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Startup vs. big tech?

I’m a college student seeking advice on how to start my career in tech. What are the pros and cons of startups vs. big tech? I’m fairly technical and thrive in collaborative environments.

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This is a great question and something I struggled with early on in my career. It all depends on how much of an impact you want to make and how structured you want your learning experience to be.

At a startup, the work you do will be integral to the product your team is building. You will be given much more responsibility right away. Startups are also more likely to be less organized because products and company direction will be frequently changing. However, you will have some degree of influence at every stage of the process.

In a big tech company, your impact will be minimal. You might be working on a tiny feature, or even a small aspect of the already tiny feature. You’ll have less impact but a more structured experience. On your team, you’ll have a decent idea of the work you’ll be doing and the future of the product you’re building for at least the next few months. You’ll also have access to more resources and mentorship opportunities at a more established company.

Hope this is somewhat helpful!


I think @ch1988 covered the main points. The main thing to consider is how you deal with uncertainty, lack of clear structure, and impact. It’s a tradeoff between uncertainty/lack of clear structure and impact. If you value knowing what you’ll be doing in the long run and don’t care about making substantial impact, big tech is for you. If you thrive in environments where things are constantly change/product direction shifts frequently and want to make a large overall impact then startups are the way to go.

I actually think the “startup” as discussed by @ch1988 and @vinay56 is referring to early stage startups. If you join a startup that’s in a later stage, things will definitely be more structured and less chaotic. Definitely still more potential for influence compared to big tech and you’ll be able to see much more growth (ideally).

You’ll also want to think about mentorship and available resources. Big tech definitely has more established mentorship programs in addition to resources only big tech can afford. If you’re interested in Microsoft, I wrote a post about my experience having been there since graduating undergrad. I also make the point that many of my colleagues who left for startups ended up coming back to Microsoft. Feel free to read here: Should you work at Microsoft?

Also think about company growing pains. Big tech has already gone through challenges so there’s likely more stability whereas startups (no matter how small or large) will encounter some difficulties. This could be either product, cultural, leadership or other growing pains…

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Love seeing the discussion here :slight_smile:

This is a great perspective - ty for sharing.

For Facebook specifically, there are a lot of mentorship opportunities. If you’re joining as a new grad, people are typically very open to sharing their experiences and helping out. Haven’t been at a startup myself, but I’d say the structured environment at Facebook is quite nice.

If you can get a job right out of college at a prestigious company like Apple, Google, etc, that name will follow you for the rest of your career. It’ll open a lot of doors for you down the line.

And if you’re still undecided? Just recruit for both. A lot of times, big tech companies recruit earlier (think fall/winter of your senior year) and startups recruit in the spring. If you don’t get a big tech offer you like, consider it a sign and go work for a startup you’re passionate about.

I started out at Facebook and am now at a startup, but I know friends that went in the opposite direction and they’re doing well too. Just see what’s out there and what you like best.

Good luck!

There are 3 scenarios to consider:

  • Startups: fast moving, taking on many roles, less structure, big impact
  • Tech: more structure, more resources, slower moving, smaller impact
  • Rest and vest tech: slowest moving, working for the sake of making $, minimal impact and innovation

This definitely varies from company to company and admittedly may be generalizing too much, but there still is quite a big difference in big tech. Once a company stops innovating (or does so very slowly) then you’re just there to make small optimizations. Whatever you think fits best with your career/personal goals should be the type of company you join.

For me, startups are the way to go out of college. You get to make large impact on the product and learn a lot by working with business/ops to make key decisions.