a working solution for something similar like the large company is likely to have.... –  Dunk Jul 18 '11 at 20:08
    
Of course there will be less tribalism at a smaller company because there's fewer people so there's only room for one tribe. At a larger company, there is room for many tribes and you can choose to belong to many tribes if you want. That's a benefit, not a negative as you describe. Although, politics is politics, and it is bad whether at a small or large company. I find the politics easier at a large company because there are more options available. At a small company, if you aren't on the right person's good graces then you are screwed. Not necessarily so at a larger company. –  Dunk Jul 18 '11 at 20:11

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