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Hackernoon logoTo Big Company or To Small Company? That is the question. by@beehyve

To Big Company or To Small Company? That is the question.

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Many in the BeeHyve community have asked how they should think about working at a Big Company vs. Small Company / Startup when they are early in their career. Aatish (Linkedin, Twitter)recently faced this decision and has graciously shared his story below. We hope its a helpful perspective.

“What are you doing after college?” “Working at a small company” “Oh really, is it well established and does it pay well?”

These and similar questions have been asked to me by relatives, friends, and my parents. The prospect of financial stability is an attractive reward to four years of grueling college work. It’s the reason millions of immigrants came to America and continue to come to this day. All of them took a massive risk, leaving behind family in the hopes of a brighter future. So why should you be any different? You may say “but these are different times, we have solid foundations because of the sacrifices of our parents”. I say that’s exactly why we have an even greater opportunity.

As GaryVee puts it in his famous College Graduate video, this is NOT the time to get the job Mom always wanted you to get. This is NOT the time to try to maximize as much money as you can make so you can buy nice things. This is the time, however, to realize that you have a five-year window (22–27) for you to build up the life you’ve always wanted.

You’ll never be fully certain things will turn out great, but you shouldn’t confuse risk and uncertainty. Flying to Thailand with only a backpack and no plan introduces a lot of uncertainties, but it’s not exactly risky; you’ll have a great time regardless, in the backpacker capital of the world. Since most people fear the unknown, they wildly miscalculate opportunities. Especially early in your career, with little to no long term commitments, you have a very high risk tolerance. Recovering financially and reputationally is much easier for a twenty year old versus a forty year old with a mortgage and family. Don’t let uncertainty lull you into overestimating risk.

“I want to do this now so I can do this later”

For many new grads out of top institutions the next logical step is large tech companies, consulting firms, and business schools. These opportunities create optionality because of the expansive exposure to industry practices, professional networks, and coveted skills. However, this approach can often backfire as taking on options becomes more and more habitual. Acquiring stamps of approval and widening your safety net is a never ending endeavor. The comfort of a high-paying job at a prestigious firm surrounded by smart people is simply too much to give up. When that happens, the dreams that those options were meant to enable slowly recede into the background. Instead new grads need to understand that merely graduating from a top university or getting an offer at a top company already make them lucky drawers in the lottery of life; they don’t need anymore safety nets.

Sit down, be humble.

We can talk about choices, options, and above average starting salaries all day, but in the end the handcuffs are still made of gold. I realize how lucky I am every day to have gone to a prestigious university and have the opportunity to work in the most innovative companies in the world. Sit down for a second and think about the thousands of people who would kill to be in your place.

Choice is an extremely undervalued privilege. Because of financial, familial, or health reasons many people are simply happy with a salary. Last year, on my way from Palo Alto to SFO, my cab driver told me that success is luck times hard work, a realization he keeps close to heart. After immigrating from Turkey, where he was a coveted cargo ship captain, he started life in America as a low income cab driver. Slowly over the years he bought more and more cars and built up a black car business with his savings. One afternoon he picked up a customer and struck up a lively conversation. The customer liked him so much he hired him as the personal driver for a small startup in Palo Alto. Today, this cab driver is the sole provider of executive transport for Palantir, and is still friends with the same customer and CEO, Alex Karp to this day. Project some humility in your decisions and realize that your success isn’t only attributed to your own hard work. Most things in life are rarely as satisfying as helping others succeed.

In the end, people over stress the importance of a first job, especially in tech and Silicon Valley, where the average engineer turnover is 9 months. In the 7–8 years you have left in your twenties, that’s a fairly marginal timespan. Even the perfect job has it’s ups and downs, so don’t go too hard finding the best possible job, and good luck!

Best of luck!


Few quotes that influenced my decision:

  • “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.” — Marissa Meyer
  • “If I’d stuck to my original five-year plan when I was 18, I would have missed every great thing that ever happened to me” — Marissa Meyer
  • “Most people want to be accepted, so they won’t take risks that could make them look crazy — which actually makes them wildly miscalculate risk.” — Sam Altman
  • “If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall.” — Peter Thiel

Helpful readings:

My name is Aatish Nayak (@nayakkayak, Aatish Nayak) and I’m a 2017 ECE grad from Carnegie Mellon, working at a startup called Skurt in LA. I previously interned at large tech companies and had the opportunity to go back. Find me on Linkedin —


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