Perspektif: Karir di Startup vs Perusahaan Teknologi Besar (Bagian 2)

Perspektif: Karir di Startup vs Perusahaan Teknologi Besar (Bagian 2)

Penasaran tentang pilihan karir di sektor teknologi? Henry Tan berbagi pengalamannya bekerja di perusahaan teknologi besar dan startup.

In the first part of this two-part piece, Henry Tan talked about his experience working in large corporation and early stage venture. This time, he will discuss about career at mid- to late-stage startups. 

Late Stage Startup

After about 8 years navigating inside a large tech company, and presented with an opportunity to work for a mid- to late-stage startup, I considered a position working on  at a Big Data for marketing company – BlueKai.

Silicon Valley startups can offer a very generous package exceeding the package offered by typical large tech companies. Talents acquisition is part of the core strategies of many Silicon Valley startups. Only by offering a very competitive package, they can win this talents acquisition war with the large tech companies with fat pockets.

Typical package offered by Silicon Valley startup consists of competitive base salary, but typically lower or equal to the top range of the large tech companies. In addition to base salary, many of them also offer a fix 10% bonus tied to the company financial performance and distributed quarterly, each at 2.5%. A generous stock options or RSUs vesting over 4 years and sometimes distributed annually with the first year at 25% and the remaining distributed at every month is quite typical. You don’t typically get awarded extra stock options each year. They might distribute extra award for retention purposes.

It is not untypical if you are someone that they are looking for, they will send their CEO or founder(s) to call you and to convince you joining the company. At many other occasions, you might be doing presentation in front of the CEO and/or founders. Especially, if you are working on something that is so critical for the success of the company.

Perks inside Silicon Valley startups can be quite generous. Similar to, and in some cases exceed the perks offered by, large tech companies. The trick is that they typically max the perks in certain areas like a kitchen full with of all kinds of foods and sodas but offering reduced packages on the other areas that are less important and less popular. After all, they are a 40-120 employee company. They can do what  large corporations with 50,000 to 100,000 employees would be struggling with.

It is actually not that much different from the large tech companies. Startups too use play hard and work hard playbook. You are in a place where you don’t have to worry about anything else but getting things done and to conquer the world.

We ship things and break things in Production. At times due to the grow-fast and get-things-done mantra, things can get messy easily. Over time, we build technical debt that the later generation of employees will have to deal with. The way we work is quite remarkably close to Mark Zuckerberg’s aspiration to move fast and break things, if you do not break things you do not move fast enough.

At startups, building infrastructure from scratch often is not the first option. A lot of times you have to find and use existing software. Outsourcing is often considered, if building the solution from scratch is deviating from the core competencies or ending up costing much more for the company.

Defining the minimal viable product definition is very important; in fact it is a general rule of thumbs when you are incubating something whether it is for a startup or a large tech company. It is emphasized much more in a startup, as the time to get things to market is typically much more compressed, generally, due to more limited resources. Experiment, fail-fast, learn from mistakes and iterate is quite a popular mindset.

At a startup with small number of people, 40-120 in size, everyone feels they contribute to the bottom line of the company. Their bonus is often tied to the financial success of the company. The more they work and sail together, the merrier they become.

The level of energy inside a startup that has a very good chance to exit successfully is something you don’t commonly find in a large tech company. Everyone is marching towards common goals and have high hope that one day they will IPO or exit through acquisition.

It is not untypical that you know and be known to everyone in the company. It is much easier to get noticed and to claim a rock-star status compared to working for a large tech company.

Summary

One of the most challenging time to start a career may in fact be in the beginning. One way to break the chicken-and-egg loop is to consider doing internship during your final year. Consider doing volunteer work and getting work experience in return is a win-win investment for your career in the long run.

One of the things that many prospective employers want to see from you is that they want to know that you really enjoy what you are doing. Be passionate with what you are doing, talk about it, blog about it and practice it regularly. If you claim that you are passionate about developing mobile apps, they want to see that you enjoy developing a lot of apps and publish some of your best works to App Store.

Joining an early startup comes with a lot of excitements. To start with, you will be wearing many different hats. You might be the CEO of the company and are sitting on a driver seat, have wide scope of responsibilities, and have the luxury to define and shape the company culture. As an engineer you might be working on all technologies stacks from UI to Backend services including running the operations. Resource is typically limited, you don’t have the luxury to write things from scratch but to leverage existing open-source or existing libraries to get the job done.

Occasionally, in a large tech company, the opportunity to incubate new things do exist. You will have more opportunities to work on few things and go deep on certain areas. You will learn to design, and ship products and services that are used by millions of users or businesses with much higher technical bar. Climbing corporate ladder, especially a very senior role, can be quite challenging. You will enjoy more stability in terms of jobs and income. Depending on your level, for most junior roles, the scope of your responsibilities might be limited but at the same time you will be more focused. Large tech corporations have established a good set of best practices that allows them run their business effectively and efficiently. Without them with the scale that they run into, things can get easily turned into chaos.

At a late stage startup, the culture is more or less in between the early stage and large tech corporation. Perks inside Silicon Valley startups can be quite generous. Similar to, and in some cases exceed the perks offered by, large tech companies. At a startup with small number of people, 40-120 in size, everyone feels they contribute to the bottom line of the company. It is not untypical that you will almost know and be known to everyone in the company. It is much easier to be noticed and to claim rock-star status.

The level of energy inside a startup that has a very good chance to exit successfully is something you don’t commonly find in a large tech company. Everyone is marching towards common goals and have high hope that one day they will IPO or exit through acquisition.

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Photo Credits: People Coffee Meeting Team” courtesy of  Eric Bailey; “Workspace Coworking Desks Office” courtesy of Eric Bailey




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Henry Tan Setiawan is a Principal Software Design Engineer at Microsoft Research. He focuses on research and development of Deep Learning infrastructure and services (a.k.a Project Adam). He was leading the data classification tech team at BlueKai, the leader in AdTech Big Data company prior getting acquired by Oracle in 2013. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from University of Technology, Sydney. He joined Microsoft, Redmond, USA in 2006 and helped developed the Bing BigIndex search backend infrastructures and services (a.k.a Maguro) and contributed to the R&D of other large scale distributed services at Microsoft including, but not limited to, Azure Machine Learning, Azure Cloud Storage, and Messenger Server backend services.
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