in Business

Should I Work at a Startup or a Company?


Having the ability to code offers individuals many different career paths. But what kind of work environment is better suited for you? A safe, high-paying corporate job or an exciting, fast-moving startup? The answer is typically more a matter of personality than of skill.

If you find yourself asking “Should I work at a startup?” here are a few questions to consider about what kind of position you’re looking for:

What Level of Risk Are You Comfortable With?

Tolerance for risk is something deeply personal and varies between individuals.

In a startup environment, there’s potential to get in early in a high rank at a small organization, gain equity in the company, and achieve a lot of success very quickly.

There’s also the risk that the startup will fail, and you won’t get paid at all.

Think about it like a game of poker. If you’re typically the first guy at the table going all in, a startup mindset might be the perfect fit for you. If you’re likely to play a more conservative game a couple chips at a time, you may find that a corporate position would be a better fit.

Do You Learn Best from a Mentor or On Your Own?

Typically speaking, corporations have a more organized managerial structure and a set way of doing things. While there can be room for innovation, you’ll likely be given specific direction as to how to go about your work and receive more feedback on the work you submit. With numerous levels of management in place, you may find it easier in a corporate environment to find a mentor who will work with you personally, showing you the ropes of the industry and teaching you new skills. This can be a boon if you find that you learn best in an apprentice situation.

Compared to established corporations, startups tend to have a less vertical corporate structure and a lot fewer people taking on a large workload. As a result, startup leaders don’t have a ton of time for supervision or hand-holding. You may often be expected to figure things out on your own without a ton of instruction.

Some folks really hate to be managed, which makes the more autonomous startup culture appealing. Others prefer a more stable system and the educational benefits of having a mentor. It’s simply a matter of personality.

Are You a Jack of All Trades or a Master of One?

How willing are you to go with the flow and fill in wherever is needed? Especially in the earliest stages of a startup, job titles and responsibilities tend to be pretty fluid. With a lot of shoes to be filled and not enough feet, you might find yourself serving as the company receptionist, coffee runner, blog writer, or even accountant, in addition to your programming work.

If you’re more of a solo artist than a team player, that’s ok—it just may mean that a startup isn’t your ideal work environment. Corporations tend to have more narrowly defined job titles, and your responsibilities will likely be confined to your particular field.

How Do You Feel About Work-Life Balance?

When it comes to balancing work life and home life, some folks feel pretty strongly about separating church and state. These individuals want to work their set hours, walk out the door at 5 o’clock on Friday, and not think about the office again until Monday morning. If that sounds like your mentality, you’d likely be better off working for a corporation.

Startup leaders, on the other hand, tend to prioritize work getting done over butts in seats. You may find yourself working crazy hours leading up to a big deadline, but rolling into the office around noon during slower periods without anyone even batting an eye. So if you’re willing to put in some late nights and the occasional weekend toward getting a product off the ground, in exchange for a vested interest in the product’s success—then you might have the perfect mentality for a startup.

As you consider these questions, the most important thing to remember is that there is no right answer here—there’s only what’s right for you. It is equally possible to have a successful career as a programmer either with a corporation or in a startup. The decision comes down to assessing what type of work environment you’re most likely to thrive in, so that you can truly enjoy your work day-in and day-out.

Image courtesy of wikipedia.