Start-Up or Corporate?

Each one has advantages and drawbacks – and what you decide may have more implications for your career than you realize.

By Sonia R. Lelii
Dice News Staff | January 2008

Is it better to work for a larger, established tech company, or
should you take your chances with a more agile start-up? It’s a choice
that confronts most IT people at some point in their careers – and
certainly there are pros and cons to both scenarios.

tier-one technology firm offers an abundance of financial and personnel
resources but, as a tradeoff, you have to put up with more politics,
the entanglements of bureaucracy and a slow-footed process for
installing new technology. On the other hand, start-ups – while they
offer fewer resources, longer work hours and less job security – tend
to be less bureaucratic and offer the chance to learn a variety of

The decision about which environment to work in
is both a tactical and a strategic. Ultimately, the result can mold you
into a technology generalist or pigeonhole you as an IT specialist. New
companies, which never have enough resources, are always on the hunt
for solid generalists. "You have to wear a lot more hats, so you have
to be extremely flexible," says Eric Herzog, an IT professional
Sunnyvale, Calif., who has worked for two Fortune 500 storage companies
and several start-ups during a career that spans more than 20 years.

I’m a small company, I need everything that Chase Manhattan does," says
Herzog. "I have applications, security concerns, storage needs and
mobile devices that have to be managed. So, I need someone who is good
at a lot of different things, not just an expert in one thing. Some
people don’t like the rigid structure of working in a big company. They
absolutely hate it. If that is the case, they must develop flexible

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many
occupations within IT will be at the leading edge of job growth for at
least another ten years. And although that growth is expected to be
slower than it once was, the number of IT jobs may increase more than
twice as quickly as all other occupations, on average.

Jacks of All Trades

the same time, IT workers are noticing that job descriptions are
becoming quite lengthy. Even big companies expect their workers to know
more than what’s within the scope of their particular job. Firms seek
database administrators who can code or people with IT backgrounds who
also sell. "These people are extremely difficult to find," says one IT
worker, who requested anonymity. "The job requirements these days just
keep getting longer and longer."

Furthermore, many
observers expect consolidation among large companies to continue over
the next few years. Some IT veterans suggest working for a big firm
doesn’t offer the kind of security and stability it once did. The
result: Being a master of one specialty could be careering-limiting
even within a big company, particularly if you want to move into a
management role. "Going deep in one thing is excellent, but staying
deep only in one thing is not necessarily good for career growth," says
Brian Guild, a senior information security engineer with Broadcom in
Boston, which boasts 7,000 employees.

"If I had worked at
just larger companies, I would be doing something similar to what I did
when I started working in IT," says Guild. "Small companies allow you
to get experience in other disciplines compared to larger firms. If you
are coming out of college, then a start-up gives you a lot of
experiences doing different things. Then you can take that experience
with you to a larger company."

Others agree that, in
general, larger companies are more likely to consider your specialty
experience as the key factor in hiring. The specialty is critical to
the business unit you will be placed in, while "the general stuff you
can outsource for cheap," says Mounil Patel, who has worked as a CIO at
several start-ups and is now a global practice director at Hopkinton,
Mass.-based EMC’s Rainfinity unit. "Your business advantage is what
your specialist employees offer."

Still, many professionals
find the start-up experience exhilarating: "Personally, I think working
for technology start-ups is more fun," says Patel. "They tend to be
more agile. For instance, larger companies tend to be laggards in
adopting new technology. Change is difficult. Implementing the newest
Microsoft Outlook can be a year-long process."

Contact Sonia Lelii at sonia.lelii at