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Programing, Deep or Shallow end?

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    I'm considering placement positions for next year and want to know if I need to know anything about working at big or small companies?

    A small company seems less "scary," in that they can't just drop me in the middle and say "Get started." More personable and all that...

    But is a small company a realistic representation? And does a small company look as good as the big guys on a CV?

    If you recently did a placement, or just started in the industry I'd love to hear your insights.

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    Deep end:  (small company)

    -learn stuff you will need to know - solve problems properly - do stuff for real - earn less - be on call forever

    Shallow end (big company)

    - learn stuff you didnt know you needed to know that you dont, solve problems incorrectly, dont do anything for fear of being noticed, dilbert lives - earn maybe more - be on call forever

    Dont go in (no end)

    work for yourself - start your own company - just need to be somewhat outgoing

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    Manip wrote:
    But is a small company a realistic representation? And does a small company look as good as the big guys on a CV?

    Well, it's certainly a realistic representation of a small company.

    As to the effect on your CV - from my admittedly provincial experience, if you're applying for a position as a developer it doesn't much matter if you were in a small or large company. A development team is a development team.
    Small companies are good if you want to move on to management more quickly - the smaller the company, the quicker you'll be able to share product-related responsibilities.

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    Manip wrote:

    A small company seems less "scary," in that they can't just drop me in the middle and say "Get started." More personable and all that...

    I'd disagree with the above to a certain extent. Big companies typically have had a lot of experience in taking on new people and have procedures in place like induction programmes to get you on board quickly. They typically also have an ongoing training structure in place and will make sure you get regular training throughout your career.

    Smaller companies, by way of comparison, expect you to be a self-starter and are often struggling just to avoid going bankrupt. There may not be anybody available to "induct" you and there won't be the money to send you off on that "learn the new technology" training course. You're expected to do most things yourself - often in your own time or at very short notice. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your viewpoint and how susceptible you are to stress! It CAN be more personable but it can also be less personable (especially if it's a development only shop with no real sense of H.R. or a social club) - I've worked at one or two small shops where "every man is an island" - developers come in, don't talk to anybody, put their headphones on, and work in isolation all day and I've never even had an introduction to the people I'm supposedly working with. I've worked for large companies where there's been a very real sense of being a part of a community and my entire social life has revolved around my work colleagues. It varies from one employer to another.

    Also bear in mind that bigger companies often run departments almost as if they were small companies in their own right, but with the advantages (the financial backing and the infrastructure) of working for a big company in the background so that you end up with the advantages you might have expected from a small company AND those of a big company too.

    As for value on a CV, I'd disagree with other comments here. I think a big company can open more possibilities in your future career. Most people have heard of the IBMs and the Fords and the BPs of this world and will recognise them as good names to have on a CV, where "Fred Jones Software House" will mean nothing. Remember that often it's hard to get the interview where you can prove your knowledge and skill. Sure you can dazzle them with your experience in the interview but you've got to get it first and unknown companies won't serve as well as known ones in getting you past the CV selection process - at least not in my experience. I've lost count of the number of interviews I've been to or phone conversations with agencies I've had where the simple fact that a large "household name" company exended my contract several times was perceived as "you must know your stuff or xxxx wouldn't have kept renewing you and got the interview based entirely on that, where a small unknown company wouldn't have done that.

    Certain sectors of the market put you in a Catch 22 situation. Want to work in the lucrative financial sector in the City? Go to JobServe and see how many jobs there are - ALL stating that you MUST have prior experience in that sector. No matter how many companies you've worked for if you haven't already got experience working in the financial sector with a recognisable name your CV won't get past the agency or H.R.

    So, at the end of the day it's hard to know ahead of time how a company will work out. I've worked for small companies that have been worse than big companies and vice-versa. The interview is often the most misleading part of the whole process - a company that comes across well at interview will turn out to have lied to you because they were desperate, or one that didn't appear very exciting can turn out to be one of the best jobs you've ever had, just because the department is run by someone who really knows what they're doing or your work colleagues are of "Like mind" to yourself.

    You just have to make the best decision you can based on the information available to you at the time and recognise that if you're talking a "permanent" job you need to commit to at least a year if your CV isn't going to look bad (or if it's really, really bad do what I did on one job - quit after two weeks and just "lose" any record of it on your CV).

    Personally I think going with a big company as a first job, putting in the graft for a year or two, and then looking at a small company is one of the best ways to go, but that's just been my "general" personal experience.

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    3 years ago, I started my first job, in a small company, and I still work there. I couldn't imagine working anywhere else.
    At that time, it was just me and my boss working there (and his wife, taking care of paper work). My boss had been creating web applications (ASP, JavaScript, even AJAX before the term AJAX was used) for years, and he had already investigated .NET.
    After he hired me, my boss hired a .NET consultant for an intensive 2 week course for both of us. Last year, we hired a 3rd developer, because business is going great.
    There are many advantages I have that I wouldn't have when working at a larger company (as a beginner):
    - when making decisions, my boss always asks for my advice, and a lot of times, I even make him change his mind about a decision.
    - when there's a convention, an MSDN event, or some other thing, I can always join him.
    - flexible hours: my boss doesn't mind if I have to go somewhere (doctor, ...) or when I'm late. I don't have to fill in a form. As long as I don't exaggerate.
    - the 2nd year, I've had a lot of health problems, I've spent months in hospital, and my boss often came to visit me. He was very supportive, and when I was better, I could come back and my job was still there.
    - the close personal contact with my boss, his wife and children: I call him my boss, but I see him more as a close friend and colleague. He also doesn't act like a boss.

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    I did my placement year at a large company a few years ago (ok, so it was about 10 years ago), and have since mostly worked for smaller companies. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but I think some of your preconceptions may be wrong.

    I can honselty say, having done a placement year, its a valuable and worthwhile thing. I actually didnt want to go back to Uni at the end of mine - but it would have been a bit of a waste to miss out on the qualification!

    I would say that at a smaller company you will be expected to work harder. There are less resources to go around and everyone has to pull there own weight. Anyone not pulling there weight is very quickly noticed. On the other hand, there tends to be a lot more flexibility in terms of what you will be doing and how you work.

    Larger companies inevitably become hamstrung with beurocracy. Its just part of how they have to operate when they get to a certain size. The place I currentyl work is just kind of corssing over that threshold.

    The last place I worked, I could pretty much do what I wanted as long as I got the job done. I was free to use whatever tools I needed, and had a lot of leeway to experiment with new thigns because this often led to positive resultes and usefull stuff further down the line. It was a small company with about 5 of us in development and not may more than that in IT.

    The place I started at recently is a medium size business but they deal with financial companies so that means ISO 9001, 27001, etc etc etc and muchos beurocracy. I have to record my working time on three seperate systems. I am literally not allowed to install ANYTHING on my machoine myself - I have to get someone from Ops to come and do it for me. On the otehr hand it has a better salary and much better fring benefits than the last place.

    I cant tell you which is best because neither are perfect. If I were you I would not limit yourself to pickingjust small or big companies - pick the job which seems most interesting.

    Regarding what looks better on a CV... well I don think that matters. Even in large comapnies you tend to be broken down in to small project teams...

    Good luck with it!

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