Kryska’s Corner: Software Engineer’s Theory Of Career Path

A few days ago, I met up with an old high school friend. Currently he’s a software engineer student at UCB and we were discussing career options: join a start up now or join a large tech firm.

Seeing that my friend, John, doesn’t want to end up “just” coding for the rest of his life and wants to get into management/business side of things, I suggested he should opt to join a start up.

Why join a start up first?

Sure the coding is hard at first, since you’re not following anyone’s footsteps, but if the product launch is successful, you could be part of a company that’s rags to riches overnight. At that point, original team members obviously climb the job ladder, turning from mere coders to executives who handle the business and the direction of the company.

But what happens if you fail? Well, if you fail, you just move on. In that sense, even failure is something valuable. Why? At least you tried to take initiative, work on a more personal project, and got the experience. I’d even wager that looks great for your resume. Then, you can decide if you’re most suitable for a large tech company.

So why not go the “large tech firm” path, or at least not right away? If you join a tech firm, you get the benefits of consistent “decent” salary, benefits, and job security. While that sounds great, you might actually just end up being a lowly coding grunt for your whole career and barely moving up the job ladder, if any at all. In fact, you’d probably even have to deal with the fact that your coworker is just someone who took an online class on coding while you went to a school like UCB to get your diploma.

In addition to “locking” yourself to that forever-coding job, you close the doors to “possible” opportunities. When you’re 20 something years old, it’s the age where making mistakes is a learning experience and something to benefit from. However, if you’re 40, a mistake could lead to potential bankruptcy. People don’t often look for people in large tech firms, least of all the lowly coding employee.

So what’s the main point? Join a startup. If you make something successful, instant and possible future millionaire life. If you fail, you can try again or join a tech firm. Just don’t join a tech firm fresh from college.



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