6 Pros and Cons of Working at a Large Tech Company

The good and bad of tech positions at big firms

6 Pros and Cons of Working at a Large Tech Company

I’ve spent my tech career alternating between large and small companies, from very large ones like Comcast and Capital One to small local shops you’ve never heard of. In part one of this two-part series, I’m going to look at a few of the things that are good and bad about working at very large companies.

The Good

1. They’re always hiring

Looking for a job under a bit of a time crunch? There’s a very good chance one of the very large companies in your area is hiring. Companies like Comcast and Salesforce are practically always hiring — they have so many seats to fill that even a small turnover rate means hundreds of open positions at any given time. For someone who is in need of a job right now, this can be a great thing. While their hiring processes do tend to be slower than a small company there’s a good chance that you’ll be in the running for multiple positions and have a choice of which direction you want to go should you get an offer sheet. This leads into point #2…

2. Career flexibility

Very large companies spend a lot of time getting people in the door and in seats, which means they don’t want to let people go if they don't have to. Should you find yourself on a team you don’t like or going down a career path that isn’t interesting anymore, or just want a change of scenery, you can often find another team inside the company that needs some help. Internal transfers happen all the time and can be a great way to get experience in multiple disciplines within your field. And depending on the company, internal transfers can have a lower bar of entry than if a candidate was coming from the outside, meaning that you have the potential to grow your way into a new position rather than be expected to know everything ahead of time.

3. Side-of-desk opportunities

One of the things that I miss about working for a company like Capital One is the side-of-desk opportunities. In addition to your everyday job functions, very large companies often have opportunities for working on things outside of your job description. I got my first real start in tech blogging by working with Capital One’s blogging group — a group of engineers from around the company who are passionate about tech and enjoy writing. With the help and direction of the content manager, we would produce regular pieces for the company tech blog. It was a great way to learn about what works, what doesn’t, and how to become a better writer.

In addition to blogging, these kinds of companies might offer opportunities to travel to tech conferences, help with internal training and training content creation, opportunities for public speaking, and tons of other avenues for creativity. Smaller companies will typically not offer these kinds of opportunities for various reasons: budgets, time constraints, or just not having the necessary number of people to sustain something like a blogging group.

The Bad

1. Skills rot

Big companies aren’t known for their rapid innovation or adoption of bleeding-edge technologies. And with good reason, too: They value stability and consistency. This trend towards stability is great for shareholders or platform stability but not so great if you rely on your work to constantly evolve and refine your skills. You might find yourself working with the same “boring” technology for years on end. Without taking the time outside of work to learn and discover what's going on with the state of the industry, it's easy to find that your skillset is five to ten years behind the rest of the world, making it hard to get a job elsewhere. Avoiding “skill rot” takes dedication and work outside of your job responsibilities, something not everyone is willing or has the time to do.

2. Politics & bureaucracy

Big companies are big. And with that size comes process, procedure, and bureaucracy. Unlike with a small company, where you can often bypass roadblocks by just walking over to someone’s office and talking to the right person, you don’t really have that opportunity in a very large company. Getting things done involves following policy and procedure in what often feels like a very opaque bureaucratic nightmare where your only option is to trust the system. And where there’s bureaucracy, there’s politics.

Both large and small companies are going to have politics, but the nature of the political dynamics is going to be wildly different. In a very large company, the political reach of a single person is limited by the sheer size of the organization, but should you fall inside their sphere of influence the potential for them to make your life miserable is considerable. Speaking from personal experience, if someone with political pull has it out for you (for one reason or another) they can make you radioactive within the company. This can be more devastating in a very large company because all the avenues that were once open to you — internal transfers, etc. — can suddenly be closed. In a city with only a few potential employers, losing out on the ability to work for one of the large ones can be a huge hit when compared to a small company.

3. Compensation

Often very large companies aren’t going to be the most competitive when it comes to compensation. This can be true for a number of different reasons, but often it's an effort to save money. Very large companies have extraordinarily large budgets but they also have the expenses that go along with them, with salary often being the top expense. Saving a few thousand on every position compared to the competition can be a net of millions across the company. However, it must be said that very large companies often have good benefits packages as they can negotiate better healthcare rates, provide retirement benefits like 401K matching, and often have “bonus” benefits like backup childcare or tuition reimbursement. Also, publically traded companies might also offer stock options and employee stock purchase plans that allow employees to purchase company stock at reduced rates compared to the open market. These non-salary benefits can help offset a lower paycheck, but not always.

Was there anything I missed? What do you enjoy about working for a very large company? Let me know in the comments!