Preview:7 Reasons Why You Need To Work For A Big Company

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7 Reasons Why You Need To Work For A Big Company


The following is a guest post by Mark Stephens.  Mark is the founder and CEO of IDR Solutions.  Check out his blog at or follow him on twitter at @JavaPDF.

Large companies tend to be regarded as dull and unsexy. All the real action and fun is at small startups (preferably Web 2.0 at the moment). Well, I run my own company now and I would never go back. But I am really glad I worked for a large company. Here are my reasons why:cubicles

1. You learn an awful lot. You get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. You see lots of very good ideas (like proper source control) and some not so good ideas (like how not to motivate people).

While a big company may not seem very exciting, it must have got some things right to be big in the first place. Learn from this. And even the most mediocre organisation has hidden pockets of excellence where people still care and battle stoically to keep things going. They are some of the most resourceful people you will ever meet, combining great technical skills with the ability to manage on no budget and great political acumen.

2. You get to work with lots of clever people. I am a bit of a snob - I like the intellectual buzz of working with smart people. And you can still find a lot of them squeezed into a several departments in large companies.

Many smart people stay at large businesses because they enjoy what they do, they have families/responsibilities and cannot take the risk of leaving. You will be taken down a peg or two by the wise, old hacker who was doing this stuff while you were still at school, eats fresh-faced 20 something consultants for breakfast  and has some great stories to tell. And you will get a range of ages - let's face it, most startups reckon you are past it if you are over 23.

3. You become part of a large diaspora/community. I used to work at a big company 12 years ago. I still keep in touch with people there, I bump into former colleagues in lots of unexpected places and people remember me. Such networks are invaluable.

Even in the age of social media, it is still often about who knows you, and knows you can do a good job. If your boss did a successful project he will often seek to 'reunite the band' for another gig years later. A big company gives you a chance to impress and end up in the address books of lots of future high fliers. And they will take your call when you have something to sell and arrange an introduction for you on the strength of your past performance.

4. They have lots of perks. I do miss the canteen, the sports gym and the other 'extras'. And that week's 'training' in Amsterdam at the company's expense. That was a lot of fun!

You are not going to be sent on that week-long training course on using Oracle or have your part-time MBA fully-funded while at that boot-strapping startup. They might buy you a book from O'Reilly if you are really lucky.  So grab this opportunity to learn some skills, get some qualifications and have a good time at someone else's expense.  Do you really want to work 100 hours a week all your life in pursuit of some dream?

5. You learn the art of politics. For many people a large company is where you realise that it is not just about technology. A large company provides lots of opportunities to acquire diplomacy and political skills.

Once you leave a large company you will be able to use these skills because you will want some large companies as customers - they have money to spend (and because it is not theirs they tend to haggle less), they can give you contacts with other potential clients, they buy things and they like to renew their yearly support contracts. So you need to understand how they function.

6. You have time to reflect. At a small company or startup, it can often feel that you squeeze a lifetime into every single day. Large companies do not move at such a reckless pace so you have time to learn and reflect.

Large companies tend to move in a slow, consensual way without taking risks. Sometimes this is actually a good thing. I could mention one large media company which avoided wasting millions on a silly strategy in the dotcom boom - it took so long trying to decide what to do that the dotcom bust arrived first...

You might also appreciate the relative security, the calm and the chance to get your life in order. Once you join a startup, it is generally going to be permanent 'seats of you pants' mode.

7. You get a baseline. Then you go and try to do it better.

Make a list and see how many 'cherished ambitions' you can stick to or whether you finally succumb and realise that you also need to have 'middle' management to make things work.

That is why I am very glad I worked at a large company. What about you?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Dec 15, 2010


One of my few regrets about becoming an entrepreneur was that I didn't get an opportunity to work for a big company. Lots of people told me it was better that I didn't get brainwashed by corporate culture. I would agree with you that the experience provided is well worth it. :-)

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 5:24 PM by Brad Gosse

I agree with the article. Anything a businessperson can do to add to their life experiences is beneficial in some way.  
This might be as an example of how to behavior and act-- or the opposite; what not to do. 
Working for someone else also allows you to test out ideas with somebody else's money.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 5:31 PM by RobertPiller

Getting these advantages may depend on the sub-organization where you end up. One of the disadvantages of working in a large company is that its designed to kill the entrepreneurial spirit - their potential future competition. This is not to be confused with innovation which is highly appreciated. As Brad mentioned earlier about getting brain washed or "branded".

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 5:42 PM by K

Agree that big companies have their virtues. I worked for IBM for only 1 1/2 years but some of their culture has stuck with me 10+ years later. Once you are pass the startup mode there is an inevitable shift to defining and documenting business processes and big companies often excel at that.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 5:56 PM by Jason

Great advice. I teach marketing in an entrepreneurship track at Tufts and also at MIT and encourage my students, that unless they have some burning idea...and passion...their first job should be with a large company. I would agree with all of your reasons plus add one more.  
In a large company, your mistakes are most probably not going to cripple the company. Most probably a speed bump.  
In a small startup, your mistakes can take the car completely off the road and result in a total wreck.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 6:12 PM by Jack Derby

One thing that makes a world of difference in one's BigCo experience is whether IT (or whatever function you do) is a support function, or is part of the company's bread and butter. If the former, you'll starve for funding (which means fewer stellar co-workers, they cost too much for an overhead function); if the latter, you and your coworkers will be held to a higher standard, but will be more likely to get funding, good tools, and management support. Either experience can be instructive, but make sure you understand what you're getting into.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 6:14 PM by Kevin

Networking and slow-speed transitions are the things I find the most appealing. Although one of the things I hate the most about working for a big company is that you earn what the company wants you to earn, no chance whatsoever on 90% of times to earn a promotion or something like that, top-notch positions are occupied and will be occupied for years to come... Although you absolutely need to work for a big company at some point of your life, entrepreneur or not...

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 6:18 PM by Ezequiel

If you work in a few big ones it will be clear that there is no one way to get things done. One way that is appropriate perhaps, but not one best way for everyone.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 6:31 PM by Steve French

WOW - 100% great article. Having been at a big company, I now see the many errors of my ways when I ran a small company prior to working at the big one. I agree with this advice not only based on my own experience, but on what I see going on around me in small businesses operated by people who have never been in a large one.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:42 PM by Peter Alberti

I wish I had read this advice 30 years ago. I'm 47 and while I actually worked for two big companies including IBM in the 80's while I was still in college I started my own company before I graduated college and now it's just a bit too late to go back. I really do miss the fact that I didn't get to learn things on their dime instead of my own as I know there are many things I didn't learn that I wish I had.  
Ah the road not taken...

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:48 PM by Mike Schinkel

Great points here. I've learned so much while working for a large company (mostly doing consulting work for other large companies.) Large organizations have the reputation of being slow moving and nearly impossible to get things done in. Often true, but it can be an environment that breeds a special sort of person. Not just someone who stays late and does more - but someone who understands the politics and diplomacy that are often the crux of doing big things.  
Working for a large organization also gives you access to a treasure trove of resources - people, tools, data, education, travel, and other things that small companies usually just can't match. 
It's not always easy, and at times it can be frustrating when you run up against people with different motivations, but all in all it's an experience that I'm glad to be having.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:50 PM by Jeff

Lots of "I agree"s in the comment. Is it because people reading this blog are self selected because of the title? 
I completely disagree. Largeco's kill your spirit. They teach you how to play politics. And they teach you how your company chose to operate, not the best way to do it. 
What about the opportunity costs of working 4-5 yrs as a lower middle manager, while the world around has completely changedvin your space?

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:51 PM by piyush

@piyush: I was definitely self-selected from the title, but not because it justifies what I did but instead because I recognize that I wish I had. 4-5 years is NOTHING to loose. Consider as an alternate loosing 20-30 years trying and failing because you never got the big company education that could have helped. Just sayin...

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 7:54 PM by Mike Schinkel

@piyush: I see your points, but I don't think that they are as valid as they may have once been. Working for a large company no longer means you are isolated in an echo chamber. It depends on the industry, but many large organizations know and accept the fact that their employees are active parts of larger industries where they are fully in touch with the changing world and seeing how other people are doing things.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 8:12 PM by Jeff

I'm very glad I worked for a big company before moving on to a startup. One the positive end, it exposed me to everything you mentioned here. On the even more positive end, it frustrated me so much, that the decision to leave those Options and RSUs on the table was easy to make.

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 9:25 PM by Soham

Having worked for both large companies and my own startups I have found I learn in dog years compared to others working in a company. Why? There's more responsibility in a startup which involves wearing multiple hats. In larger companies there is more bureaucracy and less of an opportunity to move around. While its great to work next to smart people, its better to become the smart guy that is figuring these things out first hand! 
Take notes along the way and it wont feel like it went by too quickly, I do agree with a few of the other points though!

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 10:08 PM by Punit

I agree 110% with the idea of working at bigcos for some time. It is very important though to get out at the right time though. I was lucky to work for one of the top Indian IT company right after college, worked only for 11 months but I believe I learned a lot from those 11 months. The moment met lot of nice people, understood the processes and importance of working in team. I left the moment I Found I could get stuck in that company.  
I am still in touch with my seniors who were very smart people, whoever moved on from the company have done very well.  
So do work for bigcos, learn what you nee to learn, give your best, and move on. 

posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 10:48 PM by Vijender Yadav

Great article and comments.. I ve never been working in a big company.. and i always dream to work in a very big international company. learnd a lot . thanks 

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 12:08 AM by vieo

Working for a bigco might get you in a comfort zone that might be hard to leave. So SAVE, SAVE, SAVE so you can leave as soon as you need to.

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 12:49 AM by Tutancabron

The mix of the two is the key. Bigcos provide process learnings which - if thoughtfully tweaked - can really help smallcos organize, adapt, and evolve. Smallcos provide urgency and personal commitment often lacking in bigcos.

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:42 AM by David Perlman

I simply have to vent my sob story here-  
I joined the SAP consulting dept. in the Indian subsidiary of a very famous automotive components firm straight from college. For the first time,the dept had decided to take on board a 'fresher' (as opposed to the experienced ppl that they normally recruited). The HR mentioned that they believed in on-the-job trainings rather than boot camp theory/exam sessions. They embedded me in a project where I was basically doing glorified clerical work(system audits and creating users ids). Doing that mind-numbing task was fine by me because I thought I'd be moving onto better stuff in a few months time and this is how the training worked. It's been 3 years now and I'm stuck in the same project doing the same abominable tasks. I'm taken for granted as 'that excel sheet resource' simply because I'm in a catch-22 situation-> To gain knowledge, I need to be put into challenging projects. But to be put into challenging projects, I need to have the required knowledge!  
Now the problem with starting on a career in this field is that while there is a lot of general material on SAP floating on the net, their training material for specific modules is difficult to obtain unless I pay 6600$ odd to sit for the official certification exam. This is usually tided by 'big companies' by providing in-house trainers or appropriate project immersions/mentoring. That hasn't happened in my case but I'm sticking on despite the extremely slow career growth because I can't handle any uncertainties/risks at the moment due to financial constraints. 
My contribution to your article is this- 
1) Joining a big company simply because of the brand makes no sense. If you want to enter consulting, join a consulting company instead of the consulting division in a famous product company. This I learnt late. 
2) In a big company, departments are so specialized that it becomes difficult to see the big picture and hence you feel like that cliched microscopic cog in that giant corporate machinery.I've often found a disconnect between different depts working on the same project.A start-up might give you a better view of things in that regard because a single resource invariably handles multiple functions and hence has a better idea of things. 
2. Even if you want to switch functions you might be impeded by corporate policies, like how the provision for changing to another department can be availed only after 3 yrs of staying within the company. Or how after working abroad/onsite on a company project for say, 6 months, you're expected to return to the company and serve for double the period ie 1 yr(they will make you sign an agreement to this effect).Basically, inflexibility. 
3.Petty politics, bureaucratic red-tape & oneupmanship-> Despite getting tasks done on time, you'll have to deal with some moron who will complain to your higher-up about the amt of time you spend surfing the internet(you can say goodbye to your chances of getting a good employee rating that year) Also the number of approvals to be obtained to see an initiative through is an infuriatingly agonizing wait. More politics and less work gets done in big companies. 
I think the first 2-3 yrs are crucial to deciding how the rest of your career should progress. In hindsight, I should have worked in a small company where I should have learned the ropes of the trade(despite the stress that is compressed in those initial yrs) and then 'settle down' with a big corporate enjoying the security and fixed hours that a corporate environment has to offer.  

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:50 AM by ITclerk

I personally think that working with a big company is a must for a budding entrepreneur. It is not less than any education that you get at school or college – yes I know that one can even sit down and argue about the education that one gets there but that is a different debate. 
When I read the topic my first impulse was to refute what I thought would be the content! I now have a startup after having put in 22 years in big companies and I was not going back because of what I might have read here.  
However having read the article with open mind, I couldn’t agree more. Yes, the politics is dirty, work may not be exciting and tends to be monotonous at times, you are not the boss etc etc. but you learn everything at somebody else’s expense and get paid for it as well. Which school imparts education like that! 
The systems and processes, the do’s and don’t, that you may like to standardize at your startup are all learnt at such large companies – they must have done something right to be big in the first place, just as you mention.  
A big company background a big plus on you CV and as a startup service provider when I go and meet prospective clients and tell them the names of some of the big companies I worked for, half the credibility work is already done in those two sentences. 
Finally not to forget the connections that you make – in many instances most of your prospective clients are working with many such big companies. They also have friends in other such companies. If you can get the act right, a viral marketing campaign can be built only around those former colleagues and their friends. And I am told that all things being equal, we like to do business with friends. 

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 4:20 AM by Sanjeev Sharma

I agree, working for large corporations taught me so much. One simple thing that I've noticed now that I am out on my own and working with startups and midsized businesses is that people who have not previously worked for large companies don't subscribe to the protocol of closing the communications loop; such as the simple act of hitting the "Reply" button to confirm they have actually recieved something I have agreed to send them. It may seem "picky", but absolutely everything we accomplish in business hinges on our ability to communicate effectively. Large corporations really require you to hone that skill.

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 8:02 AM by Tanya

I laughed when I saw "proper source" control as something that big companies have. It must depend on the company. Where I work (Fortune 10 company), one of the apps we developed had the ingenious source control system of a shared Excel spreadsheet. When you worked on a file, you would add the filename and comments about what you were doing in the spreadsheet. It was a nightmare. I certainly hope other big companies do it better. People are just starting to use TFS.

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 8:08 AM by Jim

hell no. 80% of your life lived in such a company. Entreprenourship is much better, if you are that lucky. This article is pure marketing. Especially multinational companies are (bad) paid prinsons. Brrr..

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 1:10 PM by siginutz

Lots of agrees and "do not agrees" here. It would help to know what each person's background is. 
For me it is 4 yrs in 2 large co's one in US and one in India. The largeco in India was the Taj Group of Hotels, that was just plain awesome for learning and having fun. 12 yrs spent in small companies. 4 yrs in startups, last 2 in my own. 
Having worked on both sides of the divide and both sides the world, I'd say it really depends on the individual company. 
If you don't know about the work culture of a company, you're safer with a smaller company as you'd learn lots more and very quickly too.  
Never work for a large co continously for more than 4 yrs.

posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 1:25 PM by Piyush Mehta

I guess that is the U.S scenario (or any other developed country out there). I am from Brazil, and trust me, big companies here (even the multinational ones) doesn't always work that way. 
Especially when it comes to offering perks and free time. People here in Brazil don't have high expectations (because there isn't much available here) and don't have too many work options. The big companies use that in their advantage, pushing you to the max on your working hours and work quality, spending the least possible on you, because you will probably be replaced in 3-5 years anyway. The fact is there is too many good people searching a nice and big place to work and they will do barely anything to grab this opportunity. 
On the other hand there is much space for start ups. In a developing country there is much to be done, and there is less competition. It is easier to grow, and often startups offer more to their employees when they do get a nice financial base established. Also the startups tend to use a more modern way to work, often making third hand contracts, where people can do their work from home, or even start their own startup and make a network of start ups working and growing together.

posted on Friday, December 17, 2010 at 7:14 AM by Filipe Abreu

Yup, you'll want to stay away from Companies that tends to take risks... aka smaller companies

posted on Monday, December 20, 2010 at 3:48 AM by Rosendal

Great article. I have never worked for a big company, but you make great points!

posted on Monday, December 20, 2010 at 11:33 AM by Katie @ SM Workshop

Great article with very clear points that I fully agree with. We in Slovenia don't have really big software development companies, but I was lucky to get my first job at the biggest one...and I am still glad for that.

posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 8:56 AM by Voranc Kutnik

No one else disagrees with this? 
I do. I've worked at a couple small advertising and sales companies and one huge national corporation. What I've found is that all the things I am glad I learned, I learned at the smaller companies (particularly the ad agency).  
1. I haven't learned much in corporate, except that the only opinion that matters is the senior manager's. And he hasn't been hands on in years. 
2. The percentage of clever folks--who were really freaking great at their jobs--was way higher in the smaller agency. Here, there's a lot of specialization, but not much innovation. 
5. At the small agency, we had to deal with a lot of politics from clients. The big difference is that even if you lost the battle at the end of the day, there were people on your side. At corporate, the politics win the battle every time. And new ideas are shoved aside. 
I do agree with 3 + 4 + 6. You make more contacts and get more perks at the bigger companies. And you have way more space to breathe at a corporate level (which is why I took the job in the first place). But as far as growing your skills, learning like crazy, working with innovators, growing fringe skill sets and finding an entrepreneurial mindset--a small company (in particular, agency) is the way to go. It'll burn you to the ground, but you'll learn more in two months there than you'll learn in two years of corporate. 
I guess at the end of the day, though, it really matters what big company or what small company you work for. What the mindset of your co-workers is. And the mindset of your boss. And the senior management. Because big can be bad and stagnant, but small can be at risk of burnout. Big can slow career growth, but small can do the same if the management isn't on board. 
I guess my point is that there's lots of truth in the unsexy, dull perception. At least in my small experience. And I'd very much hesitate to recommend that someone entrepreneurial work corporate, unless they were just looking for the space to breathe. It certainly has that.

posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 1:08 PM by GG

Mostly I worked in my own startups in Silicon Valley. Looking at friends who are working at big companies. I think it makes sense to work for big companies and have good work life balance. You lot of family life in start-ups and always have uncertainty on finances which also puts pressure on family members.

posted on Saturday, December 25, 2010 at 11:26 AM by san

I agree with the article,you can have time to reflect and learn.agree with this too...seats of you pants if u join a start up.

posted on Sunday, December 26, 2010 at 3:06 PM by Asad

I agree with asad "I agree with the article,you can have time to reflect and learn.agree with this too...seats of you pants if u join a start up. "

posted on Monday, December 27, 2010 at 3:50 AM by lig tv devu

I have been in both, small and large. 
To make it short : I think that the main thing you may learn in the large one is that you do not have so much to learn there. 
But it is still usefull, just to enjoy the small one without any complex.  
In large cny you will find more manipulators(using the system) or anxious people(afraid to quit) than clever and enthusiast people.

posted on Sunday, January 02, 2011 at 2:36 PM by pascal

Lots of value in working for bigger organizations for sure - I started off at a large Silicon Valley company in the early days but as it grew bigger I got to work on the federal "startup" business and essentially grew a second market with a small focused team that took the aggressive Silicon Valley approach and applied it anew. I ended my time there working for a foreign subsidiary that was doing innovative work with application software - mostly because they were far enough away from corporate HQ - but lots of fun to work on. All of that expanded work I was involved in was the result of the benefits of being with a large company with lots of options.

posted on Monday, January 24, 2011 at 1:04 PM by Garrett Thomas

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